2020 will see most of us working remotely for a major part of the year. At such a time surrounded by uncertainty, managing a project could come with a nightmare of logistics. This is especially the case when managing a global software development team. Factors such as differences in communication style or even variations in preferred communication apps can muddy the waters and make management that much more difficult.
So today, let’s discuss what it takes to project-manage an international team more effectively at a time of crisis. By employing just a few of these techniques, you can work to ensure seamless collaboration and avoid communication missteps and breakdowns that can slow down productivity.
It should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway— you need to adjust for differences in perspective on an international team. This is not just about making sure things aren’t lost in translation; it also means being aware of some basics. Compile a calendar that includes major holidays in all countries where your team is located, as an example, so that you don’t schedule significant project milestones around significant cultural moments.
No team (let alone an international one) can be managed with a “play it by ear” philosophy. Setting a clear schedule for communication is particularly high stakes when you are dealing with multiple time zones. Make sure that you set a schedule from the start, including one that covers any daily or weekly check-ins that you require as manager. Chasing people down for meetings across time zones and losing production time to different time zones is never the way to go.
What do you need to do after you have your communication schedule in place? Set strict protocols for how you will communicate. If your team in India prefers to communicate in one way, but your team in France wants to communicate via another, you are going to have a lot of missed (and mixed) messages. Establish what communication interface you prefer that works for all parties and stick with it.
When teams are spread far and wide, imbalances in the power dynamic can happen. If your organization is located in San Francisco, as an example, but has project collaborators in South Asia and Western Europe, those outside of San Francisco may feel that their teammates in SF are somehow more relevant. A good way to counterbalance these perceptions? Establish a clear, shared ethos across your team and share it regularly. Emphasize, too, that you are present for and engaged with all partners, no matter their location.
The logistics of getting an international team together for meetings can mean that all time spent together is “business.” Think about it— when teams share an office and collaborate face-to-face, even the most productive team will take time for casual talk. Block out a few minutes in each meeting where people can feel free to catch up or talk about the weather. All business, all the time is the best way to create distance and alienation.
When bridging gaps in communication, it is important to circle back regularly and confirm that all parties understand what has taken place. Make sure to ask for confirmation of understanding from all collaborators. You can achieve this by setting a protocol requiring that all collaborators submit summaries of meeting notes. Another option is to draft your own summary, then have all parties sign off on it via collaborative software.
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