Employee conflicts are what every team experiences from time to time. They are harmful enough for a traditional team, often causing missed deadlines and failed tasks. When it comes to software development outsourcing, where projects are handled by a virtual or a dedicated software development team, task-related misunderstandings are even faster to evolve into a personal conflict. Why?
You’d suppose that when you hire dedicated developers offshore and have them work remotely, interpersonal conflicts would be rare, since every team member is more focused on their work and there’s less interaction on a personal level. In reality, however, this lack of face-to-face communication is the reason why a common argument can get personal so quickly. Firstly, daily interactions help to build empathy, which smoothes out the conflicts. Secondly, it’s a psychological phenomenon that in the virtual environment people restrain themselves less, and an email argument can escalate much faster than a face-to-face conversation ever would.
So how do you deal with task-related arguments in virtual teams to keep them from becoming a big deal? Professor Ann Majchrzak of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, having studied virtual teams at companies like IBM and Motorola, suggests an online discussion board as a proven tool for resolving task-related issues between co-workers.
If you want the board to become an actual meeting place for your offshore developers, instead of a neglected something they always forget to use, you need to manage it the right way. Here are several tips for doing so.
Remote teams benefit from having a meeting place on the web that is the center of their activity. An online discussion board should be a part of it; in addition, use it for storing shared files, posting regular project updates and other important information. Make sure you post all crucial task-related issues on your discussion forum, and soon the team will understand that whatever’s important is taken there to be talked over.
Whenever there is a problem, make sure you put someone ‘in charge’ of it. This person will follow the discussion, summarize the feedback from all team members, and present the results at a meeting to make sure the problem is resolved. This doesn’t have to be the team leader every time: you can assign a volunteer or the person who raised that issue.
Allow some possibilities for a private discussion: people will not always be willing to talk about issues in front of the whole team. Some options are making the discussion board accessible for team members only, not the management; allowing private sub-threads so that an issue could be discussed in a smaller group; enabling team members to exchange private messages. In any case, encourage them to share the results of these private discussions with the whole team on the board.
The discussion board is a great tool to solicit everyone’s opinions and ideas, and the summary of them should be used to find a compromise. When the responsible person has summarized all the arguments on the subject, the team should meet for a conference call to come up with the course of action, based on everyone’s opinions. You can use a poll and have the team vote for the possible options, if a common solution is still not found.
When you hire developers in Ukraine or any other offshore location, you need to be ready for managing conflicts, because they’ll inevitably arise. Task-related conflicts are some of the worst ones, but they are also an opportunity to come up with a better way to do a task. An online discussion board can be an effective tool for a dedicated software development team, but only provided that both the management and the programmers are committed to using it actively and wisely.