Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Collaboration that works, part of Managing International Projects (2015).
- Have you ever tried to bust a pinata while blindfolded with a group of people trying to give you directions? Too high, too low, further to the right. It can be really tricky to hit the target when you are not able to see what everybody else can see. Let's talk about how we can avoid having your team members feel this way. Collaboration from a distance has a unique set of challenges. They're not present in face to face interactions. Working across borders often means working across different cultures and time zones.
Having team members that do not physically see each other regularly can leave everybody feeling a little blindfolded and disengaged. Just like kids trying to hit that pinata. Sure, technology has bridged the gap somewhat, but many teams continue to struggle when distance is involved. That is because true collaboration is more than just providing your team with web conferencing software. Although such tools can facilitate collaboration, there's much more you can do to keep your team engaged.
So, be sure to involve stakeholders early. Stakeholders are much more likely to become and remain interested in collaborating if they're involved in the project from its early stages. Ensure that everybody is included in planning and not just given a tap on the shoulder when it's time for them to perform project tasks. Involve stakeholders more richly, early in the project life cycle. Face to face communication is expensive and may put an early dent in your budget, however, this is the time when face to face interactions really count.
You could have multiple kick off meetings in multiple countries. If face to face is not possible, ensure you use rich media. Second, encourage initiative. Build a team culture that openly challenges and questions, accepts risks and tolerates a bit of a stumble now and then. This can be difficult for team members whose cultural background discourages risk taking. However, you can use small, intrinsic rewards, even just a free coffee card, to motivate people and encourage initiative.
Third, be clear about expectations, roles and responsibilities. Collaboration works best when everybody is clear about what they're supposed to be doing and how they are contributing to the team goals Avoid confusion by having clear team goals and well documented communication, stakeholder and human resource management plans. Reinforce these plans regularly and ensure common understanding. When at all possible, allow for cross pollination when creating and updating these plans for greater, more diverse views.
Fourth, distribute leadership. Ensure the team is supported by leaders who are distributed around the various project locations. The team should always have access to a decision maker so that issues can be resolved quickly. I discussed this concept in the previous movie. Next, deploy accepted processes for team decision making. It's important to realize that not all decisions require collaboration. If the team accepts that some decisions can be made without collaboration, work can continue without the team getting bogged down in unnecessary detail.
Document how this is going to work and get agreement from your distributed team members. Lastly, work to build trust. If trust is present in the team, conflict between team members is minimized. A lack of trust is a real barrier to effective collaboration. Spend time with your team members, virtually and face to face, when you can, and seek to build trust-based relationships. While teams working at a distance have their unique challenges, the tools to overcome them are at your disposal.
A team that collaborates and communicates effectively is much more likely to but that every swinging pinata.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track