Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast http://ulfire.com.au Virtual Team Dynamics Sat, 02 Jun 2018 04:34:18 +0000 en-AU hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean episodic Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast francis.norman@ulfire.com.au francis.norman@ulfire.com.au (Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast) A regular podcast providing advice on building and leading high performance Virtual Teams and complex project management Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast http://ulfire.com.au/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/ulfire_logo_podcast3000px.jpg http://ulfire.com.au francis.norman@ulfire.com.au TV-G Electronic Support Upgrade for Anzac Frigate case study with Betsy Clark http://ulfire.com.au/betsy-clark-electronic-support-upgrade-anzac-frigate/ Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:17:30 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4728 http://ulfire.com.au/betsy-clark-electronic-support-upgrade-anzac-frigate/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/betsy-clark-electronic-support-upgrade-anzac-frigate/feed/ 0 <p>This podcast is the second of a two part interview with Betsy Clark, President of Software Metrics. In the interview we discussed a case study Betsy contributed to the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. The book is a joint effort between PMI and International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Among her contributions to the book, Betsy provided two case studies, the one which is subject of this podcast is her review of the electronic support upgrade for the Royal Australian Navy's ANZAC class frigate.<br /> The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/betsy-clark-electronic-support-upgrade-anzac-frigate/">Electronic Support Upgrade for Anzac Frigate case study with Betsy Clark</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This podcast is the second of a two part interview with Betsy Clark, President of Software Metrics. In the interview we discussed a case study Betsy contributed to the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and published by Wiley. In this interview, which is part 2 of a 2 part series, Betsy Clarke talks about her background, and the second of the case studies she contributed to the book, an examination of the electronic support upgrade for the Royal Australian Navy’s ANZAC class frigate.
Betsy Clark is President of Software Metrics, a leader in the practical application of measurement for predicting, controlling and improving software process and product quality, working with clients who include government organizations, commercial companies as well as other consulting companies.
The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering. It is available for purchase from a number of different sources, here through PMI (where members receive a discount), here via INCOSE (where members receive a discount), via Wiley who are the publishers of the book or from Amazon or most other on line retailers.
Many of our most complex projects are undertaken by teams integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering yet these two critical disciplines often end up with high levels of conflict as they each try to achieve their goals, so guidance that helps organisations do better at this integration, whether it is directly between program managers and systems engineers or between project managers and their various engineering disciplines is critical to a successful future.
The first part of this interview, which looks at a different project also included in the book is available here. The first interview in the series, with Stephen Townsend is available here
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System Engineering and Program Management F/A 18E/F case study with Betsy Clark http://ulfire.com.au/system-engineering-program-management-fa-18ef-case-study-betsy-clark/ Tue, 14 Nov 2017 06:50:37 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4708 http://ulfire.com.au/system-engineering-program-management-fa-18ef-case-study-betsy-clark/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/system-engineering-program-management-fa-18ef-case-study-betsy-clark/feed/ 0 <p>This podcast is the first part of an interview with Betsy Clark, President of Software Metrics. In the interview we discussed the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. The book is a joint effort between PMI and International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Among her contributions to the book Betsy provided two case studies, one on the development of the F/A 18E/F Super Hornet which is the subject of much of this podcast. The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/system-engineering-program-management-fa-18ef-case-study-betsy-clark/">System Engineering and Program Management F/A 18E/F case study with Betsy Clark</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This podcast is the first part of an interview with Betsy Clark, President of Software Metrics. In the interview we discussed the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and published by Wiley. In this interview, which is part 1 of a 2 part series, Betsy Clarke talks about her own background, the development of the book and one of the case studies she contributed to the book, an examination of the development of the F/A 18E/F Super Hornet aircraft.
Betsy Clark is President of Software Metrics, a leader in the practical application of measurement for predicting, controlling and improving software process and product quality, working with clients who include government organizations, commercial companies as well as other consulting companies.
The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering. It is available for purchase from a number of different sources, here through PMI (where members receive a discount), here via INCOSE (where members receive a discount), via Wiley who are the publishers of the book or from Amazon or most other on line retailers.
Many of our most complex projects are undertaken by teams integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering yet these two critical disciplines often end up with high levels of conflict as they each try to achieve their goals, so guidance that helps organisations do better at this integration, whether it is directly between program managers and systems engineers or between project managers and their various engineering disciplines is critical to a successful future.
The second part of this interview, which looks at a different project that is also included in the book will be released shortly. The earlier interview with Stephen Townsend is available here
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Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering with Stephen Townsend of PMI http://ulfire.com.au/integrating-program-management-systems-engineering-stephen-townsend/ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 05:08:34 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4691 http://ulfire.com.au/integrating-program-management-systems-engineering-stephen-townsend/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/integrating-program-management-systems-engineering-stephen-townsend/feed/ 0 <p>This podcast is a special interview with Stephen Townsend, Director of Network Programs at the Project Management Institute (PMI). In the interview we discussed the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. The book is a joint effort between PMI and International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/integrating-program-management-systems-engineering-stephen-townsend/">Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering with Stephen Townsend of PMI</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This podcast is a special interview with Stephen Townsend, Director of Network Programs at the Project Management Institute (PMI). In the interview we discussed the recently published book 'Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering'. Project Management Institute (PMI). In the interview we discussed the recently published book ‘Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering: Methods, Tools and Organizational Systems for Improving Performance‘.  The book is a joint effort between PMI and International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).  The book is the product of five years of research and writing by a large team of contributors led by Eric Rebentisch and is both a really solid reference and a guide for integrating the two often conflicting disciplines of program management and systems engineering.
In reading the book, I found that it has been put together to read in a consistent way, so rather than being a series of academic chapters, each written by a different contributor or group this work is written with a consistent approach, structure and voice throughout, making it easy to read and follow. The material is well structured and easy to understand and the case studies, drawn from a range of high profile endeavours provide excellent examples of how the integration can be undertaken.
Many of our most complex projects are undertaken by teams integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering yet these two critical disciplines often end up with high levels of conflict as they each try to achieve their goals, so guidance that helps organisations do better at this integration, whether it is directly between program managers and systems engineers or between project managers and their various engineering disciplines is critical to a successful future.
PMI, INCOSE and MIT’s Consortium for Engineering Program Excellence (CEPE) recently ran a free webinar entitled How to Improve Performance through Integration to look at what happens when you integrate program management and systems engineering when managing complex engineering programs which is still accessible here.
The book is available for purchase from a number of different sources, here through PMI (where members receive a discount), here via INCOSE (where members receive a discount), via Wiley who are the publishers of the book or from Amazon or most other on line retailers.
Stephen is best contacted via PMI, but he did also provide additional contact details in the podcast.
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Method and Scope Complexity in Virtual Team Projects http://ulfire.com.au/method-and-scope-complexity-in-virtual-team-projects/ Tue, 26 Sep 2017 03:19:26 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4652 http://ulfire.com.au/method-and-scope-complexity-in-virtual-team-projects/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/method-and-scope-complexity-in-virtual-team-projects/feed/ 0 <p>Understanding the impact of method and scope complexity on a project is an increasingly important requirement. Projects are getting bigger and the interfaces continue to grow. In this environment, understanding how mature the definition of the project is and how this is impacted by increasing amounts of new technology and immature assumptions allows project leaders, business leaders and project personnel to deliver better outcomes for all involved.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/method-and-scope-complexity-in-virtual-team-projects/">Method and Scope Complexity in Virtual Team Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the impact of method and scope complexity on a project is an increasingly important requirement. Projects are getting bigger and the interfaces continue to grow. In this environment, understanding how mature the definition of the project ... Method and scope uncertainty complexity occurs around issues such as the maturity of the scope of the project, the proportion of new or highly novel technology to both the project and the team, the quality and maturity of the estimate and the accuracy and reliability of the assumptions that went into the formation of the estimate.

* Scope maturity – theoretically every project will have a clear scope before sanction, it should have gone through a series of developmental phases prior to full sanction where the owners systematically work to define the required scope, including costs, materials, time frame and how overall success is defined. However, reality is somewhat different. Some projects will be initiated with little to no definition, either to meet a critical need, plug a gap, address a crisis or simply because the owners were so excited to get started they jumped straight in without really taking the time to plan. Even in most of these situations there should be some level of definition around the scope, though budget and time frame are likely less well framed. However well defined the scope may be, conveying the definition across any project team beyond whatever may be written can be challenging, personnel will interpret definitions based on their previous experiences and through their own lenses, leading to confusion and misunderstanding. This confusion becomes substantially compounded in a project virtual team environment, where not only are personnel contending with interpreting the scope definition, they are frequently doing so remotely without access to anyone who was part of the development of the scope to help with any required clarification. It is important to ensure all members of the team, regardless of location, have a full and clear understanding of the required scope as it impacts their tasks.
* Proportion of new technology – Many years ago now a manager of mine advised me to avoid having more than one new major piece of technology on a project. It has been advice that has stuck with me for many years and one which I have seen cause several projects to encounter problems. Several small and unobtrusive new pieces of technology are fine but if more than a certain percentage of the effort on a project is associated with a single new piece of technology it is very easy for projects to slide from simply complicated to complex. Trying to integrate a number of pieces of new technology into a major project while using a virtual team to undertake much of the integration work, and here I mean that the integration is split between a number of locations rather than all of it in one office, can lead to major issues as team members separated by time and distance battle both their displacement and the challenges of the new technology. Examples of this can be seen in things like the problems faced by organisations like Airbus in the development of new aircraft across multiple European centers.When planning for your project identify the major new technology and even the less major but high risk new technology and ensure it forms a manageable portion of the overall project.
* Maturity of estimate – There has been a lot written on the need to have a mature and well developed estimate before committing to the full execution of a project. Some of the best work has been by Ed Merrow of IPA in his book “Industrial Megaprojects” where he discusses what is known as the Front End Loading (FEL) approach to the development of projects, where substantial efforts are expended in a very structured manner to de...]]>
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Goal Complexity in Project Environments http://ulfire.com.au/goal-complexity-project-environments/ Tue, 22 Aug 2017 02:36:46 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=3097 http://ulfire.com.au/goal-complexity-project-environments/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/goal-complexity-project-environments/feed/ 0 <p>Goal complexity in project environments includes issues such as the clarity of project objectives, any bias the project may have toward particular outcomes and solutions, how mature the decision making policy is and the overall understanding of any required trade off between cost, schedule and quality. Getting these issues resolved and clarified at the onset of your project will reduce much of the ongoing delivery risk.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/goal-complexity-project-environments/">Goal Complexity in Project Environments</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Goal complexity in project environments includes issues such as the clarity of project objectives, any bias the project may have toward particular outcomes and solutions, how mature the decision making policy is and the overall understanding of any req... structural complexity and social complexity in earlier articles and now, in this article, we are exploring goal complexity and its influence on project delivery. Goal complexity contributes substantially to the ability to deliver projects, with every additional unknown compounding the overall complexity of the endeavour.
Goal uncertainty complexity occurs around issues such as the clarity of project objectives, any bias the project may have toward particular outcomes and solutions, how mature the decision making policy is and the overall understanding of any required trade off between cost, schedule and quality.

