How to Manage International Virtual Teams
In today’s globalized world of multinational corporations, borders are no longer perceived as an obstacle to the functioning of the team. Communication with the international members of the team has become yet another daily activity for many of us. However, joining a well-established system of a large corporation is different from having to set up new processes within a newly established virtual team. So, what details should you pay attention to?
Cultural habits largely influence one’s behavior, so make sure you familiarize yourself with the habits of your team members. You will save yourself a lot of misunderstandings if you accept the fact, that you will most likely need to adopt a different approach when dealing with a team member from Mexico or Japan. For example, set deadline might be binding for you, but it might be rather indicative for others. Someone else might not be comfortable with proposing a different strategy because following the leader is deeply rooted in his culture.
Impracticality of time zones
You have to accept that you will be constantly struggling with the differences in time zones between individual team members. You will have to start planning all the meetings very carefully so that no one needs join in the middle of the night. It's also important to communicate exact dates and times in the context of the time zones of the people in question. Do not expect them to do the math based on your time zone.
Communication is key
It is known that the most efficient teams are located in one place, preferably in one office or a building. The team members can exchange information freely in real time, minimizing the possibility of miscommunication. In the case of international virtual teams, you will need to set clear rules and define the communication channels precisely to avoid loss of efficiency and productivity. Maintain regular meetings and make sure that the information gets to all team members.
Use the right tools
Managing an international virtual team is not nearly as challenging as it used to be due to new communication technologies. Nowadays, you can choose from a variety of tools, project management software and applications such as Skype, Google Apps, Trello, Slack, Wrike and many more. It is entirely up to you what tool will suit you the most. Ensure that each member of the team is thoroughly familiar with its features and benefits.
Trust each other
Forget the time zones and cultural differences. The main challenge you will face as a team leader will be to build trust and willingness to cooperate between team members who have never been in the same room. Start by clearly defining common values and mutual goals that can be achieved only by joint efforts. Get to know each other as well as you can, for example by organizing virtual social gatherings with tea and biscuits!
Managing international virtual team members with different cultural backgrounds is both challenging and rewarding. A good team leader will have to take all the differences into account and learn how to take advantage of them.