When you feel overwhelmed by all the technology and hassle of managing your remote team or project, and it seems like everything's about "process" and "over-communicating", keep something in mind. Genghis Khan ruled half the known world and never, ever, held a WebEx meeting. Not one.
I say this not to disparage WebEx (Or GoToMeeting, or iLinc, or any of the 120 other web conference providers out there). I say it because it's true. Managing widely dispersed groups of people has never been easy, but it has been done throughout history. Technology helps a lot. But clear thinking helps even more.
Think about Genghis Khan's challenges and then compare them to your situation. He had to keep all his territories aligned with the mission. Put simply, his mission statement was "to kick the heck out of everyone we come across, get them to pay us not to hurt them anymore and keep the money coming". Actually, I think MicroSoft used that for a while, but I digress.
There are three things that keep teams working, whether they are co-located or spread out. The three things haven't changed in thousands of years:
- They have clear goals.
- They hold each other accountable
- They use the technology available to accomplish the first two
Certainly, the Mongols had clear goals (at least to begin with). The Khan was the boss and the boss said go capture stuff. Over time, when things got too spread out and the pickings got harder, it became more difficult to hold things together. Generations of people who didn't look like their bosses or speak the same language as the Khan, started grumbling.
To be sure, they held each other accountable. HR might not approve of some of their methods, but they were effective. Get your orders, follow them as best you can, and keep the money coming in. Local chieftains were allowed a lot of leeway to make treaties (or not) as long as the Khan was the final authority and the tribute flowed in. Oh yeah, you had to leave one or two of your children at headquarters just to keep things on the up and up, but by golly it worked.
Finally, they used the technology available to accomplish the first two. True, fast horses, homing pigeons, spies and flag signals may seem inefficient, but at least they were easier to learn than some software platforms and as long as you got together once every couple of years to make sure your information was solid it seemed to work for all concerned.
The point is that he did just fine without communication tools, but imagine if he'd had them and used them well? Just saying.