Manager’s Notebook: Remote Team Management (Part 2)

Photo credit:  Andrea PesMy previous article on remote team management discussed the logistical challenges in managing a global team and how to address some of those. Now it’s time to address some stickier challenges—the ones related to people on a global team—with some ideas for how to improve those.

Managing a team is about people and change. Making a global team work depends on knowing the people on that team, how they work, and helping them adapt to a distributed team model.

Getting to Know Individuals

Knowing some things about your team members’ lives and cultures helps you understand how they interact with others, and how their daily personal lives intersect with work. Understanding how they have worked in the past provides clues as to why you might see some resistance to things you are trying to implement going forward. Everyone handles change differently. Some are quite open to it, and others are very resistant. Familiarize yourself with their history so you can adapt your message to show them the benefits of any change you are proposing, including this distributed model they’re now working within.

Probably the most helpful way to keep in tune with your team members is to have frequent one-on-one meetings. Great managers meet with team members around the world on a frequent basis fostering a sense of inclusion for all team members. Additionally, while travel is not always possible, consider lobbying for a travel budget–it can be a big help in particularly complex scenarios, such as in the early days after a merger.

Take some cues from social media. Maintain something like a Who’s Who page on a shared website helps team members put faces with names and get to know a few things about each other. Sharing things like hobbies, favorite books, and birthdays help team members see others’ human sides, facilitating teamwork and reducing location-based friction. Use that shared website for other team member social interaction by creating a fun area where people chat, post their favorite recipes, recommend books to each other, post family pics, etc.

Team Expectations

Nothing hurts a team more than showing favoritism one way or another. Part of your role as a manager is to hold the entire team to a consistent set of expectations. This shows them that you both respect them and have faith in them. But remember, treat everyone fairly, not equally. The idea is to tailor your feedback, guidance, and support to each team member’s personality.

In my organization, we use a job ladder to clearly describe our expectations in various areas for each level of Information Development team member. The job ladder includes major areas like functional expertise within Info Dev, technical expertise and product knowledge, usability, quality, communication and teamwork, and leadership. It offers two paths –one toward management, and one toward a higher-level individual contributor. Because let’s face it, not everyone wants or has the capability to manage a team. And we combine the job ladder with a written set of team expectations, which aids in reducing competition among team members and encourages people to improve themselves based on the ladder, rather than on where they think they are compared to other team members.

Another critical factor in setting and managing to expectations centers on managers’ relationships with each other. Having weekly management meetings with the global team’s managers ensure that everyone is on the same page as to what the expectations are for team members. This frequent check-in ensures we all are working on the same assumptions and guide the teams accordingly.

Evaluating and Tweaking Processes and Tools

Though the team should be using the same standards, mergers and other scenarios that result in joining separate teams (such as through a merger), present some unique challenges. At least at the beginning, you’ll find that the different groups do different things in sometimes drastically different ways. When determining how things will be done going forward, see what you can pull from both sides, rather than just assuming the way you’re used to or prefer is better. Selecting things to continue doing from all parts of the team shows that you respect all members of the team and want it to be a truly global group.

You may also want to consider the option of creating leadership teams in each location. With so many projects going on and not enough people to work on them, managers get overwhelmed trying to keep everything covered and can lose the “pulse” of the team. Schedule regular meetings among the team leads and managers in each location to generate some feedback from the ground up on the impact of recent activities or issues that need to be addressed. Compare notes, offer mutual support, and before long that leadership team becomes a great resource when rolling out new initiatives.

The team unification process requires a lot of knowledge sharing, about how and why things were managed as they were before the merger. Knowledge sharing also ensures that support and leadership flow from all locations. That makes it imperative to draw your team leaders from multiple locations.

Global team trainings help the entire team understand a particular tool or process the team might be adopting. Having various team members from each location conduct these trainings keeps the knowledge flowing in all directions. Most sizable organizations host quarterly team meetings (often called “all-hands” or “town hall” meetings). Consider putting “show and tell” on the agenda, so that team members can talk about their projects or recent accomplishments. These show-and-tell sessions also provide inspiration and a path towards building best practices. Others get to see things that people are doing and consider doing something similar for their own projects.

Finally, one option to further assist with knowledge sharing and innovation involves organizing sub-teams or task forces based on various interests and needs of the group. For example, we have a tools team and a video team. People interested in either of those topics join the corresponding team. The teams have members from all of our locations, creating another opportunity for people in different locations to work together, get to know each other, and share information.

Remember, if you take care of the people, the rest falls into place.

Alyssa Fox

Alyssa Fox is Director of Information Development and Program Management at Micro Focus, and is based in Houston, Texas. Alyssa is a member of Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). She is also a senior member of Society for Technical Communication (STC) and is currently serving as the STC Vice President. Alyssa speaks at numerous international conferences about various management, agile, and technical communication topics. Find Alyssa on Twitter @afox98.

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