* Clarity of objectives – It may seem obvious, but if the goals of a project are not clear to all parties and individuals, the project is going to get into trouble. The trouble may not be major, though often it is, but at some point in the life of the project there will be a clash of understandings when one party is working to what it believes are the objectives while another is working to theirs and the two do not mesh. This could be a situation where one group is trying to design something to have a long functional life where the intent is to have a product that is only going to be used for a few months, or it could be one group believes the objective is to develop a major piece of landmark social architecture while the other is developing something purely functional (think opera house versus car park for instance). Whatever the circumstances, if the objectives are not made clear to all from the very start you are headed for problems. Define and socialise all of the objectives of your projects to avoid goal complexity.
* Bias – biases can occur in a number of ways but again, unless they are understood, they can lead to lots of issues. In a client to supplier relationship the biases are usually quite clear, the client typically wants the most “bang for their buck” and the supplier wants to make the largest profit possible from the venture, resulting in clashes over quality and scope of supply where the client may well pursue the supplier to deliver beyond the written contracted scope and the supplier may try to either just meet the scope or, in some circumstances, deliver slightly under it. In internal projects similar situations can also occur though the lines are often murkier in the absence of a formal contract. Identify the real and potential biases in your project and plan for their management
* Decision making policies – how are decisions made in your project and your organisation? do your project leaders have the right levels of authority to make the decisions they need or do they have to seek approval from outside the project? who has final say on decisions, is it the person most informed and able to weigh the decision or is it a client or senior manager? All of these need to be carefully considered when setting the decision making policies for your project and your organisation. If a project manager must explain every decision they make to someone outside of the project several things will happen – the project will be slowed while decisions are processed, the project manager will become frustrated at the delays, and, you will expose the project to political influences outside of the project that may impact the success of the project. None of this is to say that projects should not have good governance, but sensible policies need to be implemented to ensure the overall interests of the project as defined and agreed are considered. Establish sensible and fit for purpose decision making processes for your projects.
* Cost, scope and quality trade off – balancing t...]]>
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Social Complexity in Project Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/social-complexity-project-virtual-teams/ Tue, 08 Aug 2017 06:14:17 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4614 http://ulfire.com.au/social-complexity-project-virtual-teams/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/social-complexity-project-virtual-teams/feed/ 0 <p>In part II of the short series looking at different contributors to complexity in projects and how it impacts and is impacted by virtual teams considers the social interaction and social complexity aspect, including the impact of communications, respect, commitment, contract types and procedures. This article and podcast follow on from the previous one which looked at forms of structural complexity and virtual teams.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/social-complexity-project-virtual-teams/">Social Complexity in Project Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> In part II of the short series looking at different contributors to complexity in projects and how it impacts and is impacted by virtual teams considers the social interaction and social complexity aspect, including the impact of communications, structural complexity in project virtual teams and forms part of a short series on the subject. In the world of complex projects and complex working environment the impact of social complexity is one that needs to be carefully considered and incorporated in any and all planning.
Social complexity in a project environment occurs around one or both of two areas; social interaction and rule based interaction.
Social interaction and social complexity
Social interaction in the complexity sense happens where communication lines between project team members are complex, where it is difficult or impossible to undertake team building, where respect and trust is either not present or not easily built and where commitment and motivation toward the project and teammates are absent.

* Communication – Virtual teams are notorious for the inherent complicated nature of the lines of communication. Even the most compact virtual team, one where only a few members may be located remote to the hub of the team, will suffer from strained communication lines from time to time. The difficulties of coordinating communications when team members are distributed across multiple locations means that it can be hard to manage even simple task based communication, ensuring the phrasing is accurate enough to avoid confusion yet transparent enough for all of the team to understand it is an ongoing problem for virtual team members. On top of this task based communication is then the extra layer of trying to also build and maintain a team spirit and morale through the same platforms. Organisations grasp for any shiny new tool or platform they feel may help them with this task yet frequently forget that the most simple tool is the human voice and physical presence in occasional meetings. I have seen projects that have run for a couple of years burn through numerous different communication tools as new ideas hit the market when in reality they would have been better to stay within a sensible pallet of tools – voice, video, email and some form of immediate text based tool will typically be it – and try as much as possible to retain the same tools for the duration of at least each phase of the project. Solid communication plans need to be developed for the life of the project.
* Team building – As humans we are intensely social creatures, yes some are more outgoing and gregarious while other often prefer their own company, but at our core we work best when we feel included in the team we are tasked to be part of. Consequently, team building is a vital part of the establishment and maintenance of any project. While virtual teams add complexity to team building they do not mean it is impossible or even excessively costly. Team building can be phased across the project, it can be done on a location by location basis with then an overarching exercise held to bring together team members who will work across the boundaries of the locations. Whatever approach is taken there is little argument that doing something is hugely more effective than doing nothing – so long as the something in question is properly considered. Team building also needs to be held at each change of phase of the project and as large proportions of the team change out. Even small changes of numbers in a team can lead to substantial changes in the overall team dynamics so leaders of teams and groups need to be vigilant for these changes and be ready to undertake some form of team building or rebuilding from time to time. Build and nurture your team carefully and rebuild it each time a major change happens.
* Respect – Largely built on the back of effective communication and team building, respect and trust are vital to the running of a virtual team, whether the team is undertaking a simple or a complex...]]>
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Responding to Organisational Complexity Training Course http://ulfire.com.au/responding-to-organisational-complexity-course/ Mon, 24 Jul 2017 05:53:18 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=4596 http://ulfire.com.au/responding-to-organisational-complexity-course/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/responding-to-organisational-complexity-course/feed/ 0 <p>I am really happy to announce that from November this year Ulfire will be delivering the Responding to Organisational Complexity course developed by ICCPM on their behalf in Western Australia and eventually also in the Northern Territory. The course is a unique offering that addresses a gap in knowledge between undergraduate and post graduate training around complexity. The first Perth course starts on 6th November 2017.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/responding-to-organisational-complexity-course/">Responding to Organisational Complexity Training Course</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> I am really happy to announce that from November this year Ulfire will be delivering the Responding to Organisational Complexity course developed by ICCPM on their behalf in Western Australia and eventually also in the Northern Territory. ICCPM) in Perth from November this year.
The course comprises three modules:

* Module one is a three day exploration of Complexity in Project Management,
* Module two runs for two days and focuses on Risk and Decision Making in Complex Environments and
* Module three, which is also two days long, looks at Leading through Complexity.

Module one can be undertaken as a stand alone course but modules two and three require that the first module has been completed. Students who successfully complete all three modules will be eligible for a Certificate IV in Responding to Organisational Complexity.
The course has been specifically developed by ICCPM. It fills a gap in training that has been identified between undergraduate studies and post graduate studies around working and leadership in complex environments. It is the only course of its kind available and has been delivered directly by ICCPM in a number of other Australian centres but until now it has not been available directly in Western Australia.
Who is a course in complexity of interest to?
This course should be of interest to anyone working in complex environments, whether in projects or in a operational business. Examples would include resource projects, government, IT and telecommunications, defense or any number of other complex work environments. The course is structured to provide a supportive, dynamic and engaging environment where students from a broad range of businesses and industries can come together to learn, compare experiences and build their understanding an comfort in working in the increasingly complex modern workplace.
How to find out more
To find out more details on the course, its availability both in Western Australia and elsewhere, please check out our Education page or visit ICCPM’s website.
Enrolment for the Perth course is now open and is being handled directly by ICCPM as the course owners.
While the public course will be run in Perth, if your organisation is interested in having it delivered in your offices please do get in touch to discuss your requirements, the course can be delivered as a corporate course.
Hear about the Responding to Organisational Complexity course
In preparation for delivering the course I sat down with Deb Hein of ICCPM and interviewed her on its history and content for the podcast that accompanies this post.
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Structural complexity and project virtual teams http://ulfire.com.au/structural-complexity-project-virtual-teams/ Tue, 06 Jun 2017 03:04:21 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=3880 http://ulfire.com.au/structural-complexity-project-virtual-teams/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/structural-complexity-project-virtual-teams/feed/ 0 <p>As part of the short series looking at complexity in project virtual teams we are looking at structural complexity, how it is defined, what makes a project structurally complex and how that structural complexity contributes to or is influenced by having project virtual teams as part of the project make up.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/structural-complexity-project-virtual-teams/">Structural complexity and project virtual teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> As part of the short series looking at complexity in project virtual teams we are looking at structural complexity, how it is defined, what makes a project structurally complex and how that structural complexity contributes to or is influenced by havin...
In the area of complex projects, which are generally considered to have some or all of the characteristics of structural complexity, social complexity or uncertainty complexity. Each of these three characteristics have a different impact and drive the complexity in a different way. The more of any of these characteristics or the more pronounced any of them the project has, the more complex it can be considered to be.

In this article, which is part of a short series on the subject, I will consider structural complexity and how virtual teams are an integral part of that area.
Structural Complexity
Structural complexity is where the project itself or the deliverable of the project has large numbers of elements, where it has large numbers of interconnections between the elements themselves within the project, large numbers of inter-related contracts or other forms of structural elements inside the project which have complex inter-relationships.

