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Communicating Effectively with Globally Dispersed Teams

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Technology enables companies to take advantage of a 24-hour work day by utilizing globally dispersed teams.  For example, one of my US clients, a large environmental engineering firm based in the Southeast, uses US-based teams to work on projects during the day and colleagues in Kolkata, India to continue the work into the night (Kolkata’s work day). This round-the-clock work cycle shortens the time it takes to complete a project or product and bring it to market.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly simple concept; however, things are rarely as simple as they seem.  When it comes to managing a globally dispersed team, effective communication is crucial to team success.  Use these tips to enhance the delivery of your team communications:

More communication is better than less.  A team’s leader is responsible for facilitating communication among the team.  With the aid of a code of conduct, expectations for how and when a team should communicate are defined.  A manager I know makes a point to check in with team members daily, either personally or via a prerecorded video call. This allows him to manage “virtually” by walking around (MBWA).  It also sets an example for the team to communicate regularly among themselves and with their leader.

Make time for “small talk” at meetings.  A client’s global HR team holds a monthly teleconference to discuss projects and objectives.  Because all of the offices don’t have video conferencing capability, they distribute an agenda on a shared drive that can be viewed by all team members during the meeting.  To personalize the agenda, it displays a graphic of a conference table with each team member’s picture around the table.  The first 5-10 minutes of the meeting are dedicated to small talk—about family, vacation, hobbies—to facilitate group interaction.  The meeting closes with each member sharing a highlight or accomplishment for the month.

Use your imagination! Boring meetings can cause people to disengage, particularly if they are virtual and not physically present in the same room.  Encourage team members to participate by sharing comments and feedback.

Rotate the role of meeting facilitator.  The meeting facilitator is responsible for the smooth running of the meeting.  When an individual dominates the discussion or fails to participate at all, the facilitator can manage this behavior by sending a text message or emoticon.  This is more subtle than verbally chastising a team member.  By rotating the role of facilitator, all team members get an opportunity to build valuable skills.

Resist judgments based on cultural bias.  Of all of the tips, this is one of the most difficult to follow.  When communicating face to face, you can observe both verbal and non-verbal clues.  When communicating virtually, in the absence of visual, non-verbal clues, there is a risk of making judgments based on words and tone alone.  Cultural differences in speech patterns, language, and behaviors can impact one’s perception. Before jumping to conclusions, ask clarifying questions like, “Maybe I’m misinterpreting your comment…”

When people work together globally to accomplish team objectives everyone benefits.   Collaborating, communicating, and sharing life experiences helps globally dispersed teams to bond and produce results.  A strong team leader, as a role model, can help a team stay connected through open and effective communication. 


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