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 II.

Last week in article So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky… part I. I outlined some of the questions you should be asking yourself when managing remote teams. At the end I identified three areas of focus: mindset, communication and processes. Let us now focus on what I call the proper mindset when managing remotely. I will share with you some of the ideas I always found helpful. As with any other advice it is up to you to consider whether they are something that might work for your situation and that you want to use.

Analyze any issues – to understand what went wrong, why and how to prevent it in the future. This doesn’t mean looking for someone to blame but to learn from past mistakes. Always start with you and find out what you can do differently and how you should change your approach before you start asking the remote team to change theirs.

Find a local mentor – who can help you understand the team, culture, customs, who will be able to provide you feedback and give you insider perspective on how the team works. You should be pretty open about this with the rest of the team so they don’t feel like there is a spy in their midst. In fact they may use this person to give you feedback that they are not comfortable giving you by themselves.

Utilize the strengths – of the team you’ve got. There might be some cultural aspects, habits and ways of working that you may use to your advantage rather than try to change it by force. Some cultures hate uncertainty and prefer to have rules and guidelines for everything, while other cultures hate following rules and prefer to have more freedom in the way how to approach a problem. So use these differences.

Understand – that in some cultures (in fact in most cultures in Europe and Asia) it is your responsibility as a manager to recognize the good job of the team and act accordingly (with promotions, adding more responsibilities, etc.). In other cultures it is more common for a person to step up and promote himself. Always keep in mind that there is no right or wrong approach, they are just different and you as a manager must adapt.

Make a conscious effort – to understand the local culture, understand the history, the present, ask your remote team about their culture but don’t try to act like you already know everything and refrain from sliding back to cultural stereotypes and misconceptions.

Don’t assume anything – especially that people are always open with you. Realize that trust does not come automatically with the title and it needs to be earned. At the same time be aware that in some cultures the title will build a wall between you and your team and your ability to get negative feedback is very limited.

Be willing to change – working habits and always try to see things from the other person’s perspective. For example, “Would I be willing to do this if I were in his or her shoes?” “How would I feel if my boss who is 10 hours away asked me to stay till midnight on Friday to have a meeting?” At the same time don’t assume you are able to predict how the other person feels or would act.

Give your remote team meaningful work – and a real responsibility otherwise they will never build a sense of ownership and they will never give you their best performance. This is a key to really successful global organization. Your willingness to relinquish some of the control and empower the remote team is the best thing you can do.

Don’t allow – the local or remote team to get into habit of “us & them” thinking. The moment this starts happening you are on your way to failure as it will gradually build a big gap between the teams and the trust and performance will deteriorate fast.

Don’t be a bottle neck – especially when the remote team works your off hours. Make sure there is someone in the remote team who has the knowledge, ability and authority to make decisions and move things forward while you sleep.

Make it a point – that you hire the same quality of people regardless of the location. They need to get the same level of attention, responsibilities and opportunities to grow. The moment you start giving preferential treatment to the team in your location the whole concept breaks down and you won’t be able to build a high-performing global organization.

These were just thoughts on the mindset you need to build in yourself and your local team. Next week I will focus on the other two aspects of building a global organization and that is communication and global processes. Both of these are building on the premise that you have the right mindset and willingness to give it an extra effort to create a success as a global organization.

Twitter type summary: “Give your remote team meaningful work and real responsibility to build the sense of ownership and to get the best performance.”

What are the other practices that help you manage remote teams? What mindset do you have or do you set in your team?