* Number of elements – The number of elements refers to the overall physical complexity of the project deliverable, so, for example, if the project is to design and deliver a new aircraft, there will be a huge number of different, highly interconnected elements in the physical deliverable (the aircraft) and a similar number of interconnected elements involved in its design and construction. On the other hand, if the project is to design and build a road the physical deliverable is a long stretch of tarmac which, while potentially complicated, does not include the complexity of interconnected elements.
* Project size – In many instances the physical size of the project may increase the structural complexity of the project. Project size can be measured in its capital cost, the physical or virtual size of the project deliverable, or one of several other dimensions. Each industry or sector will have its own metrics for such measures which makes it very hard to define in a post such as this. However, as examples, a large IT project may have a relatively modest capital budget of several millions of dollars but be considered large in its field while an infrastructure project such as a land subdivision may have a capital value of tens to hundreds of missions of dollars but be considered only complicated.
* Number of contracts – The greater the number of financial and other contracts involved in any project the greater its structural complexity. Each contract adds multiple human, physical and financial interconnections to the project and with each of those interactions comes increased complexity. So, to draw on the examples used earlier, an IT project may only have a small number of contracts covering hardware, network, software etc, while a new build aircraft will have hundreds to potentially thousands of individual contracts involved in its design and delivery

Similarly, structural complexity occurs where the project is run by or for a joint venture, partnership or alliance or where the process of the deliverable its self has a large number of interconnected variables.

* Joint ventures and alliances – Joint ventures and alliance models seem to come and go as fashions for project delivery change. Some industries such as civil infrastructure have a long and generally successful track record of delivering joint venture projects while other sectors have either tried it and decided it didn’t work for them or have yet to try. Joint ventures and alliances are where multiple enterprises join together in a commercial arrangement to deliver a project, they share the risk, share the exposure and hopefully share in the success. If organisations have not previously collaborated in one of these models there are a number of real risks to the outcomes of the project created by their need to learn things as they go, while those with a track record of collaboration tend to be more successful due to their experience and esta...]]>
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Interview with Deb Hein of ICCPM http://ulfire.com.au/interview-with-deb-hein-of-iccpm/ Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:35:56 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=3218 http://ulfire.com.au/interview-with-deb-hein-of-iccpm/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/interview-with-deb-hein-of-iccpm/feed/ 0 <p>This post is for a podcast interview with Deb Hein the CEO of the International Centre of Complex Project Management (ICCPM) where we discuss the current state of complexity in projects.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/interview-with-deb-hein-of-iccpm/">Interview with Deb Hein of ICCPM</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This post is for a podcast interview with Deb Hein the CEO of the International Centre of Complex Project Management (ICCPM) where we discuss the current state of complexity in projects. In the interview we discussed Deb’s background and what brought her to ICCPM, how ICCPM was formed and where its role is in the global context, how complexity is becoming better understood and where the field is going into the future.
ICCPM can be found at https://iccpm.com where you can find information on the organisation, its history, some of its major achievements and initiatives.
I have been big fan and admirer of the work of ICCPM for some time, and was fortunate enough to have an article included in their magazine a few months ago talking about leading virtual teams in complex projects.

On the ICCPM website you will also find information on its key educational offerings, including the Certificate IV in Responding to Organisational Complexity . The course, which is exclusive to ICCPM and recognised by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), provides an excellent hands on qualification that takes students through the steps of:

* Identifying and understanding complexity in their organisations
* Making decisions in complex environments
* Managing risk in complex environments and,
* Leading through complexity.

The course has been running for a little over a year at the time of writing this and the first students are starting to graduate.
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Introduction to the use of Virtual Teams in Complex Projects http://ulfire.com.au/introduction-virtual-teams-complex-projects/ Tue, 11 Apr 2017 07:47:13 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=3206 http://ulfire.com.au/introduction-virtual-teams-complex-projects/#respond http://ulfire.com.au/introduction-virtual-teams-complex-projects/feed/ 0 <p>Complex projects seem to be appearing everywhere, or at least everyone seems to think they are. This is an introductory article to the role virtual teams play in complex projects, it sets out some of the challenges in differentiating between truly complex project and those that are really just large or at best complicated.<br /> This is the first of a series of articles that will dig into more of the detail of where virtual teams contribute to the complexity of many modern projects and help to establish a better understanding of where complexity sits in the world of modern project management.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/introduction-virtual-teams-complex-projects/">Introduction to the use of Virtual Teams in Complex Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Complex projects seem to be appearing everywhere, or at least everyone seems to think they are. This is an introductory article to the role virtual teams play in complex projects, it sets out some of the challenges in differentiating between truly comp...
I hear it in home building, where someone will describe building a house a complex, I hear it in infrastructure where their projects are frequently described as complex and I hear it in the resources sector, defense, healthcare, IT and virtually everywhere else, yet in reality, genuine project complexity is relatively rare and what seems complex to a novice project manager or the casual observer is frequently seen by more seasoned projects professionals as simple or at the worst, complicated.
Then, along side those who see complexity everywhere are “complexity deniers”, those within the project management profession who believe there is no such thing as a complex project and that, in the words of a colleague of mine, they simply need to “do project management harder”.
Apparently project complexity, like beauty, really does seem to be in the eyes of the beholder…
Are complex projects really everywhere?
In recent years, as research and experience around complexity has evolved, there has been a growing recognition that many projects in the simple and complicated categories don’t become complex as they get bigger, they just grow larger while retaining many of their same characteristics of simplicity or complication. In the mean time, other projects, regardless of size, are considered complex for reasons other than their scale.
Does size really matter when judging complexity?
While it can be easy to assume that a small project is simple or at worst complicated and to similarly assume that a large project is therefore complex, this is generally not a realistic correlation. Examples of this could be that building a very long, wide road may be expensive, labor intensive and take a long time when compared to deploying an IT system to replace a paper based hospital system, but the IT project is far more likely to be considered complex than the road project. This is due to the the degree of task interactions, unpredictability and involvement of multiple disciplines, disparate stakeholders and influencers in the make up of the project.
Where do virtual teams fit in project complexity?
For many projects, a virtual team is a logical extension of their co-located predecessors. These project virtual teams largely comprise personnel with the same skill sets working on the same project tasks, more or less at the same point on the schedule as they would had they been in one place. But, hidden behind this “appearance of similarity” are the messy human and locational nuances of personalities, corporate politics, language and culture differences, time shifts due to locations on the planet and local customs and practices that all turn a “simple” project into a complicated or complex one.
Managing the integration of a virtual team into a project environment brings multiple additional challenges not traditionally seen, not in the familiar experiential environment of many project managers and alien to the participants themselves, all of which adds considerably to the risk profile of the project and compounds into a more complex project delivery environment. Simple projects become complicated, and complicated project become complex with the addition of these new human interfaces.
Over the next few articles and podcasts I will be discussing some of the ways virtual teams impact project complexity in more detail, so please do stay tuned in for upcoming articles.
Share your experiences
Have you any thoughts on complex projects and virtual teams you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
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Project Communications Complications http://ulfire.com.au/project-communications-complications/ Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:24:48 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2557 <p>Projects are becoming increasingly complicated, they have more stakeholders, they are bigger and they are generally getting harder to complete. Lost in all the growth and complication is the need to address the increasing communications complications, as the teams and challenges have grown so has the need to establish an understanding of their communications needs.<br /> This article discusses some of the challenges and suggests a need for the leaders of the projects to become more inclusive and open in the tools and techniques they use and make available to their teams.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/project-communications-complications/">Project Communications Complications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Projects are becoming increasingly complicated, they have more stakeholders, they are bigger and they are generally getting harder to complete. Lost in all the growth and complication is the need to address the increasing communications complications,
Additional personnel adds communications complications
Communication becomes increasingly complex as the numbers of individuals increase. With every additional team member added, the mix of cultural, linguistic, value systems and communication skill levels within your team becomes more and more complicated, reaching virtually exponential levels of differences very quickly. This increasing variation in communications abilities, skills and barriers applies whether the team is co-located or virtual, and whether the team is in a highly heterogeneous, multi-cultural environment or a more homogeneous, single culture location. Communications complications arise through age, gender, social status, place of birth, even schools attended, each and every factor impacts the way in which personnel will communicate, what they will say and how they will say it, what they hear and how they interpret the message.
Becoming increasingly virtual adds further communications complications
Communications become even more difficult as teams move from co-location to virtual. The physical separation alone makes any communications more difficult, with added issues around the mode and form of communication along with challenges associated with time zones. As organisations move from national to international virtual teams, the communications complications continue to grow. International locations in a virtual team add potential language barriers, different organisational norms, different leadership styles and structures along with a myriad of other challenges. Virtuality begins to appear as soon as team members are spread across multiple floors in the same building, and compounds by distance, country and time zone, yet many organisations and projects assume that this separation by space and time, language and culture does not exist and insist on communicating to all of their team in the same way using the same tools and language.
Recognise the differences and plan for them
So, how do you plan for all of these variations within a project environment where, at different stages, you may well have all of the above types of communications complications occurring either sequentially or concurrently, and still find time to actually deliver the project?
The first thing is to recognise that these differences exist, that they are real and must be managed just like every other part of your business or project. You can not simply use a one size fits all approach to business and project communications anymore. Communications from management need to be tailored and interpersonal communications needs to be facilitated through the provision of and access to a range of different tools and techniques rather than a single, company mandated mechanism.
This need for diversity of approach and technique is particularly important as teams become more diverse and virtual. Generational differences alone mean that different personnel will need different tools. Cultural, time zone, linguistic and every other difference all require specific consideration in messaging and mode selection.
So, the message from this post is this, diversity of communications is the solution to communications complications at the same ...]]>
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The Power Of Thank You and Showing Gratitude http://ulfire.com.au/the-power-of-showing-gratitude/ Tue, 07 Mar 2017 15:51:25 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2519 <p>Showing gratitude to your staff and colleagues through a simple, quick email reply with a thanks or a thank you can mean the difference between a grateful and engaged workforce and one that feels they are only there to serve your every need. Taking a few second to acknowledge someone's work is a quick, simple and meaningful way to help to keep your team motivated.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/the-power-of-showing-gratitude/">The Power Of Thank You and Showing Gratitude</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Showing gratitude to your staff and colleagues through a simple, quick email reply with a thanks or a thank you can mean the difference between a grateful and engaged workforce and one that feels they are only there to serve your every need.
Of all of the notes you receive, how many of the personal pieces of correspondence do you actually acknowledge or respond to? and have you ever considered how powerful a team building and rewarding opportunity even the simplest response may be?
Responses can be a simple as hitting the “reply” button, typing “Thank you” in the body of the message then hitting send, through to a longer note indicating why you appreciate the information or contact with specifics if appropriate. To you, this action may be a 10 second excursion from your day to day tasks that has no real significance to your day, but to the person who sent you the original note and receives the subsequent thank you or similar expression of gratitude, this 10 seconds may mean the difference between their positive engagement in the delivery of the project, their ongoing commitment to your team and even their retention within the project organisation or their feeling taken for granted and being disengaged from the task at hand, after all, who wants to work in an organisation or for a boss that doesn’t care about them.
Fitting Thank You Into Your Routine
I am not suggesting that you spend your entire day responding on these tasks, but I am recommending that, as a matter of course, you aim to respond to any direct correspondence from any member of your project team with some form of gratitude and recognition. Perhaps, even, on occasion, doing a “reply all” when you are only one of the recipients, particularly if you are one of the more senior. This opportunity publicly recognises to the contribution of the sender and may also encourage some of your colleagues to start the practice. Every manager these days has a smart phone or similar device, so you could easily fit a thank you routine into your day, spending 10 free minutes during a commute or waiting in line for coffee to be grateful to your staff rather than checking Facebook or LinkedIn.
If you consider how much time an effective project manager will spend on communications and team development, taking 2 minutes from your day to respond to several of these direct pieces of correspondence is an incredibly efficient and effective way to develop your team spirit.
Share your experiences
Have you any thoughts on this post or any similar experiences you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations planestablish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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The Good and Bad of International Project Teams http://ulfire.com.au/international-project-teams/ Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:32:13 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2501 <p>Understanding why your project is adopting an international execution strategy is an important step in planning your project. There are a number of reasons modern project may or may not go international, they will all have a large influence on the way the project is run and its potential risk profile.<br /> This article considers five of the major reasons that will influence the decision.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/international-project-teams/">The Good and Bad of International Project Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding why your project is adopting an international execution strategy is an important step in planning your project. There are a number of reasons modern project may or may not go international, they will all have a large influence on the way ...
I have discussed a few of the most common reasons for international project delivery below, they are; access to skills, client pressures, local government pressures, cost and, globalisation of organisations. Many of these drivers overlap and while I have tried to cover them separately, there will be a substantial level of leakage from one to another.

