Running a distributed team – Building Help2Grow.org

Our team at Help2Grow.org consists of 14 individuals currently spread across 7 locations in 4 countries across 3 continents. While that makes for a cool story, it can quite easily be an organizational nightmare. Here are a few challenges –

1. Finding a time for our calls. We have been meeting once every 2 weeks almost without exception. But, with the recent addition of a team member in Europe, finding a time that works all the way from the Bay Area to Singapore is tough. So, we’ve decided to alternate between 2 slots every month. This way, the folks at one end have to give up their Saturday night once a month while the folks at the other end have to give up their Friday night once a while. And, a couple of folks will have to live with waking up at 5am and 630am respectively.

2. Sustaining momentum. Given the awkward timings and the sheer distances between us, it is easy for one person or the other to lose momentum. We’re all working on this on our weekends and the limited extra time we have during our weeks and one call missed can mean going a long time without contact with the team. Momentum is not easy to sustain.

3. Large amounts of communication via email. You know what they say about asynchronous communication. Yes, we know it is not the same. And, yes, we know face-to-face / video communication will be better. Luckily, many of the relationships are strong existing relationships. That helps. Then again, it doesn’t mean it is easy given the constraints.

On the flip side, these constraints make things interesting. We face the resistance all the time at Help2Grow. Wouldn’t it be easier to not do this at all? Absolutely. Would it be better? Absolutely not. We’re doing this for reasons beyond ourselves and we’re learning a LOT during the process. Besides, these are all amazing first world problems to have and serve as a wonderful reminder of the need to give back. So, how do we keep the momentum going?

Our best recent solution has been to think of it with an analogy – imagine the whole team is on a large boat, can we get 6 people rowing together for a consistent number of hours every week? While we do occasionally see spurts of activity from our team, we realize that there’s immense value in consistent application of effort. So, that’s what we’re working on these days – getting 6 people rowing together consistently. This means we’ve set up systems like vacation and activity trackers so we know in advance when people are going under water and we’ve created an overall management information system (more on this another time) which we use to guide our conversations every call. We might lose people on a call but we want to make sure our systems cover for them. And, one new metric added to the system is.. you guessed it.. whether we had 6 people rowing together this past 2 weeks.

That’s how we “row”l. :-)


This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.