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).

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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.

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