* Access to skills – For many organisations, it is often extremely difficult to access the skills they need to perform the entire project scope in one single location. This may be driven by a shortage of skills in their home country, in the country the project is being delivered into or elsewhere in the project delivery cycle. Regardless of the location of the shortage of skills, these company’s must consequently execute some of their work away from their home base location, driving them to an international model.
* Client pressures – Where clients are from another country to the project execution organisation they may, for home country social or political reasons, or to satisfy a shareholder or stakeholder commitment, mandate that some of the project is executed in their home country. If this home country is also the country the project is being delivered into, this could have been a project necessity regardless of any client drivers. However, if the project is being delivered into a third location, the added complexity of the alternate location can cause unexpected consequences for all concerned.
* Local government pressures – many national or regional governments have mandated or advisory local content guidelines and targets for prospective projects to strive to achieve. Such targets can include the requirement to execute portions of many phases of projects in the host country. There are a number of ways in which the local content may be calculated, either on money spent, orders placed, hours executed, etc. All these criteria will drive projects to explore options and opportunities to put pieces of the project into the host country or region. These drivers can become problematic for projects when the local workforce or industry does not offer the skills or services required by the project, in which case the project must either try to support the local capabilities in developing the required skills, or devise ways of satisfying the local content requirements through other methods and execute the rest of the work in more suitably skilled and resourced regions.
* Cost – Many modern projects are costed on quite marginal figures that drive them to seek the lowest costs for both skilled labour and manufacturing. For many organisations, this involves sending portions of the project into developing nations where the cost of labour is typically lower than in the more costly developed countries. This offshoring of work can include everything from design centres, manufacturing, prototype development, software production etc. These are all activities that, in past times, would have been performed in the company’s home country but changing costs have driven the work elsewhere.
* Globalisation of organisations – Many companies are now serving global markets and opting to distribute many phases of their operations and projects into the country’s in which they operate. This serves a number of purposes for the organisations it allows them; to balance project costs across their global operations; bring different perspectives to their project cycles and; customise their project portfolio to best address their world wide customer base rather th...]]>
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Engineering Project Skills For The Future http://ulfire.com.au/project-skills-for-the-future/ Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:10:06 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2537 <p>Technology and costs are rapidly changing the way future projects will be approached. Those running these new projects will need new skills and techniques to be successful. It will no longer be a case of being able to simply being able to deliver technical work, team members will need to be exceptional communicators and understand how to work in increasingly complex and harder to predict environments.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/project-skills-for-the-future/">Engineering Project Skills For The Future</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Technology and costs are rapidly changing the way future projects will be approached. Those running these new projects will need new skills and techniques to be successful. It will no longer be a case of being able to simply being able to deliver techn...
Engineering project skills of the past

* In the 80’s, the change was the arrival of design automation tools, including equipment such as computerised design software. They led to an improvement in the speed of production of drawings (along with the equivalent ease of changing the design, which was not always as welcome). It also brought the initial development of engineering databases and associated tools. All of these new tools reduced the size of the team needed to deliver the work, one of the major contributors to a lot of people leaving the workforce at the time.
* During the ’90’s the tools continued to change and communications expanded on a world wide scale. During this decade we moved rapidly from early fax machines and slow electronic transmission of data to high speed internet traffic, email, FTP and VPN which really connected the whole globe in a robust and rapid way for the first time. This communications revolution supported the development of the first real virtual teams working to deliver project from their homes and offices across the globe. For the first time, you began to have the ability to do the same work from your home as you could from your office and it began to matter less where that home or office was located.
* The ’00’s was a decade of massive expansion, when bigger and bigger were better and better. Client companies demands and expectations were that they should be able to develop larger and more complex projects faster and cheaper than ever before. This was pursued through the leveraging of the expanding design software and virtual teams of personnel able to work on their project 24hrs a day from somewhere in the world, in many cases, theoretically at a lower cost through the use of lower cost labour.

