Like with most startups and small businesses, at Speek we work with a lot of virtual team members. Virtual jobs are increasing at a rapid pace, and more businesses are hiring virtual workers from outside of their home country. A survey report done by RW3, which included 3,000 business people from countries around the world, revealed that 41% of respondents said that at least half of their virtual teams were outside their home country. When teams become more geographically and culturally diverse, leadership becomes more difficult. The following are some leadership techniques to consider when managing virtual teams in a global environment.
Define the Decision Making Process
75% respondents in the survey said that the process of decision making is one of the biggest challenges during team meetings. Decision making processes vary depending on the country and culture. Here in the U.S., we’re used to managers asking for team member input before moving forward with a decision. In countries such as Sweden and Finland, decisions are made through consensus building by the team which can take a longer time. In a recent Business Insider article, author Gus Lubin presented 24 charts of leadership styles from around the world. The chart shows a good overview of how different leadership styles are from one country to the next.
Assess your own leadership style and get a clear understanding of you manage team members in a virtual environment. The team leaders (especially in a global environment) are the ones who are willing to try out different things. Test out different decision making processes and measure their effectiveness. Most importantly, create a detailed description of how project decisions will be made and inform new members from the start.
Sharing calendars is a good technique even when not working in a global remote environment. Whether taking kids to school in the morning, or a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, it lets everyone know your availability. But most importantly, it will gives team members the opportunity to prepare project tasks around your schedule. In a global team environment, this becomes even more important.
Observed holidays vary by country and culture. In the US, there are 10 federal holidays every year. In a country like India, the government celebrates 17 holidays, out of the dozens of holidays observed by different religions in the country. When adding a new team member to your remote team, have them fill out a calendar of the holidays that they observe. You don’t want to accidentally schedule an important project deadline on a day when no one will be working.
Set Up The Right Communication Procedures
Before starting a project with a global team, it’s important to set out ground rules for communication. Develop a messaging hierarchy through different communication mediums. Too often teams use email as their main communication platform, which just leads to an overflow of emails from all team members that is difficult to keep track of. Take advantage of communication tools and collaboration software to create a more organized way of communicating between team members.
Establish communication rules and response times. Effective communication is difficult to maintain in a remote environment when there are no guidelines set out. Should people respond to emails within a certain time period? When should people be available to be online during the week to ask questions via chat software or conference calls? When will the weekly meetings be held?
Focus on Team Building
It becomes difficult to build trust and bonding between people who have never met. A lot of virtual managers that I’ve spoken with in the past often say that increasing team motivation and team productivity are the main issues they have difficulty dealing with. In an article I wrote before, I gave a few virtual team building activities that can help develop relationships between team members. Team building activities should not just be a one-time thing. People don’t immediately bong from one meeting. Building relationships take time, but they will lead to an increase in collaboration and communication. Team building should be a top priority for every manager, especially in a virtual environment.