Transitioning work from one country to another inevitably results in teams needing to work in an increasingly virtual environment. Tasks that used to be undertaken in one location are now passed on to another country to be performed by colleagues from a different cultural background who often have a different first language.
Working across the barriers of time zones, culture, language and technology will almost inevitably throw up a range of new and challenging situations which are going to require people to reassess the way they perform key tasks. Teams will be reconstituted and tasks reassigned. Leaders will be asked to manage people who are located thousands of miles away, who they don’t know and probably (from a cultural perspective) don’t understand.
The issues of virtual working are not ‘soft’ and they are not peripheral to the process – they like at the heart of how successfully you can make any outsourcing project work. If you can make virtual teams as effective as co-located teams then half the battle is won – however if your virtual teams become malfunctioning the results can be enormously damaging and very costly.
Senior leaders need to recognise the critical nature of virtual team working and the need to give people the knowledge and skills to operate effectively in such a challenging environment. Emphasis should be placed on the following areas:
- Developing virtual leadership skills: Just because somebody has successfully managed a team in their home location does not mean they automatically understand the dynamics of virtual team working. Virtual team leadership demands a whole new set of skills and also requires people to develop new levels of global cultural fluency and awareness.
- Agreeing team protocols: Multi-cultural virtual teams will be made up of people with different cultural backgrounds and different corporate experiences. They will bring their own assumptions about ‘how things work’. Everybody will have a different expectation around what a good meeting looks like or how decisions should be taken. Global virtual teams need to establish agreed team protocols and they need to do this right at the outset of the project. Fail to address this issue and you automatically build-in inefficiencies.
- Improving communication skills: Different countries have very differing views around how to communicate effectively. Each team member might have a different view about how they want to communicate with the leader. Some cultures like instructions to be given in great detail; others like to be given an objective. Consistent, clear and comprehensive intra-team communication is a must if the team is to function to full capacity.
- Great technology: Global virtual teams rely on the use of technology in almost every situation – you cannot shout to a team member in another country. This complete technological dependency means that your technology has to be good and it has to be robust but it also means that all team members need to be comfortable using it. Outsourcing projects often introduce people to new technologies but training on these new technologies is often overlooked because there are so many other things happening at the same time. Appoint technology champions and make them accountable.
If you fail to address these issues you will regret it down the outsourcing line. Getting this right requires time, training and budget – so factor those things into you plans from the start to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
We have helped numerous clients with these challenges and we’d be delighted to help you as well.
Latest version updated 16th November 2017