Against all of this technological and aspirational development has been the impact of the ageing population on the available workforce. Much of the developed world experienced mass departures of highly skilled and experienced personnel from the workforce in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Many of these departing personnel were viewed as dinosaurs by their younger colleagues, they didn’t have, and often were not interested in developing, the computer skills required to work in this new age and were readily released.
However, over time, the skills these experienced personnel had, their very experience of the technical demands of their work which were so quickly discounted during the first flushes of the IT revolution, came to be missed, though largely too late to reverse.
This ageing and departed workforce were not replaced by their former employers. Those running the engineering companies largely retained the abundance mentality of previous decades, when there was always a ready and stable supply of skilled workers to fill any vacancy. This belief was shown to be flawed during the boom times of the second half of the last decade. During the boom skilled personnel were at a premium and these same employers were crying out for personnel to fill their vacant roles, accepting partially skilled alternates and paying above market rates to secure them.
So, here we are, in the second half of the 2010’s and wondering what is coming next, particularly when we keep hearing about how automation is going to lead to so many jobs disappearing or being replaced.
Where next for engineering project skills
My prediction, is that the industry activity over the next few years will stabilise at a lower level than the past decade or ...]]>
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Developing International Project Communicators http://ulfire.com.au/international-communicators/ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 15:27:52 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2497 <p>Training and developing personnel to take on the key roles of leading international interfaces in virtual team projects is an ongoing task for most businesses who operate in the space. This article considers some of the reasons the development of personnel for these roles is important.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/international-communicators/">Developing International Project Communicators</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Training and developing personnel to take on the key roles of leading international interfaces in virtual team projects is an ongoing task for most businesses who operate in the space. This article considers some of the reasons the development of perso... Where are they developing right now? and,
How can their development be supported and facilitated so that there are enough of them available for future projects?
Firstly, as an optimist, let me say that I believe there are many people around the world right now developing their skills through working globally. Largely, they are learning by doing, with few of them learning in a structured sense. Few of them will really realise that, in performing their day-to-day tasks, they are really building a skill set they will later come to rely on heavily.
Furthermore, they are largely learning through trial and error. They will be working in global organizations where they deal daily with other offices and individuals, or they are working on international projects with individuals and teams from other cultures.
This “accidental development” is good to a point, but just imagine how much better your project would run if the errors your undeveloped project teams, including these enthusiastic learners, are now making, could be minimized. Their learning could become structured and supported, making your project teams and individuals more effective, more rapidly moving from a group of confused individuals to a genuine high performing team.
Organisations need structured international development programs
Every organization with any involvement in international projects should, in my opinion, have a structured development program to support its personnel. Helping them as they work to understand how best to communicate with their colleagues from different cultures. Many businesses have a plan to teach technical skills, many also have plans to teach the more conventional, more traditional interpersonal skills such as negotiation, technical writing, etc. But very few teach the communications skills for intercultural work.
Intercultural communication skills programs do not need to be hugely complex and expensive exercises. Simple short training and information sessions are sufficient for most project personnel, providing enough development for them to learn the basics of the cultural differences, enough so that they keep an open mind and, as Nancy Adler puts it in her book International Dimensions of Organisational Behaviour, “assume differences” when first dealing with other cultures.
Include advanced communications skills for core personnel
Project personnel with a deeper involvement with their global partners should also have access to more advanced and involved training, coaching and support to help them perform better when working with the project’s international cultural players. This training would include longer and more involved training modules, and should also incorporate a substantial level of coaching and mentoring, essentially providing the learner with someone to turn to for support and guidance when unfamiliar or unplanned situations arise.
What is your project doing?
Take a look around your project right now. How many of your people spend a reasonable proportion of their time communicating with your international partners?. Ask yourself, do they do it well?. When the do it, do they often express frustration with the people from different cultures they have to deal with? and, equally importantly, take a look at the other end of the communications chain, and see how the personnel in all of the other project offices are performing in their communications.
Next, ask yourself, how much more efficient and relaxed would your project teams be if they could all understand and communicate with each other...]]>
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Surviving at the Deep End on International Projects http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-international-projects/ Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:37:58 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2506 <p>All too often organisations send personnel off on international project assignments with little to no support. They receive a visa, a plane ticket and a contract and that's about it, the organisation then trusts to luck and the employee's skill that the secondment and the project associated with it will be a success.<br /> It really does not have to be that way though, a little bit of training, some mentoring and coaching and general support than the outcomes can be so much more predictable.<br /> This article is for those on the receiving end of these poorly planned placements, tips to survive when thrown in at the deep end on an international project.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-international-projects/">Surviving at the Deep End on International Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> All too often organisations send personnel off on international project assignments with little to no support. They receive a visa, a plane ticket and a contract and that's about it, the organisation then trusts to luck and the employee's skill that th... All of this means that those responsible for delivering the project will be dropped in at the deep end, frequently with no specific training or support and must either sink or swim, so for those of you in this situation, here are a few of my tips to help you survive your communications processes;
Assume the best of your international partners
Your international partners, those on the other and of the telephone line, email, video conference screen or at the other side of your desk if you are in the same location as they are, will generally want the same overall outcome for your project as you do; they may express themselves differently, outwardly demonstrate different levels of emotion and commitment to you but those differences are more likely cultural than motivational.
So, when you find yourself living in the same country as them, working in the same office and traveling to and from work together, it is definitely a good approach to assume the best of them, that they are there to do the same job as you and you all have the best interests of your project and company at heart.
Be patient with your partner
You may not be the only one trying to learn how to work with someone else. If your organisation has dropped you in at the deep end, to work out things by yourself, there is every chance the rest of the project is in the same situation, all trying to learn the process at the same time.
So, patience with each other is a great place to start, take the time to learn how each other work, take the time to communicate clearly and be patient when things take longer than you are used to, life moves at a different pace in different places.
Assume differences not similarities
If you assume the international members of your team, whether they are working physically along side you or remotely, will have different cultural and procedural values and approaches. you will be much less surprised when those differences become apparent. Simply assuming that because they are working on the same project as you, and may have a similar technical background, to you does not mean your international work partners will behave and react in the same way you do.
If you assume that people are different you will rarely be surprised and will find that life will flow much more comfortably.
Learn what you can about your international partners
The more you understand about your international partner’s country’s, history, language, values systems and culture the better you will understand the individual and the way those individuals behave and react in situations. However, as a word of caution, don’t simply assume that everyone from a particular culture will be the same, we are all individuals and while we share many common features with our countrymen, we all have many differences.
It is a good idea to spend some time before a deployment learning about the history of the country you are going to, if possible try to understand the culture and basic beliefs from a high, holistic level and maybe even try to become familiar with the language, but keep in mind that what you read and what you watch will come wit its own in built biases and perspectives, so judge for yourself once you arrive.
Question misunderstandings
I would recommend you develop a mutually agreed mechanism for clarifying misunderstandings, in some cultures it is acceptable or even expected to question anything you are unclear about in an open and direct manner, in others, this approach will cause great concern and offense to others, as such, develop a clear agreement between the different cultu...]]>
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Motivations To Succeed In International Teams Communication http://ulfire.com.au/motivation-to-succeed-in-international-teams/ Tue, 03 Jan 2017 15:44:06 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2511 <p>Securing personnel for international or intercultural assignments and postings can be a difficult task. It is generally easier to find candidates with the right technical skills than the right cultural and motivational ones, yet, getting the motivational balance wrong can lead to major issues as the deployment progresses.<br /> This article looks at some of the issues associated with finding those right personnel for your needs.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/motivation-to-succeed-in-international-teams/">Motivations To Succeed In International Teams Communication</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Securing personnel for international or intercultural assignments and postings can be a difficult task. It is generally easier to find candidates with the right technical skills than the right cultural and motivational ones, yet, This is not simply a motivation to progress their career where that progression includes a period of international working as a step up the ladder. Although it is generalising, many individuals looking for international or intercultural assignments simply to progress to the next level of their career, who lack the will and desire to understand their international partners, could easily damage the very international relationship they should be charged with enhancing.
Without this motivation to understand colleagues from other cultures, it becomes easy for the individual spending time working in the foreign country, or in their home nation with people from another culture, to loose sight of the cultural differences and see only obstacles when things become difficult to manage or the pressure in the project increases. In these situations, the lesser motivated person, or the one motivated only by career goals will revert to their home culture work methods and may well start to become a destructive rather than constructive member of the project team.
Individual motivation
As an individual, before pursuing or accepting an overseas assignment or a position which will require a substantial level of international communication, I would recommend that you examine your personal motivation to work in the intercultural situation this will put you.

How much do you really want to work in this position and,
How much do you know about the culture you will be exposed to?

If you are unsure, learn a little about the new culture, try to meet with people either from the culture you will be exposed to or who have been through similar situations to the one you will be facing, learn as much as you can from them then review your position. You may well find this approach not only helps you prepare for the role, but will also inspire you to find the true intercultural motivation you will need to get the most from the opportunity, both at a personal and professional level.
Organisational motivation
As an employer, when selecting personnel for these intercultural assignments, it is important to carefully review the candidates suitability, not just look at their track record and how successful they have been in their previous positions but also what those positions required of them and what their motivations would be to be successful and effective in an international or intercultural environment. For example, a manager who has been very successful in their previous positions, but where those positions were all single culture situations, where their management style proved to be highly effective, may find it hard to lead effectively in a culture with very different power distance or uncertainty levels to the one the manager has spent their career to date working in. This candidate may of course be the right choice, and may only need coaching in the cultural differences they will need to consider before making the change.
Organisational support
Any organisational support must be considered and in place before any deployment is finalised, since the selection of a candidate with the wrong skill set and motivation can lead to the rapid destruction of trust between the cultures resulting from a manager being incapable or unwilling to adapt to the cultural differences.
Even a candidate will the best credentials,]]>
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Who Are Our Leadership Role Models http://ulfire.com.au/who-are-our-leadership-role-models/ Fri, 30 Dec 2016 14:10:15 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2847 <p>Finding real, genuine leadership role models in the crowded and highly distorted modern world is a major challenge for aspiring leaders. All too often they are left choosing between a media creation on a TV show or in a movie, a politician or a sporting personality, when the people they really need to be emulating are the business leaders, business leaders who are unable to show their true colours because of corporate spin and media control.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/who-are-our-leadership-role-models/">Who Are Our Leadership Role Models</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Finding real, genuine leadership role models in the crowded and highly distorted modern world is a major challenge for aspiring leaders. All too often they are left choosing between a media creation on a TV show or in a movie,
A Limited Choice of Role Models
The normal, “go to” list would be business leaders, characters on TV shows and in film, political leaders and sports people, and each time I look at one of these groups I find myself less and less surprised that we are suffering from a shortage of role models. When you examine each of these groups one by one, the flaws are much more apparent than the positives…
TV and Film Characters
These are usually the most visible potential role models for aspiring leaders to try to emulate, yet, when you really examine the type of character the media develops to portray leaders they are the virtual antithesis of the modern leader. We look for our societal and business leaders to be courageous, loyal, honest, ethical, open, supporting of their subordinates and reflective, yet, the media’s version of most leaders is the complete opposite. They are typically shown as manipulative, overbearing, unethical and reactive and, while it is easy to see that the media builds characters like this because they are typically easier to build a story around, they are very poor role models indeed. If any readers can think of a really good role model in modern media please do let me know.
Political Leaders
If finding role models in media characters is hard, identifying one in a political landscape is as hard if not harder. The modern political landscape had bred individuals who are partisan, will stick to an idea long after most of society has abandoned it because it is attractive to a sector of their voters or is a platform they themselves have sworn to support, they have a very short term view, looking to the next electoral cycle rather than the long term good of the constituency they serve, and, all too often, we find they have major character flaws and are, in at least some cases not fit to hold the office they have been elected to.
Sporting Leaders
At least in our sporting codes we find individuals who embody the team spirit and courageous leadership we look for in our business leaders, but they contrast between a leader of a sporting team who is one of an extremely small fraction of the overall population who were born with the necessary athletic prowess which they combined with a passion for their chosen sport and the luck to get the opportunities they need to flourish. While many of these are similar to the career paths of many leaders, sadly, again, many of our sporting idols are shown to have feet of clay and through one misdeed or another many bring both themselves and their codes into discredit in a greater proportion to the business leaders. There are, of course, excellent leaders in many sporting teams so at least there is a hope there, except that the form of dedication and training required to be a top flight sportsperson can misdirect many younger business people into the same highly self centered perspectives many sports people are forced to follow to reach the top of their field.
Business Leaders
Logic would suggest that to find the top business role models should be a case of looking in the top businesses, and this is often indeed the case. But, and it is a big but, many of the best in this area are so restrained and constrained by their own media personnel they are unable or unwilling to show their true selves in public. They instead become corporate figureheads, occasionally reduced to defending corporate transgressions or trade-off’s that they themselves may not want to support if they were not in the roles they held. Consequently, the field of candidates tends to self select down to just a handful of brave or foolhardy souls who shun the corporate control...]]>
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Understanding Your International Project Partners http://ulfire.com.au/understanding-your-international-project-partners/ Tue, 27 Dec 2016 16:15:50 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2545 <p>Building a successful international project team relationship requires a broad span of abilities, these range from whatever the technical needs of the role are to many interpersonal and cross cultural abilities. This article discusses some of the ways an organisation can access and utilise many of these skills, skills that can be either internally or externally sourced.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/understanding-your-international-project-partners/">Understanding Your International Project Partners</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Building a successful international project team relationship requires a broad span of abilities, these range from whatever the technical needs of the role are to many interpersonal and cross cultural abilities. How many times on your project do you hear conversations of proclamations from team members that include something along the lines of “Why can’t they just do it the way I want“, or “That is not what I asked for“
These comments are usually followed closely by a similar statement demonstrating that the speaker really does not understand or empathise with whoever they are talking about. Typically the speaker did not take the time, nor even recognise the need to take the time, to consider that they need to understand the views of others to get their requirements met in the way they want.
Understanding your project partners
When you embark on an international collaboration for the delivery of your new project, one of the first things you need to consider with your new partner is how your respective cultures will relate to the way you interact, and the way you interact is what determines how you structure and manage your communications.
Leveraging existing experience
Ideally, you will have people on both aides of the relationship who have experience with the partner’s culture, or at least with working with other cultures. If you are fortunate enough to have this, utilise these people for all they are worth; have them participate in workshops and information sessions to convey their experiences to the rest of the project team; engage them in the development of much of the project communication strategy and, above all, listen to them. They have “been there and done that”, first hand experience will trump assumptions, theory and conjecture every time.
If you don’t have anyone with cross cultural experience in your team, the next best option would be to have some people from each of the partner organisations spend some time on a facilitated workshop, often participants seem only to be HR professionals as they typically recognise the need before the rest of the organisation, but I would advocate that there should also be technical project people involved, since, the project people are the ones who do most of the interaction. Use these sessions for both parties not just to plan the work but to getting to know each other and how you all think.
Build in feedback
Along with all of the above, regardless of experience and planning, I would highly recommend a constant feedback loop, to monitor peoples experiences and thoughts during the project, as well as conducting ongoing research and development of approach through reading some of the following resources;

