Global collaboration is a key element in business process outsourcing. As the client, you are part of a bigger family of businesses working and combining your resources together to achieve the same goals for your respective organizations. Your outsourcing provider acts as your business partner and close ally in a continually expanding global economy.
Before you jump into the bandwagon, however, consider the following possible pitfalls of collaborating on a global scale and managing a geographically dispersed team. And, see what experts say on what you can do to overcome them.
#1 Members may develop an “US” versus “THEM” mindset.
When half of your team are in a different part of the world, the times you interact with them may not be as frequent as those with whom you work in the same office building. You may closely collaborate with your offshore staff while finishing your respective tasks and inspecting their work. But, this leaves little time for socializing.
You’re sorely restricted to meeting online and sharing videos of what’s been happening with the rest of the team. When you keep communicating on a shallow level, wherein conversations rotate around work and nothing else, you lose the chance to reach a deeper level of intimacy with one another that promotes cohesiveness in a group.
Hugo Messer, an expert on managing global teams, says the problem is centered on cultural differences and lack of team spirit. Team members may have grown up in different cultures and have different social and academic backgrounds. Some members may have opposing beliefs and follow different cultural traditions, which can come into conflict with events and policies at work.
Messer suggests using the Culture Canvas, a tool he designed to address cultural differences in a group.
On the bottom, you’ve got ‘perspectives’. These are ways to look at a cross-cultural collaboration. The perspectives are things I found to be crucial in any team. In the middle you’ve got ‘person from culture X’ (for example, I would be ‘person from the Netherlands’). Then we have the pains and gains I have in collaborating with a person from ‘culture Y’ (e.g. Romania). I will use sticky notes to indicate what gains I have from collaborating with my teammates from Romania (e.g. I find a lot of benefits in the creativity they bring to the project we’re working on). I’ll also indicate where it hurts (e.g. I find they are less proactive in sharing their ideas for improving our product).
And I will also fill what I hear from my colleagues (e.g. ‘we always have to micromanage), what I think and feel (e.g. I love working with people from Romania), and what I believe my teammates say and do (e.g. I find my teammates to be very open about their work-life balance). Then, the Romanian team mates will do the same in working with the Dutch.
In the end, we have an overview of cultural issues that we face from both sides. Then, as a team, we’d group the stickies and make a top 3-5. Once we know the issues, we can discuss ways to organize around them as a team.
To improve the esprit de corps of your team, you’ll have to make use of another tool known as “Moving Motivators“, which helps managers correctly figure out what motivates members of their team based on the values they hold dear and what’s important to them at work and in their personal lives.
#2 Sometimes, distributed teams may have a hard time communicating and understanding each other.
In some cases, the root of misunderstandings lies in the translation of certain phrases or figures of speech used in English.
Cross-cultural communication can be improved by “practicing such strategies as active listening (paraphrasing what is said to ensure understanding can be achieved) and using multiple forms of communication, such as written, audio and visual, [which] can enhance employee involvement in assuring that conflicts do not arise because of cultural misunderstandings due to lack of awareness.”
Foster the attitude of engaging in thoughtful consideration before forming hasty conclusions, which could lead to unproductive and messy arguments.
#3 Distrust can be a source of conflict in a socially diverse team.
Trust is a priceless commodity in business. Its absence in any team can be a source of disagreements.
Preliminary research, however, shows that virtual teams led by Supportive leaders had higher levels of participation and trust among members compared to teams led by Commanding leaders.
Diversity in a team may seem like a possible sore point among the members because of sociocultural differences. But, researchers have concluded time and again that “socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.” It helps the team to make smarter decisions and to be innovative.
#4 Global teams with weak leadership may have power issues within their ranks.
Politics is part and parcel of human organizations, and distributed teams serve as microcosms of a culturally and socially diverse world. A team with a weak leader may likely face a mutiny in the future. And, a team with an absentee leader often feels adrift, with members not knowing to whom they should turn to for advice or direction.
Among members of global outsourcing teams, their perception of where the power and authority of a leader lies depends on the location and number of sites where team members are based and the number of employees who work at each site.
For example, an outsourcing company may have team members residing in the United States, the Philippines, and Canada. When most of the team leaders are in the U.S. most of the decision makers will surely be located there.
But, what if most of the workers are located in the Philippines, but none of them has the authority to make decisions for the group? Who do they turn to for their requests and complaints? And, what would happen if the majority of the rank-and-file workers start resenting the apathy and neglect that they feel from their managers abroad?
These issues are exactly what this HBR article wants to solve. The author suggests that the team’s manager take on a strong leadership role and explain to his or her members three key messages:
- who they are as a team and as part of a larger organization,
- what they do and what their purpose is as a business, and
- that he or she (team leader) will always be there for them.
The last key point is accomplished through constant contact with team members. Calls, emails, and personal visits can make a difference in building a stronger and more cohesive team.
#5 Team members who lack ownership and control over their work do not perform well.
Members of a geographically dispersed team benefit from a shared leadership structure rather than a centralized one. While team managers still have the authority to make the final decisions on core issues, each member benefit more from self-direction at work.
In fact, researchers from the University of Central Florida found that shared leadership is more advantageous to virtual teams.
Research shows that virtual teams are more cohesive and effective with shared leadership; when each team member takes some responsibility for the team’s success. To achieve this, devise strategies for virtual team members to monitor, evaluate and regulate their own performance – for example, giving them access to the metrics on which they are evaluated.
This kind of team structure encourages members to develop a sense of ownership over their work. It strengthens their commitment towards their productivity levels at work. Plus, they’re able to schedule their work around the hours they spend for rest and relaxation with their family and friends. This boosts morale among the members and inspires them to perform well, which is what team leaders and managers like you truly wanted.