One of the most common mistakes I come across in business today is people who try to manage their remote teams using pretty much the same tactics as they use for managing their face-to-face teams.
On the face of it, managing a remote team doesn't sound like it should be that much harder than managing a face-to-face team. After all, we have a whole industry of modern technology to assist us - mobile phones, teleconferencing, videoconferencing and webcams. Yet the very fact that we feel the need to create even more sophisticated technologies such as tele-presence (where you can almost believe you're in the same room as the person you're seeing) should tell us something about how strong our desire is to feel we're in the same vicinity as the other person.
Not surprising, then, that research has found that it takes something like four times as long to communicate a message electronically as it does to communicate it face-to-face. So every time you reach for your email, be prepared to wait a little longer and work a little harder before the message is accurately received the other end. And it's not just communication effectiveness that is impaired by remote working - it also takes a bit longer for us to establish trust with someone we can't see. This is OK in long-term teams, but when quick turn-around is needed in a new team, trust is a tricky issue. Not only does it take us two weeks longer to establish trust with someone we can't see, but that trust is also more fragile - we're more likely to lose our faith in remote team members than people we see in the flesh.
It's not all doom-and-gloom though. There are things that you can do in order to manage your remote team more effectively.
Our five top tips are:
1. Use the 'information-richest' form of media available to communicate - face-to-face where possible, followed by tele-presence or video conference, then telephone. Ideally, email should only be used to convey sizeable amounts of information, specific data, or as a last resort.
2. Encourage spontaneous, informal communication between your team members. The use of tools such as Skype helps people to feel more in touch with their colleagues and makes it easier for them to reach out to each other with quick questions.
3. Make time for socialising during remote discussions. Time for small talk becomes much more important when people don't get to catch up with each simply by wandering past the other person's desk.
4. Overtly discuss the skills a new member of the team is bringing, as well as the latest achievements and successes of current team members. This will help to strengthen trust between remote team members.
5. Avoid 'virtual silence'. Encourage the team to acknowledge messages they have received from one another when they don't have time to deal with it there and then. Misinterpretation of virtual silence can result in people assuming the other person isn't working as hard as they should or that they don't care about the message that has just been sent.
Globalisation. It's hard to pick up any business related-read nowadays without being told how the workplace is increasingly globalised, how we are facing increased global competition or to read about people banging on about the global war for talent.
In fact, we've been talking about globalisation for some time now. Just flicking through some of the papers in my ever-increasing 'to read' pile, I see references to business globalisation as 21st Century phenomenon; others describe it as a 20th Century invention; while some refer to it as being introduced in the 19th Century along with the Gold Standard.
In fact there are references to globalisation all the way back to approximately 400 BC when Herodotus recorded the 'strangeness' of doing business with the ancient Egyptians.
So we may not be able to agree when globalisation started, but started it has. Yet despite having talked about globalisation for so long, it seems to me that the vast majority of organisations, including those that pride themselves on being 'genuinely' multinational and multicultural, have not yet grappled with what this means for them in reality.
What is cultural intelligence?
I am struck by how many leaders within multinational organisations are embarrassed by how little their organisation does to ensure it is operating with cultural intelligence. People shuffle their feet and talk about cursory expat training, which might cover how to hand over a business card without offence, but does little to equip expats with the skills they genuinely need to work effectively in a different cultural climate.
How many people in your company, for example, know when 'yes' means 'yes' in a different culture, and when it actually means 'no'? How many people know in which cultures it is entirely expected to openly voice either assent or dissent with what is being discussed?
If organisations are genuinely looking to do business in a culturally intelligent way, then two levels of cultural intelligence need to be examined. The first level is an individual level of cultural intelligence. That is, helping the employees, managers and expats who are at the coalface having to make globalisation work, to demonstrate cultural intelligence. There are three key elements to individual cultural intelligence:
1. Knowing the cultural values of the other party.
2. Being mindful of the impact of your own cultural values.
3. Adapting your behavior to demonstrate cultural intelligence.
Cultural faux pas
Sadly, many organisations simply put their employees through cultural training programmes that are supposed to increase the knowledge element of cultural intelligence, but instead simply reinforce stereotypes and assumptions, and can be wildly inaccurate. According to one of these programmes, for example, men should never wear striped ties to do business in the UK.
The second level of cultural intelligence concerns the amount of cultural intelligence embedded within the organisational processes themselves. For example, expatriate failure rates vary between 20 and 75% yet organisations often do very little to select the right people for an expatriate role or provide the appropriate support when people are in these roles. Or think about those organisations that only equip their teams with basic communication media - and then wonder why their global teams seem to experience communication and trust issues.
So, the question is, how culturally intelligent is your organisation? How many cultural faux pas are committed each day in your offices? The conclusion that I have come to is that while our economies may be in a state of globalisation, all too often, our businesses and people are not. What do you think?
