Global Teamwork – Keeping the Whole Greater than the Sum of its Parts

global teamworkIf you work for a global organization, chances are you are part of a virtual team. You work closely as a team even though you are on different continents and time zones. Every minute, of every day, there is someone about to jump onto a conference call, be it Skype or GoToMeeting, in their home office, ready to talk business at any hour of the day or night. It’s how you “do” global! Welocalize Business Development Director and regular blogger, Steve Maule, share’s his top five tips to on how to be a great virtual team-member.

Localization is a dynamic industry involving many talented colleagues, partners and end-clients from all over the globe.  By its very nature, the people at each stage of the localization supply chain could be based anywhere in the world.  It’s quite common to find yourself working on a “virtual team”, whether you’re a Language Service Provider, a vendor or sub-contractor, or you are responsible for localization within a global enterprise. At Welocalize, global teamwork is crucial.

I’m a member of Welocalize’s ECEA sales team which covers East Coast USA, Europe and Asia. The team is spread across three continents in five countries and in three different time-zones.  As the tagline goes – Geography is History!  It doesn’t matter where we are or where we do our work from; the team has to deliver and work together so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People work from home, they travel and so it is not always possible for you and your team members to be in the same place at the same time.

The concept of virtual teams made headlines last year when Marissa Mayer’s internal Yahoo “no-work-from-home” memo was leaked and a passionate debate erupted online about the relative merits of remote-working versus centralized on-campus.

I’ve been in quite a few working environments since I started my career 18 years ago; ranging from large call centers and high-energy “boiler-room-style” pits, to working for myself as a home-based consultant in my spare bedroom slash office.  Each has its benefits and each has its challenges. I think it’s fair to say if you’re planning to be successful in the localization industry, then you need to get comfortable with being on a virtual team.

Here are my personal Top Five Tips on How to Be a Great Virtual Team-Member:

  • Be a good team member.  This is more important on a virtual team as you cannot be seen in the flesh. Your manager can’t “huddle” everyone round at a moment’s notice or physically chase you for something they need.  It’s easy to appear to be a good team member when you’re all united in the same building; you need to deliberately work at it when you’re all remote.  So be on time with reports, respond to questions quickly, offer help freely, and don’t force anyone to have to send you that second or third email asking for the same thing!
  • Get into an ‘operating rhythm’. Figure out when in your working week is best for you to perform particular tasks and then try and stick to that rhythm.  For example, we have our team meeting on the same day and at the same time each week, which allows us all to plan around that.  For some of us in the team, that’s very early in the morning, for others it’s in the evening – but because it doesn’t chop and change, we can all plan.
  • Make time for idle chat.  In our team there is no actual “water cooler” to get to know each other and build trust and rapport.  So it’s important to reach out and have that chat over Skype – sometimes it feels difficult to justify as everyone is busy and there’s no immediate business need for it.  Writing this made me to recognise that I don’t do this enough!  But knowing each other better and building that trust makes the team stronger; and I think that’s important.  Face to Face time with your team is important as well. There’s no substitute for meeting your team-mates once in a while.
  • Be flexible but be disciplined. We’ve all got iPhone’s and laptops but just because you can be reached at 11pm, don’t make that a habit.  You can’t always be “on”.  I find that I work longer hours when the commute is only up the stairs to my home office.  It’s important to know when to switch off.  At the same time everyone needs to be flexible and be available for that important 7am or 9pm call to help the team.
  • Adopt and follow common processes and tools.  All our weekly reporting and activity tracking is done using a shared tool to ensure consistency and accountability.   Everyone on a virtual team has different strengths, skills and approaches to their work, but for some tasks, we can’t have eight different people doing eight different things in eight different ways!  The team wouldn’t function.

steve maule welocalizeI think these tips can be applied to any team environment and even if you work by yourself.  What do you think?  What tips do you have about global teamwork?