So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky… part III.

Over the last two weeks I gave you an idea of what questions to ask when building a global organization (So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky… part I.) and how the right mindset is the key to that effort (So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky… part II.). Today I will walk you through some of the best practices with respect to communication and processes.

Communication

Over-communicate – get used to communicating much more than you would like. It is important to share information, share it again and then share it some more. Get used to repeating stuff, get used to getting acknowledgement and let others tell you back what they heard.

Don’t make any assumptions – it is so easy to assume that the other party has access to particular information or that they understood what you said the way you intended. Always state even the most obvious. Keep in mind that what is obvious to you may not be obvious to someone with different educational or cultural background.

Look for clues – people are different and not everyone will always tell you things the way you would understand or hear. So keep looking for clues that may indicate that the other person is trying to send some important message across.

Make your expectations clear – the more details you provide the better. And by that I don’t mean micromanaging, but just stating the expectations about the final outcome in enough detail so it is difficult to misunderstand.

Refrain from long sentences and slang – try to write and speak in simple English using as little slang and colloquialism as possible since the remote team may not get the references or guess the correct meaning. The worst miscommunication happens when you say something and the remote team believes they got the message, but they didn’t or got it wrong.

Be careful with jokes – as they may not translate well to different cultures and can be offensive. This also applies to making references to things or sayings popular in your culture as the remote team will not get the point and will feel excluded.

Make it a habit to send to the team a daily update – it will help to emphasize key events or decisions that happened during your day. Nothing fancy just to make sure they are in the loop on priorities and decisions that may impact them.

Ask the team to do the same – to send you a short daily update on what achievements they made, what issues there are facing and what they plan to do tomorrow to ensure alignment of priorities.

Write as much as possible – written communication is often needed when working with team members who are not native English speakers. They may be more comfortable expressing their thoughts through email or instant messaging than talking on video. Ideally combine both.

Don’t do email ping pong – as it rarely helps to clarify the message. If you get the feeling after one email exchange that the message is still not clear than pick up the phone and talk to the person to clarify the details and then again follow with key points in writing.

Send short notes – after phone calls or video meetings just to be on the safe side and summarize key points, decisions and action items.

Processes

Hold regular synchronization meetings – only by maintaining constant contact with your remote team will you ensure that the information flows freely and both sides have enough opportunities to share thoughts.

Document & follow up – always put key points in writing and share with your team. That way you provide additional check-point for the team members to raise their eyebrows (and hopefully voices) in case they understood it differently.

Set some basic team rules – make sure at the very beginning that you explain your expectations and management style to the team so they are not offended by something you do.

Take monthly or quarterly trips – they will help to build trust. Of course that assumes you have budget to spare. Some level of face-time is needed especially at the beginning when you are getting to know each other.

Use video chat – as much as possible to simulate the face to face experience and have the advantage of reading facial expression. Though keep in mind that in different cultures these expressions may mean different things.

Make it a point – to send a short message with key points to the remote team even when you have an informal discussion with the local team members to simulate the water cooler experience.

Hold weekly one on one meetings – as they play a key role in staying in touch on personal level and give you opportunity to bond with the remote person, work on his development, provide feedback and hopefully also receive some.

We live in the age of technologies so use them. There is a phone, instant messengers, e-mail, skype, facebook, collaboration portals and tools, video conferencing and much more so don’t be afraid to adopt new technologies to help you out. But remember the technology will not solve your problems for you. It is still your job as a leader to set the processes, communicate, make the effort and lead by example to be able to build a great global organization.

Twitter type summary: “Over-communicating and stating the obvious without making any assumption is a key to building a successful global team.”

What are your best practices or trips and tricks when managing remote teams? What have you tried and failed? What were the lessons learned?

So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky… part I.

We live in a super connected world where organizations span across geographies and cultures. Every day in the office we meet colleagues, partners, customers using technologies such a phone, email, video conferencing and we must learn how to work with them even if not sitting face to face. One of the most challenging situations is having responsibility for a remote team. How do you make the most of such arrangement? How do you ensure your team performs to the best of their abilities? How do you truly lead? How do you ensure your visibility to the team so they are able to follow you?

For the sake of simplicity let me draw a typical scenario that we will follow thought this article. Imagine you are a manager of twenty people divided into four teams of five. One team sits in your location, the rest sits offshore eight hours away. Now, let us go through some of the most important and often overlooked aspects of remote management.

Out of sight, out of mind

This is the most common issue you can see when people work with global teams. Managing remote team will cost you more conscious effort than managing locally. It is very easy to forget that you have remote team members and if you are not careful you can create a serious problem for yourself and your team. When you ask for information do you ask the person who is the most qualified to give you the answer or do you ask the person who sits in the cubicle next to you? When you think about organizational structure or promotions do you understand the strengths of the people in remote location or do you just promote people sitting next to you as you have detail visibility into what they are doing so it feels like they are the right candidates for the job? When you think about who to use for a new assignment or project, do you ask for volunteers in the remote team or will you just give it to guy in your office as you remember that last week he told you at lunch he might be interested in it?

Missing water cooler

In most organizations lots of ideas and even decisions come from informal discussions “around water cooler”. Obviously, if you have part of the team remote they won’t be able to be part of the discussion unless you make it a point to give them at least a chance. So when you go for lunch with your local team how do you ensure that the ideas you discussed are shared with the remote team? When you share information with a team member you just met in the hallway how do you ensure it gets also to the guys sitting across the ocean? How do you ensure that there is enough interaction also at the social level so even if distributed it still feels like having one team?

We are all different

People are different. Even in your local team you may need to change a bit your management style when dealing with different people and different personalities and the same applies when working globally. What makes it even more challenging is that the chances are that aside of individual personalities you will have to deal with subtle or not so subtle cultural differences. How do you get open and honest feedback from the remote team? How do you ensure that you understand what “yes” actually means? Curiously enough it can mean different things in different cultures. How do you ensure people ask questions and come for clarifications? How do you ensure that when you speak with the remote team that doesn’t have English as their native language that they really understand what you are saying?

There are many more things you need to be aware of and focus on when working with remote teams but the ones I outlined are the most critical. The goal of the first part of this article was to make you think. So think and keep asking these questions to yourself in your everyday work. Make sure you ask these questions yourself every time you make a decision or share information. And now let me give you some ideas on how to answer these questions. I will introduce the basic concepts and get into more details next week…

What can you do to remove the barriers coming from the global setup?

Mindset – it is all about the way you think about your organization. I assume there is a good reason why you have a global team so always keep reminding yourself what is the goal you are trying to achieve. Do you look at your oversees workers as at cheap labor or do you want to create organization that is scalable, that gives you ability to tap vast talent pool across several continents, that gives you a chance to use strengths of different cultures, that gives you ability to be closer to your customers and that gives your team the satisfaction of working with and learning from people with different educational and cultural background?

Communication – you need to over communicate. Get into a habit of sharing as much information as possible in as many different ways as possible. Never assume anything, always ask for verification, put special focus on the social aspect of building the team, ensure you treat people equally and you provide equal opportunities to people regardless where they sit.

Processes – tweak the processes within your organization in such a way that they work even across distances. Do you hold meetings in the afternoon when your remote team already sleeps? Well, change it so they can participate. Again these things will take some effort and will be painful at the beginning but will pay dividends in long-term.

Twitter type summary: “Leading remote teams requires more conscious effort than managing locally as you need to keep reminding yourself of their existence.”

What are the questions one should keep asking to understand the art of managing remote teams?