If you go to bed tonight in San Francisco, Stockholm is just waking up and your team in Singapore is coming back from lunch. Feeling challenged by leading a team that doesn’t physically work together or even have work hours in common?

Working globally is getting easier and more difficult at the same time. Easier because it can be free to speak with coworkers thousands of miles away (who doesn’t love Skype?). Harder because, well, distance can add hrs or weeks to a project, so why not just collaborate with team members downstairs vs. down under? Yikes. To avoid a virtual team mistakes, make sure you avoid these don’ts.

#1  Don’t be location or HQ centric.

Employees sitting outside the home or HQ location feel as if they get the leftovers: they receive information and projects after those who are physically sitting with the team’s manager. To make certain everyone feels included, do the following. Refrain from referring to an office outside of HR as a “satellite” office or the “other” office. Call it by its location instead. To ensure information is distributed equally and fairly, avoid hallway conversations that turn into decision making meetings. People in the Philadelphia office have no chance to contribute if conclusions are decided spur of the moment in a company hallway in San Francisco.

#2  Avoid time zone confusion.

It’s awkward and annoying when someone invites you to a meeting outside of usual working hours–such as 7 am or 7 pm. For those in the non-HQ office, they know they need to stay on top of things, so they may accept the meeting invitation, even though it means getting up at 4 am or getting home at 10 pm. Different time zones also lead to meetings where one person is on the call and the other didn’t realize that Arizona doesn’t follow daylight savings. Print out a list of your office hours with the corresponding times in all the times zones of your team members and check it regularly.

#3  Don’t just hold calls. Facilitate them.

No matter the quality of a phone or video conference systems, if you’re the only person on the phone, there is no way to yell loud enough to drown out the words of everyone else who is in person. Hence, as a leader, you need to actively facilitate phone and video conferences. Distribute the agenda days in advance and set a deadline for input. Be clear on what kind of meeting this is – such as brainstorming or decision making–and what the roles of participants are: sit and absorb or actively share ideas. Allow 1 person to speak at a time and pause to solicit thoughts from those not in the room physically. Manage live participants to respect this by saying something like, “Please remember that it’s hard to us to hear an opinion when someone is being spoken over” or “Let’s pause to ensure everyone has had a chance to speak.  For example, Karla, what thoughts do you have?”

One of the easiest ways to find out what you, as a manager, can do to lead a 24/7, global team is to ask team members. Inquire what they want to make group meetings as effective and collaborative as possible. Solicit suggestions and ideas and then ask everyone to commit and follow through. The variety of perspectives will only lead to a more robust end project that appeals globally.

© Leila Bulling Towne  2010

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