Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Successful teams across borders – PART 2

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships." Michael Jordan

The last post I have finished providing 6 challenges of global teams:
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Technology
  • Culture
  • Trust
  •  Leadership

In this article I we will explore each of these challenges. A lot of tips, techniques and frameworks come from “The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams” (see the picture for the whole title and authors) and are supported by my own experience and examples.

The main issue with distance is lack of face- to-face interaction, which is crucial to build trust, monitor performance, motivate and understand the cultural differences. Not sure what’s your experience but I feel more connected to my local office and people from my floor or building than my team, although all of them belong to different teams and we have no work interaction at all. But we share the language (not all of us speak Polish, as there are around 30% foreigners working in my location but they try to learn the language and understand our culture), norms, dress codes etc. It’s much easier to build team/community identity when based in the same building. I get involved in many local initiatives and really feel as a part of this great community. Feeling trust is about following the norms/ practices, willingness to share knowledge and cooperate with others and desire to stay with the organization.

When team members are dispersed communication is more challenging and you need to be more disciplined about keeping in touch and sharing information as it does not happen automatically! As I’m based off site have experienced it many times – changed priorities that have impacted my project and I was not aware of, people leaving the company – everyone knew except me! Tip: plan your communication carefully when having employees working off site as they might feel isolated as I did on many occasions!

The main issue with the time when real time communication is required is restriction of time – everyone trying to use 2 - 4 pm GMT time slot to invite people from 3 continents – Asia, Europe and US, so you need to schedule your meeting early in advance and if need to reschedule might take a while! On the other hand the advantage is 24 h workday.
Some tips:
ü  Check where people you want to invite are located and adjust the meeting time accordingly
ü  Show respect – ask if you need someone very early or late
ü  Be careful when rescheduling at a very short notice – someone from US might have got up very early to attend your meeting and finding out it has been cancelled might be very frustrating – happened to me once and now I’m more conscious about it.

ü  must learn how to use it
ü  might be incompatible (people from different locations might use different technology).

Remember: Technology is useful, but less important than techniques to interact!

"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster." Prof. Geert Hofstede.

Do not assume the sameness – what is normal for you might not be normal for others. We are all different! There are regional, generational, departmental, functional, organizational plus cultural differences, which increase with virtual world as more boundaries need to be crossed. Additional to these a team creates its own culture.
ü  Show respect and personal interest to other cultures
ü  Try to visit a country where you have an employee at least once
ü  If cannot effort a visit  try to find out more on cultures through reading, speaking to people or visiting a restaurant representing the ethnicity of a team member.

Teamwork depends on trust! Communication (keeping people participating and informed) is a key element of trust. Trust is connected with identity (following specific norms/ practices, willingness to share knowledge and cooperate with others and desire to stay with the organization). It’s crucial we know who we are working with to interpret the behaviour and reactions.

In virtual teams fundamental cues about personalities might be absent if you do not put enough effort to get know each other. Trust is based on knowing and being known by one another and comes from believing in the individual expertise and even most important from sense of accountability, keeping commitments to each other Building trust takes longer when we are not meeting every day and lack of social communication. We need more time to identify team members’ habits and skills.

ü  Show interest in your team members achievements, both work related and personal, support and promote them amongst other team members
ü  Make only commitments you can and will keep!

A virtual leader needs to be both a leader and a member.
    ü  Ensure performance
    ü  Mentor and coach
  ü  Do not control but coach individuals how to control themselves!
        ü  Use appropriate technology - e-mail is not the best tool!
        ü  Learn and respect other cultures – plan a visit to a country where you have employees or organize a team meeting where individuals are able to talk about their cultures. When I’m in UK I bake or bring Polish bread and we eat it for second breakfast (around 10-11 o’clock) –people in the kitchen not familiar with Polish eating habits usually ask: “early lunch”? And hear my answer: “No, second breakfast”.
       ü  Build trust
       ü  Network outside a project or work related stuff

A virtual leader is a mentor who shows a high degree of empathy towards their team members and is able to use authority without being perceived as inflexible!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Successful teams across borders – PART 1

On the 13th of June I took part in a debate on motivation in virtual teams. The debate started with the presentation: " How to keep high motivation in virtual teams" by Bożena Wujec, the owner of InSpired, and was a part of Forum Wsparcia IT (IT Support Forum).

Expert Recommendation

During this very interesting debate we all agreed that globalisation is a fact and whether you like it or not, today’s workplace is not longer defined by its bricks and mortar walls. Managing global teams is both challenging and interesting. Although most of us agree that having a globally dispersed team makes sense, but in order to work together well a few conditions need to be made.

I have decided to write a series of articles to walk you through challenges, tips, tools and techniques on how to become globe smart. These will include some theoretical background including studies and experience from my last 7 years when working mostly virtually as both  a leader of global teams (PM) and a virtual team member. So let’s start the journey!

To start with, will share some statistics from The American Society of Training & Development and the Institute for Corporate Product’s studies (2008, 397 respondents from different continents):
  •        29% agreed that providing global learning is essential
  •        82% use global team for revenue generation
  •        70% to maximize stakeholders value
  •        61% for global visibility
  •        56% to improve performance
Sharing corporate values and conforming to local customs were critical factors for successfully leading a global team (Paradise, 2008).

Benefits of working globally teams – from company/project perspective:
ü  the best skills and expertise regardless the location
ü  24 h coverage
ü  reduce office overhead
ü  adapt an as-needed approach (save time and money)

Benefits from team member perspective:
ü  flexible hours
ü  working from different locations – from home/ office in another location
ü  possibility of working from another country
ü  getting experience in  another cultures, languages etc– opens many doors of employment around the globe.

