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I am currently heading three different projects which are all composed of students from various universities and colleges around Toronto, ON and Waterloo, ON.

In each of these projects I am facing issues with communication with the team members, issues with meeting deadlines, and issues with healthy project collaboration.

The three projects I'm leading are:

  1. A redesign of a website for a university student-run synthetic biology organization.
  2. An advertising and recruiting campaign for the same organization.
  3. A project to get quality speakers for a business conference.

All of these teams consist of three to four students and no one lives close to each other. All meetings are generally done over Skype and our main forms of communication is email and Facebook messages.

Communication is hard because of distance and the lack of frequency of which we communicated (about three times a week). During the week where there's little communication, assumptions form about direction and responsibility and random delays occur as a result slowing the team. Deadlines, which I set, are hard to meet for each team for the previous reason and because each of us has full-time coop placements or school to deal with as well as any other commitments. Collaboration is very hard because of both of the previous and as a result of poor collaboration the quality of our product/service is declining.

I really just need help to make all of these projects work. I figure that since there are similar issues in each project and since I am the common factor I must be the problem. I'm willing to change whatever I need to to become a better project manager.

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First and foremost - YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY WITH THIS PROBLEM. It’s a real challenge to work in a distributed team. And some time frustrating too. Geographical separation has so much effect on team dynamics that everybody in the team seems to forget the basic tenet of working together. The Basic Tenet, which suggest, Shared Goals, Transparency, Team Spirit, and Respect for each other, looks too good to be true.So, I suggest that there is no need to be on the guilt trip. But yes, there are few things you should try to make the situation better.

  1. It looks creating an environment which allows your other team members to take more responsibility will help in overall problem. Build an ecosystem, which provide a concise set of strong principles to stimulate intelligent, and responsible behavior. This may lead to better commitments from everybody.
  2. At least co-locate the team once. It helps to build a shared context and shared ownership.
  3. Progress measurement should be transparent. Everybody should have a clear sense about where they are heading and it helps to create ownership.
  4. In your team meetings you can start evaluating the good and bad happened so far. The intention is to remove waste and to improve upon communication, process and technology.

Forming a "single team" is really a tough task. A single team, where we need to create an environment of rich communication, shared responsibility, and same goals. This is an environment where associates do the same work and are dependent upon each other for the team’s success. This is an environment where team members strengthen each other.

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You might get more views/answers on this if you change the emphasis slightly - it's actually more a problem with a distributed teams rather than students per-se.

As Toronto and Waterloo aren't that far apart, it would be worth setting up a one-time physical meeting for each project - it sounds like people have only been communicating online; they'll gain a much better understanding of each other and a clearer idea of individual responsibilities in a physical meeting.

It's also worth reviewing Leading Virtual Teams - I suspect the links will be helpful to you.

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I'm going to go a slightly different direction on this one. All of the above responses are great and deserve a +1.

Here's what I'd suggest.

Google+ - Honestly, I think I can describe in very few steps just how well using google's social platform would help you.

Create a circle for the team members, this way you can share content with everyone in the team, everyone no matter where they are can be notified of new content being shared, everyone can comment on it - easily.

Use a hangout (webcam and mic) to get everyone online and talking together, virtual meeting with everyone involved.

Portability, the mobile application supports push notifications so if you need to say something while a team member is off attending a lecture they can respond quickly and effectively without having to find a computer and log in to some project management software which is often expensive and they may not have access to.

If you wanted to go one further you could create a board on trello but I don't think for the scope of this project it would be of as much benefit as google plus could be.

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