Co-located teams don’t always win

Listening to many agile trainers and coaches, I tend to hear the same thing over and over again…

“Agile teams needs to be co-located in order to succeed…”

Of course there are many good reasons for choosing to co-locate your team, and I do agree, that it makes it (slightly?) easier to establish a good functional team. However, in very many cases people are distributed (and even very often multi-distributed). The popularity of working with ODC and nearshore is rising. Locations such as India, Pakistan, Ukraine, Poland, Spain and Egypt are being hyped and branded very well – and with all good rights and reasons.

I see many teams expanding into this way of operating and many of them succeed (far from everyone though, but that’s a different story). When your organisation have decided from a strategic point of view, that running distributed teams is the way to go, then it makes it really hard to have “co-located” possibilities.

But does that mean that distributed teams cannot be agile?

I would say actually on the contrary. For distributed teams to become functional and high performing, you will need the agile mindset and the fundamentals that lies within this way of doing things. You will need the basic things such as “trust” and “honesty” in your team and you, as a team owner or facilitator, will need to make a lot of effort in bringing the team “together” in both mind and spirit. Yes, it’s expensive (cost wise) to run successful distributed teams, but the ROI is easy to see after a couple of good iterations if you put your back into it.

At the end of the day, the driver for building teams (co-located or not) is the effort that you put into it. Throughout my career I have been working with co-located teams that never really got into the agile mindset and thus had immensely hard times working together – and I have been coaching teams distributed over 3 different countries (with different time zones) that worked and operated as one entity.

You can make it happen if you want it enough.