* Geert Hofstede‘s work, particularly in my view his book cultures and organizations. Hofstede was a pioneer in the field of cultural understanding and set the benchmark, standards and lexicon for many who follow his work. His work is, in my experience at least, probably the most commonly referenced in Project Management literature for cultural impact.  I will attempt to expand on some of his concepts in future posts but it is still best to refer to the source.
* The books “Culture and Leadership Across the World: The GLOBE Book of In-Depth Studies of 25 Societies” and “Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies” ...]]>
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Selecting Personnel For Expat Roles http://ulfire.com.au/expat-selection/ Tue, 12 Jul 2016 16:05:08 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2531 <p>Selecting personnel for an expat assignment is a critical activity that can have major impacts on the overall outcome of a project. Pick and send the right people and you will have a solid and productive team who will take care of each other and deliver the best project possible, pick poorly and your project outcomes could be very disappointing and personnel will not have a good experience.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/expat-selection/">Selecting Personnel For Expat Roles</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Selecting personnel for an expat assignment is a critical activity that can have major impacts on the overall outcome of a project. Pick and send the right people and you will have a solid and productive team who will take care of each other and delive... Much of the early part of my career was spent working as an expat representative of my parent company in various parts of the world. Working amongst small, tight knit teams of engineers, managers and support personnel. In most of these situations the teams worked well, with a strong internal, mutual support philosophy and genuine commitment to the task at hand. There were, of course exceptions to this, and the lessons from those experiences have stuck with me ever since.
Expat Choices
I have attempted here to list some of my positive and negative recommendations.

* Expat personnel must be conversant with the company they work for and be committed to the work in hand. I have seen instances where new personnel are hired specifically for an overseas assignment, to represent the company that has hired them and typically this is a high risk option. My experiences with this is that these rarely are as successful as deploying established personnel. Likewise, the expats must be committed to the success of the task, in some instances to the detriment of their own level of short term reward. If they are there to make money, great, as long as that is their only motivation, anyone who is not fully committed to the work will lack commitment when the pressure is on.
* Wherever possible, send some seasoned expat personnel as part of the team. These personnel will typically become mentors and coaches to the new travelers. Having a whole team of newbies will lead to a lot of wasted time in the settling in process and without a mentor, the new personnel are typically prone to repeat mistakes made by others in the past as they find their feet.
* Set clear expectations of behaviour and living conditions before the expats depart. Every project and situation is different so it is very hard to generalise, but expats should know their limits and authorities before they arrive in country. This would encompass any allowances, living costs, transport both to and from and while in country, medical coverage, etc.
* Encourage your expats to integrate into the local community and culture as much as possible. While this is not always easy to do, and again every situation will be different, I would council against expat personnel living in closed communities if at all possible except for safety and security purposes. Even mixing with expats from other companies, communities or countries is better than having a single company living community.
* Select your expats on their personality, aptitude and experience before their level of technical expertise. It does not matter as much how technical strong they are if they are unable to work in the situation they are placed in, and/or can not work with their colleagues and local personnel.
* Plan for, and expect, some issues from your personnel, but try not to be too judgemental about motives. Things can happen when you live in an expat situation that are critical to the expats but seem excessively trivial and inconsequential to those in the home office, so try to be empathetic as long as any issues are genuine.
* Linguistic support is essential. This can range anywhere from the provision of interpreters, language lessons, provision of phrase books or simply learning to communicate in a form of simple common language that relies on basic vocabulary and common technical terms.
* Provide flexible travel and vacation schedules as long as they are fair to all personnel and do not impede the delivery of the project. Expats may have specific needs to return home for family or other events where this travel may fall outside of a fixed roster, or may wish to take their home trip ‘in kind’ as a separate vacation to another part of the world or even spend it in-country....]]>
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Making First Contact In International Projects http://ulfire.com.au/making-contact/ Tue, 28 Jun 2016 15:19:29 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2488 <p>This article looks at some of the challenges faced when setting up a new virtual team in establishing and building contact between the locations and the personnel. This first contact can be challenging from a cultural and organisational perspective, with many different barriers blocking what is a vital part of the organisational configuration.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/making-contact/">Making First Contact In International Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This article looks at some of the challenges faced when setting up a new virtual team in establishing and building contact between the locations and the personnel. This first contact can be challenging from a cultural and organisational perspective, I have discussed this with a number of colleagues and given it quite a bit of thought and while there are, undoubtedly, some hierarchical legacies within company structures, cultures and generations, largely based on how individuals should interact and who should initiate contact in a home culture setting, there is no hard and fast rule. When the contact must be made across boundaries, this cultural issue becomes more complex, introducing distance and invisible cultural differences.
Contact Challenges

* Generally, though not always, there is an organisational hierarchy between individuals or teams in the different locations. In these situations, the cultural issues must be considered in the sense that the more senior party, unless trained and aware of cross cultural communication, may well expect their home culture to prevail in terms of who should make the first contact. So, if the senior party is from a higher power distance culture they will typically expect to contact the more junior party when they are ready to do so. However, if the senior party is from a lower power distance culture, they are likely to either expect that the other party will contact them when they are ready or, possibly, they will initiate the contact through a less formal route such as via colleagues etc.
* Time pressures also play a big part in the establishment of communication in new virtual teams. Generally everyone is very busy setting up their part of the project, usually this is a cascaded exercise, starting with the project manager establishing the project scope, schedule, budget, execution methodology etc. then passing the work down to their team, who pass it down to theirs etc. My experience, sadly, has been that in most instances communication protocols, frequencies and methods and, occasionally, the actual fact that there are virtual teams involved, are generally either very low on the list of things these very busy managers consider or else are overlooked completely. This can result in the virtual team members feeling isolated and overlooked which, in turn, can result in them disconnecting from the project either physically or mentally, a risk for the project in general. In these situations, I would strongly recommend that the virtual teams make every effort possible to initiate contact with the balance of the project, either through their own local management or through direct contact with their remote colleagues. Making this contact may be a difficult exercise and, if the project has become fragmented, may be a long task to accomplish, but it may be the only way.
* The establishment of a trusting working relationship early in the project is vital in every respect, not least in the way virtual teams will interact. To start to build this trust, all parties involved must act in a respectful and ethical way toward each other, and each team must be vigilant of the behaviour of all of its team members toward one another. This is especially true if the project starts to develop any form of internal tension that could manifest in a blame culture.

