Working with a globally diverse and distributed team

"Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity retained." – W.H. Auden

The above quote is equally applicable to working together on projects. Working on multicultural, globally diverse teams in different offices opens you up to different communication styles, work processes and decision-making practices. Integrating these into a team to achieve a common goal can be a bit difficult, but if treated with well, can be extremely rewarding. I’ve had the opportunity of working on teams like this and while I don’t claim to be any expert, I can share some of the lessons learnt and tips to allow for a smoother process for everyone on the team.

Lay the foundation. From the get-go, you need to keep ensuring that everyone understands what’s going on – the reason for the project, who the clients are, what the roles and responsibilities of the individuals are etc. Establish clear communication and escalation channels – who do I escalate any different kind of problem I may have. Spend some time explaining the different processes and tools being used on the project.

Communication, especially with language barriers involved, tends to be one of the biggest hurdles. Be patient with your team members. I noticed that when you show them you’re being patient, they reciprocate with an eagerness to understand. I’ve found that following up any oral conversations with something written – an email or document, with screenshots of designs etc. can dramatically improve the process of getting everyone on the same page. For best practice, you should have all these documents stored and categorized in one central location for future reference.

Always be aware of your interpersonal skills when interacting with team members who are in different locations. It’s harder to convey an emotion or a tone over e-mail or IM, so think twice about what you’re writing. Try to ensure that you come off sounding offensive in any way.

imageAsk for feedback constantly & consistently! What are we doing that’s working? What do you think we can do better? Tell me the ways that would make you understand me better? Feedback might be a bit slow at first, but by consistently asking for feedback, you’ll also be setting the framework and habit for them to keep thinking about it.

Involve everyone. By being in a remote office, you’re already ostracized from most of the team’s interactions so when interactions do happen – mostly in meetings, involve everyone. Ask everyone individually for input. Be sure to let them know that their ideas and opinions are valued and you look forward to hearing them – and mean it! Take their input into consideration when making decisions and show them that you’re doing so. Foster openness in every interaction so that even those in remote offices feel free to come forward with any idea or voice their opinions if necessary.

Build trust. This needs to happen even if the team is in the same room, but when people are spread across the world, the team needs to find creative ways to build trust with each other. Don’t throw anyone under the bus. Be mindful of what you say so that it does not undermine the hard work of the team. You can build up trust with teammates, but it only takes one thoughtless statement to erode that trust.

Create relationships with each individual. One helpful way of doing this is dividing tasks of the same piece of work between different people. It creates a smaller shared goal within the team and encourages camaraderie to work towards completing it.

One of the most important points to note is that you need to have a solid network infrastructure. When you’re working with teams distributed over different countries, efficient and dependent IT infrastructure is a must. Utilize Skype, GoTo Meeting, Webex and screen-sharing tools like join.me. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got your interpersonal and communication skills down, if you don’t have proper internet or phone connectivity, it can be just as painful.

These points are just some of the things I’ve learnt or experienced so far and they are by no means any hard and fast rules for success 100% of the time. Expect and accept that things may go wrong sometimes, but be resilient in resolving them. Sometimes resolving them may involve making decisions around eliminating an external resource, and that’s okay. Assess your situation and make the decisions based on what you need for your project’s success.

Well guys, I hope that this was helpful!

Written by
Ashmini Deonarine

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Posted in Random Thoughts, Startup
One comment on “Working with a globally diverse and distributed team
  1. Excellent post @Ashmini. I agree with all the pont made here as I myself have worked with globally distributed teams. I know that you have also worked extensively with developers from Argentina where communication due to the difference in language is a huge hurdle. I’ll be interested to hear more about that from you, another post perhaps?

    Keep up the good work!

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