Driving Participation and Collaboration on Distributed Teams


Program Management Commentary

By Russ Martinelli, Tim Rahschulte & James Waddell

Program Management Academy

Oregon, USA

In our previous article entitled, “Importance of Cultural Awareness When Managing Distributed Teams”, we discussed the value of building team chemistry, especially with team members residing at various sites physically removed from the home office.  Effective team chemistry is critical to enabling good team member participation and collaboration.  There are many factors that can influence effective participation and collaboration, and in this article we explore three of the most critical:

  • Establishing a culture of trust
  • Utilizing a collaborative development model
  • Structuring the team for maximum participation and collaboration

Trust within a team is the foundation of effective collaboration.  For a team to reach its highest level of performance, much attention has to be paid to building trust between the team members and between the team and the leader, sponsors, and other stakeholders.

Because of geographic separation and cultural differences inherent in a distributed team, the project leader and team members may find they begin collaborating within an environment that is lacking trust.  For domestic teams, some trust may exist based solely on social bonds that may be in place given their co-location and commonality in culture.  Distributed teams do not have this social bond as a foundation of trust to build upon.  Trust in a virtual team environment is granted to those who demonstrate they are trustworthy, and therefore is built more upon consistent and proven performance than by social bonds.

In many ways, project team leaders are the glue that holds teams together. Establishing trust in themselves and between team members based on demonstrated trustworthiness can be a difficult task.  They should begin by setting the expectation that the teams perform within the confines of the elements that demonstrate one is worthy of mutual trust:


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About the Authors

Russ Martinelli


Russ Martinelli is co-founder of the Program Management Academy and co-author of Leading Global Project Teams and the comprehensive book on program management titled Program Management for Improved Business Results.  As a senior program manager at Intel Corporation, Russ has many years of experience leading global product development teams in both the aerospace and computing industries.  Russ can be contacted at [email protected]y.com

Tim Rahschulte


Tim Rahschulte is co-author of Leading Global Project Teams and an executive director at the Program Management Academy. Tim is also responsible for international management and leadership studies at George Fox University in Oregon.  He consults with state governments in the USA on matters of organizational change as a business transition architect.  Contact Tim at [email protected].

 Jim Waddell


Jim Waddell, former director of program management for Tektronix, is a co-founder of the Program Management Academy.  He is an experienced management consultant in his fields of expertise: program management, mergers and acquisitions. He has held a variety of management positions, has been a speaker at numerous conferences, and is a co-author of Leading Global Project Teams, and Program Management for Improved Business Results.  Jim can be contacted at [email protected].