Taking The Initiative
So, who should make first contact and how should it be made?
My recommendations are always that structured alignment sessions should be held, with as much of the global team as possible to be gathered in a single location. While this is often not possible with very large projects due to budgetary constraints, at least representatives from each location should be present at the meetings. Where this is not possible, they should be able to call-in in some way to participate...]]>
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Training Budgets For Virtual Team Communications http://ulfire.com.au/training-budgets/ Tue, 21 Jun 2016 17:26:20 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2495 <p>Achieving value from your training budget investment is an ongoing challenge for many projects and businesses, securing the budget is sometimes the easy part, with demands from all corners on its use. This article however argues that at least a portion of a training budget should be spent on leadership and communications skills.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/training-budgets/">Training Budgets For Virtual Team Communications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Achieving value from your training budget investment is an ongoing challenge for many projects and businesses, securing the budget is sometimes the easy part, with demands from all corners on its use. This article however argues that at least a portion... The review process goes something like this; as the budget comes under scrutiny, the project team tries to push training costs onto their parent organization, arguing that the project is only temporary. They argue that the parent organisation is permanent and as such will get long term benefits from the training. The parent company usually then pushes back on this attempt, saying that the project delivery group, whether internal or external, should bear costs of training since the training is for their project, and so it goes on.
The next target to accept the training costs is the client, who again will usually advise the project team that the costs should be in their budget since the project team and their parent organisation will reap the long term benefits. And so the cycle continues until either one party accepts the costs, a compromise is reached to share them somehow, or the bulk of the proposed training is removed from the project.
Everyone Benefits From Training
However, I would argue that the benefits of the training are so tangible for all parties that the real question should not be how to minimise the volume and associated cost of training, but how much training can the combined group provide to get the best trained and efficient project team possible.
In survey after survey, the item listed as the biggest incentive for many personnel, in both project and corporate roles, is access to training and personal development. So, spending on training makes employees happier and more committed to the project. For the parent organization, a more highly trained project team will be more efficient and deliver the project to a higher level of satisfaction for the client, reducing delivery risk, enhancing the parent company bottom line and reputation as a forward looking organisation that employees want to work for. Finally, for the client, a more effective project team, on both their and their contractors sides, will deliver their project with less risk, more reliability and a better chance of improved benefits being realised from the project.
Invest Wisely On Training
So, if the parties can agree on paying more for training to obtain the highest benefits for the project, the next question is where to spend the money. For most technical projects, the team will be inclined to spend the money exclusively on technical development, such as more technology tools, specific technical design skills and training in the use of the new tools etc.
Communication skills are usually, therefore, put at the bottom of the list and clasiffied as “soft skills” that everyone already has, yet training in just these skills can deliver quick and easy benefits that will enhance all aspects of the overall delivery of the project. A team which is better equiped to communicate with one another, both internally and externally, will be a more efficicent team; meetings will become more productive, there will be less repetition of work since everyone will be more aligned to the project goals, error rates should reduce since personnel will be more aware of what their colleagues are doing, and as such will be more inclined to work on tasks which benefit the work or the collective team rather than tasks which may conflict or compete with other members of the project team’s work.
In essence then, I would argue that communications training is a low hanging fruit as far as benefits realised relative to...]]>
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Language Problems In Teleconferences http://ulfire.com.au/language-problems-in-teleconferences/ Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:14:04 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2543 <p>Something as simple as the complexity of language used in teleconferences in virtual teams, particularly those involving personnel for whom English is a second or third language, can lead to confusion and a sense of exclusion. This article argues for the use of a simple project vocabulary to enable all personnel to speak more or less on a level platform.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/language-problems-in-teleconferences/">Language Problems In Teleconferences</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Something as simple as the complexity of language used in teleconferences in virtual teams, particularly those involving personnel for whom English is a second or third language, can lead to confusion and a sense of exclusion. Since much of the communication between virtual project team members in international projects will be audio only, via the telephone, it is most important that all the communicators are both careful in the language they choose to use and also in the way in which they check the message has been received in the manner it was intended.
Keep Language Simple
One of the best ways to keep your language simple and direct for all participants, regardless of their native tongue, would be to implement something similar to the special English program developed by the Voice of America radio broadcasts in the late 50’s and still in use today. This was developed with a core vocabulary of around 1,500 words to keep its news messages as simple, concise and understandable as possible. New words are added and used where appropriate, but the great majority of the news broadcast using this system uses only this core vocabulary.
While your project and industry may well have a specific dictionary of terms needed for business, the great majority of language used on teleconferences can be restricted to a reasonable number, meaning that all personnel can rapidly become familiar with this and hold more effective conversations.
Avoid Nuances, Idioms and Complex Language
Beyond that, keep the nuances as few as possible, avoid double negatives – there are few things as confusing to a non native english speaker as the question “You don’t understand that, do you?”, should they answer yes or no? the answer in fact can be as confusing to the questioner as the question was to the respondent, what would the answer of yes mean to the question… So avoid this form of language as far as possible. Similarly, avoid the use of colloquialisms and other similar speech affectations unless everyone on the call definitely understands the meaning, they can be very confusing, can display a level of exclusivity not generally wanted in a virtual team environment and are just not effective.
For many project managers and team members new to the environment of virtual international project teams, the lesson of recognising the requirements to keep conversations as simple as possible, while still getting the message across, takes considerable time to learn. Some personnel, I believe, never really do understand that the person they are speaking to may not fully understand what they are saying and will, as a result, blame the rest of the project team for the results of the breakdown of communications. Yet, if a project manager really does spend up to 90% of their time on communications as we are led to believe, they should understand how to get their message across to all members of their team, regardless of their location, language, culture of status within the project, and need only look in the mirror when communications break down.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with language challenges in teleconfer...]]>
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Virtual Team Communications Across Time Zones http://ulfire.com.au/communications-across-time-zones/ Tue, 07 Jun 2016 15:17:33 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2547 <p>Understanding how to plan and manage communications across timezones is fundamental to building a stable and reliable virtual team communications plan. As the number of timezones between locations increases, projects find themselves stretching their communications further and further and placing a greater emphasis on written communications over verbal, this in turn leads to a lessening of the quality of communications.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communications-across-time-zones/">Virtual Team Communications Across Time Zones</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding how to plan and manage communications across timezones is fundamental to building a stable and reliable virtual team communications plan. As the number of timezones between locations increases, Communicating Across Different Time Zones
As time zone differences increase, the challenges and opportunities faced change:

* With only one or two hours between locations, the time zones issue barely exists. Yes, you need to be aware of start and finish times, when your virtual team colleagues will break for lunch etc. but, telephone calls can be made with little consideration for the time at the other location and meetings scheduled with relative impunity, but as the hours increase the problem progressively worsens.
* Three and four hours difference can start to really bite into the project’s ability to have a conventionally structured communications plan typical of a co-located project. Morning in one location is the afternoon at the other, but at least there is sufficient overlap for both parties to be able to talk by phone or video for four to six hours a day. However, consideration for the time at each location is necessary so that one party or the other does not have to endure constant early mornings or late evenings to accommodate the scheduling from the other location.
* Once the difference gets up to six to eight hours, the gap becomes really inconvenient for normal business hours conversations. At this point most conversations generally fall outside of one locations normal working day so many discussions happen at the start or end of the business day, one party has to work outside of hours or the communications become more asynchronous, using email and voicemail instead of the telephone or video conference, which has an impact on the clarity of message and volume of communications.
* More than eight hours means that all discussions are outside of normal business hours for someone, and, communications can really begin to fragment as fewer members of the project team get to participate in that most human form of communication, the spoken conversation. Increasingly, at this point, communication becomes a once a week teleconference between key players, supported by email. This, for complex international exercises, is simply insufficient to avoid serious gaps. People need to communicate more frequently and in a more nuanced, natural and rich way. But, if a weekly catch up is all you can manage, when establishing protocols for these weekly meetings it is necessary to consider that, in the interests of fairness, the need to arrive early or stay late should be shared between locations so that everyone has at least some weeks of normal working hours.

Adding an additional wrinkle to the whole thing, is when the project is not simply spread between two different time zones, but multiples. In these instances, a great deal of planning must go into how the meetings and communications are structured, both to be fair to the attendees and also to get the most efficiency from the meetings. It may, for instance, be better to have several sub-meetings, each between only two or three parties in more or less similar time zones. Let each group work on their discussion points, then have an overall coordination meeting with only key players from each location at a separate time. This approach may make the meetings more time efficient for the attendees and allow more people to participate in each, though clearly the structure finally arrived at will be unique to both the project and the phase the project is at.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with communications across time zones in a virtual team environment y...]]>
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Communications Equality In Projects http://ulfire.com.au/communications-equality/ Tue, 31 May 2016 12:37:03 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2503 <p>Embedding communications equality in your projects and businesses is particularly important in virtual team environments. Having a conscious and considered approach to maintaining equality in communications will mean your personnel regardless of their geographic location are all able to contribute to the dialogue in your projects and work toward its success.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communications-equality/">Communications Equality In Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Embedding communications equality in your projects and businesses is particularly important in virtual team environments. Having a conscious and considered approach to maintaining equality in communications will mean your personnel regardless of their ... Many projects make bold claims of being open to input and contributions from all members of the project team, no matter how high or low in the organisation chart they may sit. They claim to have empowered personnel and open management styles, and, I know many project managers who genuinely believe and commit to these goals. Yet, many companies and projects do not walk the talk when it comes to the actual implementation of this openness.
Developing Communications Equality Through Openness
Developing openness is relatively straightforward to pursue when the project is conducted in a single location. Here, team members should have easy access to their managers and to the project management team as a whole, though even here some of these managers can be extremely difficult to meet with through time pressures or, on occasion, simply being evasive if they know they will not like the question. However, when the project is conducted in an international or domestic multi location or virtual team model, access to the top management for personnel located away from the managers home office, even for relatively senior personnel in remote locations, can be at best sporadic and at worst impossible. Superimpose on this the additional challenge that many cultures either do not encourage, or do not want a ‘western style’ open door policy, preferring the cultural comfort of a manager who dictates the way forward rather than a manager with an inclusive, decision by committee style, and things get even more complex.
Structural Barriers To Communications Equality
Additionally, many projects, often as a result of their parent company policies or cultural impacts, have developed a set of structured communications protocols whereby an employee has a fixed chain of command to follow. These policies are usually, though unintentionally, culturally biassed and, for instance, may establish a situation where personnel are discouraged from communicating with anyone above their immediate manager, who in turn has his own chain of command to follow, often making it virtually impossible for the professed openness to function in reality.
On top of this, there may well be limitations in access to communications tools, again often as a result of the parent company’s policies. On some projects, many personnel may not have easy access to communication tools often taken for granted in other circumstances; remote sites may not have reliable telephony, computers may be restricted to managers only and email may be similarly restricted. I have personally worked in projects where only the senior managers had telephones on remote sites and, where the same senior personnel are provided with company laptops even through they may not travel more than once a year, while their junior project personnel may be away from home for many weeks or months in a year but are not given the company laptop or phone as they are not ‘senior’ enough…
Embedding Communications Equality
For projects where communications equality and openness is talked about, my suggestion would be to ensure that what is included in the project charters, and any espoused communications plans are put into real effect. If a project claims to be open it must live up to its claims, put systems in place that reflect the level of openness sought. They could consider suggestion boxes, question boxes, systems for employees who may not feel comfortable asking their questions directly to have access to anonymous messaging systems, and, for those who are happy to ask face to face, provide office times to allow them to meet with the relevant manager. Of course,]]>
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Communication Silos In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/communication-silos/ Tue, 24 May 2016 15:22:13 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2491 <p>Communication Silos occur in virtually every organisation and project, personnel get so engrossed in their day to day work they forget to share news and information with those outside of their immediate circle. In virtual teams, communication silos can become particularly destructive as the walls of the silos are defined by the distance between the teams and can be impenetrable to any but the most direct efforts.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communication-silos/">Communication Silos In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Communication Silos occur in virtually every organisation and project, personnel get so engrossed in their day to day work they forget to share news and information with those outside of their immediate circle. In virtual teams,
One of the biggest influences on a project’s ability to develop and maintain an effective inter-office and international dialogue is the project manager’s ability to remove, or at least minimise the tendency for these communication silos to develop within the project, and when they do develop, to identify them and do as much as possible to remove their influence on the project.
Causes of Communication Silos
Communication silos develop for any number of reasons, in virtual teams and international projects, some typical reasons would be;

* Parochialism, where one or several offices becomes defensive of its position and constructs barriers to keep work for themselves.
* Xenophobia, where some offices or influential individuals do not trust the other offices, and try to ostracise or marginalise them.
* Professional distrust, where personnel in one part of the project do not believe the personnel in another location have the right skills, the right experience and/or the right motivation to do what they believe is needed for the project to be a success.
* Language and culture, where personnel in one area of the project simply do not understand what the others are trying to tell them, or how they are doing their work, and where they are often reluctant to try to build the required understanding.
* Power, where some personnel in the project want to develop or keep power for themselves and follow the mantra of “knowledge is power” keeping the key information for themselves, often to the detriment of the entire project.

