In any circumstance, creating a high-performing team is challenging. So when team members are scattered geographically and separated culturally, the task is even greater. Even so, team leaders and members can take action to steer their dispersed teams in a positive direction. The true distance of a dispersed team is measured by country, culture and time zones, explains the Center for Creative Leadership’s Mike Kossler.
More and more, global organizations expect geographically dispersed teams to deliver high performance and innovation. But according Kossler, organizations jeopardize these outcomes when they don’t properly support their dispersed teams with the right technology, people or training.
In a global organization, team members come from different cultures and often have radically different perspectives. To manage the cultural and geographical differences, dispersed teams take more time and effort to develop than teams working face-to-face.
Here are 5 strategies that leaders and organizations should utilize to build and support geographically dispersed teams:
Strategy 1: Define the team. If you are starting a new team, be clear from the beginning about the purpose and team member requirements. If you have inherited a team or are struggling with your existing team, go back to defining the team’s purpose and vision. What is the task it is expected to complete? Is there a clear direction for completing the task?
Strategy 2: Clarify roles and expectations. Team members may not be sure why they have been chosen or how they are expected to interact with others on the team. Discuss why each member was named to the team, what each member’s skill set is and the role that each member is expected to play.
Strategy 3: Establish procedures. In different facilities and in different cultures, routine processes may differ widely, which can leave team members confused. Teams should establish norms and provide training for practices such as meeting formats, use of technologies and communication, and decision-making. Make clear who is responsible for what and who else needs to be involved.
Strategy 4: Invest in trust. Dispersed teams often struggle to build and maintain trust. Not only do they lack the physical proximity that encourages feelings of cohesiveness, but often members are unsure how to address cultural differences. To invest in trust, focus on the long-term rather than expecting overnight cohesion of the team. Periodically hold face-to-face meetings and gatherings to build rapport. As a leader, be sure to keep the team informed of long-term organizational changes and ask for team input on critical organizational issues.
Strategy 5: Recognize the impact of differences. It may be tempting to assume common mindsets and values, especially when English has become the language of doing business in much of the world. Leaders should learn about their own cultural assumptions and pay close attention to the differences represented on their teams. For example, social status, culture, language problems, differences in time, and distance may make it difficult for some team members to participate fully.
Dispersed team members seem to have a love-hate relationship. While they love new communication technology, they hate not knowing how to use it. They may love learning about different cultures, but hate the misunderstandings that result from a language barrier. Some may love the autonomy but also feel out of the loop and isolated.
So, though there are special challenges associated with managing a dispersed team, it can be an eye-opening, rewarding and productive experience.