Some learnings from working in a distributed team

Working in a team is already a challenge, but working in a distributed team is even a bigger challenge. So I will write a bit about learnings from working in a small team distributed around Switzerland, though some of the learnings are also valid for local teams.

Well, I will present these learnings in the form of tips for unsuccessful (distributed) team work as I am not able to say “do this and that, and you will have a successful (distributed) team”. Don’t follow these tips, but use them as inspiration for doing it better ;-)

Use as many (online) tools as possible
The more (online) tools you use, the better you can manage your projects. Another advantage: they simplify your work life, you do no longer have to plan what to do in the first hour of your working day.

Don’t answer questions
If a team mate asks you a question, simply ignore it. Most people do not want to hear an answer, the others will try again.

Answer questions which are not asked
People never ask what they really want to know. So give them an answer to a question they may have asked and ignore the original question.

Let the other wait
If a team mate asks you a question, do not answer directly. Let him wait. One week. Two weeks. People love it to be reminded on questions they have forgotten long ago.

Keep your answers fuzzy
If a team mate asks you a question, answer in a fuzzy way. People do not expect concrete answers, they just want to talk.

Discuss endless
It is fun to have endless discussions about meaningless topics. Do you remember how much fun your latest flame war was?

Don’t decide
Don’t decide anything. As long as there are no decisions, you do not have to do anything besides discussing.

Don’t give feedback
If a team mate asks you for feedback about something he has done, ignore it. People only ask for feedback as a matter of form, they are not really interested in what you think about what they have done.

Don’t contribute any ideas
Whenever possible say that you want to build a great thing. But do not contribute any ideas about how to build that great thing.

Communicate in hidden mode
If you have to discuss something that affects everyone in your team, discuss it with only one of your team mates in a way that is not noticed by the others. That is more efficient than involving everyone. And the result is just a fact the others have to accept.

Discuss everything face-to-face
If you have something to discuss, do it in a meeting. It is not possible to discuss anything via the internet. And people like it to travel for hours to have a 30 minutes meeting.

Treat assumptions as truths
In discussions treat your assumptions as truths. You do no longer assume that your clients could want the features x and y, no, it is a fact: your clients want the features x and y, and nothing else.


  1. Posted May 18, 2006 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Yep. You are quite right! ;-)

  2. Posted June 7, 2006 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, of course, there’s quite a few tips you missed.

    If you are the only repository of vital knowledge never share it with anyone, that way when you won’t be available noone will be able to work, your team mates don’t like to work anyway.

    Pretend knowledge of what you don’t know and possibly discuss it in meetings without bringing with you anyone who understands what the discussion is about. Concepts will be so much clearer then when you will explain them to your team.

    Underhestimate every request from your customers and then assign other team mates to the job.

    Answer each question with a yes or a no, regardless what they ask for, and possibly don’t even read the question, it was useless anyway.

    I’m sure there’s a lot more, I asked my collegue but he said he’s busy, probably he’ll come back to me in a couple of weeks with an unmeaningful answer.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] It is amazing to see how fast a team can fall apart, an experience I had to make with the team I worked with. With the consequence that the project failed, and with it the planned startup… Of course, there are forewarnings (I wrote about them in my tips for unsuccessful team work), but it seems to be difficult to act accordingly even if you recognize these forewarnings. So I think there must be something I missed in my previous analysis. […]

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