Insights from SFANLiveChat: Building a Distributed Team with Chinedu Enekwe and Lajuanda M. Asemota

Insights from SFANLiveChat: Building a Distributed Team with Chinedu Enekwe and Lajuanda M. Asemota

by SFAN Staff · Business advice

Wed, 01 Mar 2017 · 3 minute read

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But, why a distributed team?

A distributed team is a team that’s connected to their purpose but maybe not their location. It’s no secret that great local talent is expensive and difficult to hire across a number of industries . Technology has made it possible for hiring managers to hire from a global talent pool. 

We were very enthusiastic about chatting with Enekwe and Asemota
because they have both built and led distributed teams at TipHub Africa
and Singularity University respectively.

Here are 4 insightful lessons from the meeting: 

1. Build trust and coordination through effective communication 

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs once said that communication is both the biggest obstacle and the solution to developing trust within remote teams. 


“To build trust in a distributed team you must be thorough, almost
annoyingly consistent”, Chinedu says. “Learn habits and patterns that
work with each team member”. But at the initial on-boarding stages, it’s
important that you create a period of a face-to-face meeting or weekend
retreats for folks to physically connect with team members.

Lajuanda observed that as the team leader, you need to do some
occasional personal check-ins with everyone. You have to genuinely care
about people for them to trust you and stay on track with the rest of
the team. “Coordination comes from communication. So creating multiple
channels for updates is the key.”

Organisations are no longer built on force, but on trust — Peter Drucker. 

2. Maintain culture through value-driven autonomy 

It is common knowledge why fixing the culture problem in a co-located
team could be easier than in a distributed team: distance, under
communication, and lack of collaboration. This need not be the case.
“Organisational culture is intangible, so location doesn’t have to be
the driving factor. Values do”, Lajuanda says. “In my companies, I start
by reviewing team values. I keep the team engaged by regularly
inspiring them to live those values.”

With a team that spans between Washington D.C and Lagos, Nigeria,
apart from open communication, creating offline meetings are vital for
Chinedu in encouraging sharing and team relationships. “If distance
doesn’t permit, at least do quarterly virtual retreats”, he says.

3. Ensure that your team members are actually working 

Achieving productivity is among the fears that hold managers from going remote. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, was once in the news for scrapping Yahoo’s remote-work policy. 


“At the heart of the question of productivity and teamwork, is
creating accountability”, Chinedu explains. “Accountability isn’t
complaining about one another, it’s about completing tasks. This links
back to creating a culture of communication so work can be delegated and
silos of silence don’t form. When a team member goes silent, I try to
read it like a pulse to plan our next move”. 

Through her work at Singularity University, SpeedUpAfrica, and her
own experience design company, Lajuanda often manages a diverse team
that implements several high-level, multi-faceted events and programs
for hundreds of leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond. Achieving
productivite requires great project management skills, she says, “I use Smartsheet, Trello or Asana,
and automate reminders for the team to update the project tracker. I
also combine one-on-ones with briefing sessions and team meetings”. 

4. Leverage technology to keep the team engaged

Whereas a co-located team can afford a foosball table, inside jokes,
shared experiences and a meeting room with whiteboards to develop its
personality and enhance collaboration, remote team banks on different
technology tools. But knowing what works for different teams is the key
to this. All tools aren’t common in all regions. 

My favorites are Slack , Smartsheet , Google Apps , IFTTT , Zoom , and ”. Slack is your virtual office because of the various channels it accommodates. Oh did I mention the GIFs and Memes!? 

“My team lives and breathes daily chats on Whatsapp Group (love those
check marks!)”, Chinedu says, “for meetings we use Google Hangouts
without video when on the continent –it just works”. 

In responding to the question of the best tool to track time and do payroll for distributed teams, by the team at Rise Africa Rise, Lajuanda noted that her team uses Zenefits. “I’ve also heard of small organizations using Gusto, Wave, Freshbooks.
My advice: Get a full demo and use what works”. Understand that all
tools might not work equally for every region, find out what works best
for you.

Why could a distributed team fail?

Distributed teams fail due to lack of consistency and communication.
In some cases, lack of maturity, Lajuanda explains. “Everyone has to
understand the importance of doing what you say you will and supporting
each other”. 

In his book, Exponential Organisations,
Salim Ismail outlines new organizational structures that leverage
exponential technologies for a shifting global business mindset. This is
very vital for a distributed team. 


Before transitioning your team to remote or on-boarding new folks,
have a “trial periods” to test things out, Chinedu cautions. “Every team
isn’t built to be distributed. You have to figure that out quickly”. 

In the final analyses, building a great distributed team requires
that you go in with your eyes open. And to make it work you must, build
trust and coordination through effective communication, maintain culture
through value-driven autonomy, ensure everyone gets their stuff done,
and leverage technology tools to create fun and collaboration in your

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