Data frustrations and remote teams

2013

'Data' is a word on everyone's lips. All teams, remote or co-located, need information to do their jobs. In fact, for most project teams, a lack of data is seldom the problem: it's the non-stop torrent of information and we have to pick out the useful signal from all that noise. But what do good teams do that less productive teams don't?

A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP) , compared how highly productive teams look at managing their data and how less-successful teams handle things. When asked for the biggest challenges, high performing organizations (HPOs) said:

  • Not sharing data effectively (46 percent)
  • Unreliable data (35 percent)
  • Lack of data (32 percent)

The numbers for low performing organizations (LPOs) are all over the board, (you can get the report here, basically shows these groups tend to focus on all kinds of problems, including what data to collect and how to collect it.

So, basically, HPOs collect a ton of appropriate data. But it's data access issues that seem to pose the biggest problems. The same is true – but more so – for remote teams. Just how do you effectively deliver useful data if you don't have the ability to go nose-to-nose in questioning, interpreting and acting upon it?

People basically trust the data they are given. In LPOs, people don't even know what data they need, and choosing the tool to deliver that information is almost the least of their problems.

I asked a couple of questions of Carol Morrison, the author of the report.

Specifically, what kinds of data are remote teams struggling with?

Not surprisingly, the specifics of workforce data issues are likely to vary significantly from one organization to the next because of the variety of factors influencing a workforce planning team's choices about the metrics they need to include in their planning activities. For instance: a planning initiative that focuses on short-term tactical workforce planning will require (and probably be challenged by) a different set of measures than a team involved in long-range strategic workforce planning.

What organizations do have in common are challenges related to collecting data (many companies still track workforce data manually) and ensuring that the data they have is accurate and consistent organization-wide (definitions of what constitutes particular metrics, such as turnover, still vary across business functions in many companies). Further, many planning teams struggle to recruit members with the analytical and statistical skills needed to work with data and interpret its meaning effectively.

How can a leader help create context for data among a distributed or remote team?

I don't think there's much difference in this capability, regardless of the function involved. A marketing, finance, or other functional leader must apply well-developed communication skills to ensure that his/her entire team is on the same page about data or any other relevant issue. . That means that the full workforce planning team, wherever they may be located, must share a clear and consistent understanding of the steps involved in the planning process, which metrics will be used, the definitions of those metrics, and the outcomes to be produced.

Clearly, it is the leader's role to communicate and ensure those elements. As you know, strong communication skills are critical to success in the virtual work environment, making them a must-have competency for leaders of remote teams.

If nearly half the problems are with sharing the data effectively, what tools or technology should remote teams be looking at?

This isn't so much a question of standard tools or technologies as it is a case of what works most effectively for any given organization. Again, the variation from one company to the next – in reasons for undertaking workforce planning, in technological capabilities, in the type of planning done, and other variables – makes it impossible to say that a workforce planning team needs to use one specific tool or another.

Carol's comments back up our constant reiteration that the tools are merely a means to an end, but if you're not gathering the right information, people don't trust it, and leaders can't effectively communicate the meaning or context for that information, it won't matter a whole bunch when it comes to getting good work done.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.