One proven technique commonly used by project managers and organizations when it comes to team building is colocation. This technique has stood the test of time and is usually recommended for large projects that involve individuals with varying skills, social backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, etc., coming together and working on a project. Some of the common objectives of colocation are to improve relationships among workers, improve communication, instil the organization’s values among team members and finally, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the project team.
Colocation is defined as a strategy that places team members in the same location in order to improve their capacity and functionality as a team. The result is often enhanced communication and better relationships between team members.
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A lot of studies have been carried out in order to determine if there is any relationship between colocation and project performance; however, not many have focused on the challenges this strategy entails. Is colocation always as rosy as it sounds? What are the challenges that can arise from colocation and when these challenges do arise, how can they be effectively managed?
Our article today will focus on how to effectively handle the challenges that arise as a result of colocation in project management. We will also be analysing the advantages and disadvantages of colocation in project management.
We cannot effectively discuss colocation without first understanding what a team is. A team is usually a small number of people with complementary skills working together towards the achievement of a common goal. In a proper team setup, everyone understands the task ahead and is mutually accountable towards the set goal.
A team goes beyond a group of people coming together to work on a project. This is referred to as a working group. Naturally, a team promises a higher probability of success than a working group and this is because every member of the team understands that success is not achieved until the team is successful. On the other hand, people in a working group are more interested in the completion of individual parts of a project, which in turn may or may not help in achieving the overall project goal.
Although team members work towards achieving a common goal, they do not have to be in the same location to achieve their goals. Bringing team members to work in the same physical location is what is referred to as colocation. Team members working from different locations are referred to as virtual teams. It is important to note that the exponential growth of information technology in the 21st century has greatly improved the communication of virtual teams through the use of emails, instant messaging services, and video calls. However, these have not been able to replace traditional communication and bond building.
When is colocation required?
It is important to note that colocation is not compulsory for all projects. The following are signals that indicate when colocation might be necessary for a project.
Projects come in various shapes and sizes; therefore, no two projects are the same. Also, while the project management methodology used on various projects might remain the same, the project implementation strategy for each project remains unique.
Therefore, depending on the project implementation strategy adopted by an organisation, it might be required to have project team members or some part of a project team working together on the same geographical location. In this type of scenario, the strategy in use already places a necessity that ensures that colocation is required for team building.
When team members need to be in the same location
As defined earlier, colocation is the coming together of all or some of a project’s team members to the same physical location in order to improve relationships and communication among the project team. It may be impossible to work remotely on some projects when the nature of the project involves having the team implementing the project being together on site.
For example, in a construction project where complex structural and construction skills are required, it becomes practically impossible for team members to be offsite. While a virtual team can conduct the design of the building, the construction team members need to come together on site in order to implement the project.
When communication requires body language
Non-verbal communication is one of the most common types of communication. In order to effectively carry out some projects, understanding the body language of other team members is necessary. Communication goes beyond talking and listening.
For example, when detectives are trying to resolve a criminal case, it is important for them to understand the body language of their suspects. In some highly confidential projects, the body language of team members say a lot about their stand on the project.
In unchartered paths
The art of innovation involves following unchartered paths, doing things that have never been done before and creating something out of nothing. Projects involving innovation or research and development are often high-risk projects as the end results are often uncertain. Due to the high risk, it is often advisable for the project team members on these kinds of projects to collocate.
Projects of this nature also involves testing, making changes, fixing bugs, changing scope and modifying deliverables within a small time frame. All these requirements make it imperative for the project team members to come together until the project is on a path of certainty.
Advantages of colocation
Improves communication and relationships
The primary advantage of colocation among team members is enhanced communication. Researchers have shown that team members working in the same geographical location often tend to have a more effective communication when compared to their counterparts who work in virtual teams.
Working from the same location also improves the relationships among team members. It means you have a greater understanding of your team members’ emotions, personalities, social lives, fears, goals and aspirations that cannot easily be studied within a virtual team, therefore fostering greater relationships among team members.
Improved efficiency and effectiveness
Once communication and relationships of a project team have been established, it logically leads to improved project effectiveness. Effective communication and relationship would help identify areas of a project that can lead to conflict as well as improve conflict resolution skills among the project team.
Team effectiveness is also improved by having a proper understanding of the organizational goals, deadlines and priorities that can be communicated effectively when the project team is together. As we all know, an effective and efficient project team is the dream of any project manager as there is a higher probability of project success within the recognized project constraints.
Disadvantages of colocation
Colocation can be expensive
The cost of bringing team members together to the same physical location can be very expensive. Project team members might come from various countries especially on projects that require a lot of expertise.
The cost of relocating all project members, accommodating them and feeding them should always be juxtaposed vis-à-vis the returns on the project to determine the financial viability of colocation. A cost benefit analysis should be carried out in this case. Since colocation is not always economical, it is therefore not advised on every project except when it is impossible to achieve the project goals without colocating.
Cultural and operational adaptation difficulties
Apart from the financial cost of getting project team members to the required location, it is important for them to acclimatize to their working environment. Basic cultural challenges such as food requirements, language, belief systems, clothing needs, etc., may become a challenge for the project team members.
Other common challenges the project team members are likely to face are weather conditions and working conditions of the host country. Since all these are likely to differ from country to country, time is required for proper adaptation to the host country, which if not properly managed, can lead to an increase in the overall project time.
For a better understanding of cultural differences, using the Hofstede cultural dimensions would give us adequate insight into how cultural and behavioural patterns differ among countries even within the same organization.
Before transferring any team member from their current location, a lot of background work is necessary. Successfully coordinating the project logistics involved is another herculean task for the project manager. Family challenges such as relocation of the team members’ immediate family, spouse having to resign to join the other partner or working out holiday plans to allow for family meetings, accommodation challenges such as hotels or getting a rented apartment, etc., would all need to be deliberated upon and carefully answered before colocation takes place.
It’s amazing how everyone paints the benefit of colocation without considering the challenges that come with it. Without a doubt, colocation is a great strategy to use especially when it comes to team building; however, there are always two sides to a coin.
I hope you have been able to learn a thing or two from this article and as usual, if you have a question or comment, do drop us a message in the comment box below.