Time for a rant...
For the last eight weeks - and come to think of it, for the last several years - I have been watching the Apprentice and getting increasingly irritated with the prevailing view amongst the potential apprentices that it is "OK to be a git/b*****d/asshole...it's only business". Why?! Why is it seemingly acceptable to step on the throat of those around you as long as it is in the name of business success (and by "business success", read "making a quick profit")?
Well, paradoxically it seems as though we like them. Despite being self absorbed, arrogant, manipulative and having a grandiose sense of entitlement, we seem programmed to find such people fascinating - but only for a short time. Even though we know that they are self-centred, excessively dominant and potentially hostile, we are drawn to them like moths to a flame.
Psychological research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Jan 2010) backs this up with some interesting findings. It seems as though those individuals with narcissistic traits (ego, vanity, conceit and selfishness - i.e. your archetypal apprentice wannabe) make excellent first impressions. Their sense of entitlement is admired and their charm, confidence, verbal fluency and ruthlessness win people over.
However, such traits will eventually be uncovered for what they are - style over substance. The power to influence, inspire and motivate others to follow your lead is a far more powerful trait and one that leads to lasting success. Consider the new slant to The Apprentice this year in which Lord Sugar is seeking a partner to start up a new business venture. Being nasty, selfish and manipulative may be the norm in larger corporations but they will certainly not help smaller businesses to grow. In fact, building close, caring relationships with your colleagues and customer base can be the deciding factor between long-term success and failure.
Lord Sugar would do well to consider whether he is in it for the 'quick buck' - in which case his narcissistic cronies will probably be ideal; or whether he wants to employ a leader who can win the hearts and minds of customers and staff alike. Time will tell, I guess.
Even those people who like to be known for their outspoken comments are aware that there is a fine line between getting attention and getting sacked. Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond judged this to near perfection recently with his comments about Mexicans. His crude comments certainly got him talked about but overall many found what he had to say amusing, including his bosses at the BBC. Hammond knew that by choosing Mexicans he would be on safer ground than if he remarked about, say, Indians or Pakistanis. Make offensive observations about the first and he is being humorous but make them about the latter and he'd be racist. He gauged this very well, showing us where the public's tolerance of such views lies.
I mention this because I have just returned from a trip to the US.Arriving at my hotel I switched on the TV to see Michael O'Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, being interviewed on Bloomberg by Francine Lacqua. One of her first questions was whether O'Leary flew on the budget airline himself? He said that he did and passengers seeing him queue up like everyone would think 'Jew'. I couldn't really believe what I'd heard especially since the interviewer let it pass without remark.
Should he be allowed to get away with this? As far as I am aware there's been no reaction to what he said by anyone? Does this demonstrate again the public's lack of concern about certain groups of people being derogated and stereotyped in this way? I am always suspicious about people being described as 'colourful' or 'outspoken' as if this can forgive any utterance they make. The same applies here and it is worse that it is a senior, successful businessman making it. The lack of response may mean that no-one was watching in the first place or more worryingly that many find his remarks acceptable? Leaders have to recognise that they are role models if not outside of their organisations then certainly within them and they have a responsibility to display behavior that is not offensive.
Reading the British Press over the past couple of weeks you could mistaken for believing that the Government is imposing some Draconian measure in order to further hinder small businesses from economic recovery, but 'no' actually all that is happening is that they are, at last, beginning to redress the balance with regard to parental leave. There seems to be a somewhat unjustified preoccupation about the financial impact this will have, over and above the moral implications of the measure.
Equal leave rights have been in place in many Scandinavian countries for many years and have encouraged more couples to share the time off that they spend with their children but Britain has been stuck with a measly two-week break for dads in order to help look after baby. Not only is this a bit harsh on the mother, potentially by herself to care for her newborn pretty quickly after parturition but isn't it terribly sexist??
Clearly there are physical reasons why women may be more tied to looking after their newborn (although it looks like breastfeeding recommendations are changing again) but where is it written that mothers make better carers than fathers? If the shoe were on the other foot, would women be morally outraged? There are neurochemicals that are released in both sexes when baby comes on the scene in order to foster bonding and discourage abandonment, but it seems that there is such a fundamental assumption made about the 'natural instincts' and innate superiority of women in this regard that they are beyond question.
Implicit associations show us that many of us have a tendency to associate women with family and men with careers, even if this is happening at a subconscious level. Is it this bias that makes our assumptions go unchallenged? Or do we have these tendencies because there really is something fundamentally different about nature's roles for us in this regard? Perhaps, in the recognition that workplace discrimination has done so much to hold women back for so many years, this was the one area where women had some 'compensation' and was therefore untouchable. Ultimately however, it's the only chance that women have of achieving parity...if both parents can take leave then employers may cast worried glances at men of 'child-bearing age' too!"
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