It’s all about collaboration! Another studies reviled (Frost & Sulivan, 2006), 946 decision makers from different continents, that employee productivity increases as a result of collaboration. The study also found that collaborative tools reduced the cost of travelling to in-person meetings, increased opportunity to work with people from other locale, supported productivity and responsiveness regardless of location, allowed team work to flourish, and helped managed the demands placed on these distributed teams. All teams must collaborate, so do distributed teams!

Global team need to bridge distance, culture and time to accomplish their work. Very often we are provided with technological tools, but not training and support on cultural awareness, decision making, communication skills and virtual meetings facilitation.

For me the most frightening thing when started working virtually was chairing meetings by phone – teleconferences. Still challenging, especially with new teams/ projects, when you do know people, struggling with pronouncing unfamiliar names and do not know what they are talking about, but need to take notes.

Telecons – What problems have we experienced?
Ø  People with own agenda taking over the meeting
Ø  Silence
Ø  Language
Ø  Lack of body language
Ø  Covering topics/reference (we are looking at the top right corner of the document xyz)
Ø  Reaching consensus
Ø  Controlling behaviours

A few tips on chairing telecons:
ü  Have a clear agenda/purpose
ü  Select carefully participants - invite only people that might contribute to the discussion/decision
ü  Pick time that is convenient and considerate for people in the various time zones
ü  Encourage input from people who don't normally talk much.  That makes sure that everyone, regardless of location, stays included. 
ü  Make a rule: if people on the line can't get into the conversation, tell them to push a button on their phone to make a tone sound and you will stop and listen to them.

ü  Ideas for dealing with Identification of Speakers:
o    Introduction at start of call
o    Have picture somewhere – put faces to a name
o    Politely ask who spoke
o    Include in ground rules – Say your name before you speak
o    Roll call
o    Summarise at the end and check

CHALLENGES of working globally can be divided into two groups: given & created.

I.              Given to the team / characteristics
1.     Distance
2.     Time
3.     Technology
Distance and time represent measurable conditions that are dissolved by technology.

II.            Created and sustained by the team
4.     Culture
5.     Trust
6.     Leadership

Awareness of cultural differences and connections, development of trust and leadership capabilities are crucial in order to build high performing teams.

In next article will describe these 6 challenges in more details.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What self sustainability has in common with Agile? NTPM PART 2

“The room was wonderful, the meals were great, the hotel staff was courteous. Of course it was real pleasure to visit the beautiful area of Sopot once again. The conference itself was well managed. Everyone was accommodating and enthusiastic. I made some excellent contacts,” said John Styffe, the speaker of New Trends in Project Management 2013 conference.

Peter Taylor with “Strategies for Sponsorship” kicked off the second day of the event (or third counting “The Project from Hell” workshop). He started with statistics on project success factors. According to Standish Chaos Report “Executive Management Support” is the most important project success factor. Standish believe that “The most important person in the project is the executive sponsor. The executive sponsor is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the project. I remember one of the conferences I attended many years ago where I learnt that “a good project sponsor can make for a bad project manager, but a good project manager cannot make for a bad sponsor”, so truth! We all look for a “balanced” sponsor: involved, objective, supportive and reactive. What’s your experience with project sponsors? More on sponsorships can be found in Peter’s new book: „Strategies for Project Sponsorship”.

I really enjoyed John Styffe's presentation on “Self Sustainability in the work place”. John describes  sustainability as “a state of mind where one takes ownership of their ability to survive, exist, grow, develop and prosper be it as a corporate employee or as a business owner”. I liked it so much as it has answered one of the questions I ask myself. Before I let you in on it I will share a personal story. 

Almost every day I hear about achieving work/life balance – some tips, books, debates etc. From time to time people accuse me of working long hours and not having work/life balance, which really used to upset me. Do I need to? What does work/life balance mean? I enjoy my job, project management is my passion, but I have a few more hobbies: felting, jewellery making, sport, travel, home design, so I’m not obsessed with the projects as find some time for other thingsJ. Do I need to worry about the balance? I think that’s a dilemma for many people. And I have a piece of advice on it for all of you, which I found in one of the Citrix webinars “The Rewired Resolution Eight Ways to Work Smarter, Live Better, and be More Productive” by Camille Preston, PhD AIM Leadership, LLC: 4. STOP: Worrying about work/life balance. START: Focusing on doing more of what energizes you and less of what depletes you. I love it!

Let’s come back to John’s speech which answered another dilemma I had. John shared an interesting graph – see the picture below.

So, when you work intensely for a couple of hours/days/weeks you need a break: a coffee/lunch break or a day/weekend or after a 2 week sprint maybe 1 “hack” day. Do you know that in Spotify to promote learning and innovation, each team is encouraged to spend roughly 10% of their time on “hack days. During hack days people do whatever they want, typically trying out new ideas. Some teams do 1 hack day every second week, others save up for a whole “hack week”. Hack days are not only fun, they are also a great way to stay up-to-date with new tools and techniques and sometimes lead to important product innovations! 

More on Scaling Agile @ Spotify can be found here.

We all need these breaks and these breaks need to be free from worries. I know a lot of people that are on high Beta state all the day – even having breaks look at the watch and think about their workload. And how about me? Just discovered during John’s presentation - I switch between Beta and Alfa states easily. Work intensely and take breaks, move from Beta to Alfa state, recharge my energy and come back to work again at full pace. Of course, work longer than 8 hours, but what I gain is: wide open vision, wide perspective, clear mind and positive and caring emotions! Great! This is my secret and I know the answer now. Thanks John.

And some thoughts from Daniel Walsh, who closed the conference.

20 international speakers, 3 thematic tracks and 20 presentations and workshops made the decision which session to attend very hard.