Monday, November 8, 2010

Team communication dynamic over time

When a team is first put together to work on a complicated project, it is always very important to develop a shared vision of the project, build relationships within the team, and otherwise establish communication between people working together.  The best, and probably the only, way to achieve that synergy is to have team members communicate face-to-face, many times a day, with minimal interruption needed to reach another person.  This requires that the entire team works in close proximity in both time and space - ideally, common location and similar or heavily overlapping schedule. 

Later on, as the project gets on its merry way, relationships, roles and expectations, and communication patterns within the team get established and become somewhat stable.  Communication over the phone and email becomes more effective as the relationships within the team and motivations of the team members are established.   While talking face-to-face on a regular basis is still invaluable, a lot of work can be done well from different locations and on somewhat flexible schedules among the team. 

In practice, this pattern is often seen in how people approach their new jobs. Many people spend a lot of time in office when they first take a job, and later switch to a more flexible schedule and/or occasionally work from home when possible.

However, for some reason this pattern is almost never seen in software consulting.  The client decides whether they need help in the office, or will consider outsourcing (i.e. let the consultant work on his turf), and make either one the requirement for the lifetime of the arrangement.  Many projects could benefit from better communication early in the engagement, and more flexibility later in the project. 

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