Usually, when discussing communication silos its the vertical silo’s which come to mind, towers of isolation that keep one location separate from another. However, it is also important to recognise that horizontal silos can form within projects and organisations. These horizontal communication silos occur when personnel at any level such as managers, technical delivery personnel or other organisational strata discuss things between themselves and make decisions which will impact the overall project, without considering or communicating the basis of the discussions and the decisions made to their colleagues, reports and management.
These horizontal communication silos can also form from the bottom up, with project team members making decisions or adopting practices which they keep to themselves. This leads to the formation of a barrier layer between them and their managers, where the managers are not aware of the activities or “in talk” happening amongst the workforce. Essentially the project or business becomes stratified, with the barriers between the horizontal layers as hard to penetrate as any vertical silo will ever be. These barriers are often less visible to the participants within each strata as the individuals tend to focus on the issues at their level and assume everyone else has a full understanding of the situation.
Breaking Down Communication Silos
So, how can you keep the lines of communication open in the face of all of these barriers?

* Firstly, lead by example… Whether you are the manager of the project or simply a team member, you need to try to avoid communication silos developing within your area of control. If you are the project manager, you will be the one your personnel will be most likely to emulate, if you have your own communication silos, whether vertical or horizontal, they will feel that they have tacit endorsement to follow suit and will develop their own.
* Secondly, watch out for the development of silo’s,...]]>
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Impact Of Outsourcing On Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/impact-of-outsourcing/ Tue, 17 May 2016 15:11:07 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2482 <p>Outsourcing has become synonymous with virtual teams for many. As the impact of globalisation and the advance of technology has meant that jobs and workflows are continually changing, relationships are needing to evolve and personnel must adjust to the changes of office dynamics to remain relevant.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/impact-of-outsourcing/">Impact Of Outsourcing On Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Outsourcing has become synonymous with virtual teams for many. As the impact of globalisation and the advance of technology has meant that jobs and workflows are continually changing, relationships are needing to evolve and personnel must adjust to the... While this form of outsourcing has been very disruptive to the employability of the lower skilled members of workforces in developed, so called first world countries, it has not been such a great threat to the higher skilled workers. These higher skilled workers have, instead, often seen their work-flow change to adopt to the virtual team approach. But, for them, it has meant that the people they manage are now in another location, while much of their peer group is still, often, co-located with them, speaks the same language, has the same cultural outlook and “feels” very familiar.
Continual Change To The Nature Of Outsourcing
All of this is, however, changing. The aging workforce in the developed nations is now becoming too small to provide even the relatively small pool of highly skilled workers for many projects, and the workers in the countries to which the work has been outsourced for so long are starting to mature their skills to the point where they can now compete on a level playing field with the first world high skilled workers. Combine this with the side effect of outsourcing the relatively simple work, work that in previous times was performed in the co-located team by the new graduates and developing personnel, where those low grade personnel now have not had the exposure that would have let them develop to become the higher skilled members of the project teams and things are starting to change.
Managing The Changes In Outsourcing
For organisations set up to manage this changing centre of gravity, this migration of skills is a relatively minor threat. They still need to maintain quality and pursue their new developments, only now much of this new development can be undertaken in what has been, and for many still is, seen as the developing world. Where this change is now being felt the hardest is in the hearts, minds and in many cases the bank accounts of the employees in the high skills centres. These previously safe and untouchable personnel are now having to come to terms with a world where they are no longer always the manager, managing down to a virtual team of high volume lower cost personnel. Now, they are faced with working across to peers located in these outsourcing centres and, in some cases, even finding themselves working for the people from those centres, people who have, over the last two decades, gone from being the apprentice to now being the master.
Changes Are Not Always Pleasant For Everyone
How the individuals and their organisations will react to this could be one of the defining points in the global workforce over the next few years, as the high tech jobs follow the low tech jobs out of the first world and into the developing world, leaving behind a range of lower skilled less transportable jobs. While economics have a way of balancing these things over time, it will take a number of years before the pendulum swings back and the work starts to flow back to where it used to be performed.
So, what does this mean for the world of virtual teams communications? Well, in some ways things will still be the same,]]>
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Planning For Project Communication Disruptions http://ulfire.com.au/disruptions/ Tue, 10 May 2016 17:25:25 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2515 <p>Communications is such an important part of business life it is largely taken for granted, but as teams are becoming increasingly distributed, planning for the eventuality that at some stage in your project communications will become disrupted is an important activity for a business or a project to undertake.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/disruptions/">Planning For Project Communication Disruptions</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Communications is such an important part of business life it is largely taken for granted, but as teams are becoming increasingly distributed, planning for the eventuality that at some stage in your project communications will become disrupted is an im... Many organisations and projects will, or at least should, have disaster plans and business continuity plans in place. These plans typically cover how they will deal with various forms of natural disaster, along with responding to issues such as civil unrest in one of the locations the project is being executed, whether this is the home office, one of the projects domestic or international satellite offices or the factory or job site. I wonder, however, how many projects would take the time to develop their own, stand alone disaster plan, one separate to the overall business, and what those disaster plans would include.
Planning For Disruptions
Recommendations to cover the basics would be;

* Safety of all personnel – regardless of their position in the company and status within the project, the first thing needed is to ensure the safety of all personnel. This part of the plan would include keeping registers of the locations of anyone travelling, emergency contact details for all personnel, evacuation points for personnel in the event of natural, accidental or man made disasters, and if evacuation is not possible, safe muster points for personnel to gather and arrange for whatever measures are needed to look after everyone. You would also include home contact details for personnel, along with similar for any unaccompanied personnel on expat relocations or business visits.
* Protection of project assets and information – I would also place this high on any disaster plan. It belongs before the restoration of services, since, if the assets are lost, the project not only has to replicate them, it also has to then continue on to its completion. This plan therefore would include safe storage of any project information, including design data, prototypes, cost and contractual management information, equipment etc.
* Plans to restore services – this would be to be put in place as and when safe and appropriate to do so. There is little point, after all, in restoring power to a test facility if the personnel required to operate it are all being evacuated.
* Plans to restore communications – this should take a pretty high level of importance for both the welfare of the personnel and the integrity of the project. Communications either outward or inward are vital in any disruption, families need to contact relatives, any emergency aid required needs to be coordinated and the project personnel need to be able to manage whatever actions they have for the continuity of the work.
* A realistic emergency responsibilities matrix – if everything else in the world is as normal but, for whatever reason, the different locations are unable to communicate, the project needs to be able to continue with as few interruptions as possible. I would propose that every project has key personnel in each location empowered to make whatever decisions are required to ensure continuity of the project, welfare of all project personnel and reasonable progress of the work at hand without fear of retribution once communications are restored. These should be as simple as appointing people and giving them explicit guidelines as to when these powers come into effect, without this measure, some project teams, where the project is run with a rigid control structure, may well cease work while they wait for instructions and,]]>
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International Project Video Meetings http://ulfire.com.au/international-project-video-meetings/ Tue, 03 May 2016 15:54:56 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2523 <p>Getting the best from video meetings requires both the right technology and the right processes and mindset. Deciding how and where to deploy video conference and video meeting technology then ensuring your personnel approach the meetings with the right perspective of cultural understanding will make them effective and productive experiences for all concerned.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/international-project-video-meetings/">International Project Video Meetings</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Getting the best from video meetings requires both the right technology and the right processes and mindset. Deciding how and where to deploy video conference and video meeting technology then ensuring your personnel approach the meetings with the righ... Evolution Of Video Meetings Technology
At the same time, the explosion of home use video conferencing through some of the initial, free to use offerings such as CuSeeMe, which were then rapidly overtaken by Skype and its similar packages has led to the technology having a huge following in peoples personal lives, something that is not always reflected in their workplaces. Many have access to their employers video conference equipment but would only use it once a month, if that, while they may have both Skype and other facilities such as FaceTime at home, using it weekly or more frequently to keep up with family.
From an international project perspective, the lack of uptake of video meetings has been a missed opportunity. Humans are extremely visual communicators, there is nothing most of us like more in a conversation than to see the other person’s reactions and actions to what we say. For example, one only has to look at someone on the telephone making hand gestures to understand that we can not stop ourselves. Seeing your colleague in a conversation is a hugely bonding experience that is so readily afforded through the video technology.
Getting The Most From Video Meetings
So, for those with access to video conferencing, I would encourage anyone involved in international projects to explore the tool aggressively, what can it give you and how to use it?
To answer this you first need to consider how far you are prepared to deploy it, a single installation in each office will mean that its use is confined to pre-agreed meetings, while having multiple installations, perhaps up to the point of having those ubiquitous little camera’s on everyones workstations, will mean that everyone can use them as they need and they will soon start to take the place of, or at least supplement, the telephone in day to day conversations.
Video Conference Suites
If you opt for the single installations, the meetings should follow the format of a traditional face to face meeting, the biggest difference, aside from the obvious one of only some of the participants being in the same physical location, is that everyone needs to give each other time to say what they have to without interruption. Small time lags inherent in the technology mean that to be effective everyone needs to leave a bit of space between statements. Aside from that, I would suggest that everyone participating in the meeting should be visible on the screen during the meeting, so no hiding around the corner just out of frame, this is really an inconsiderate thing to do, a bit like hiding in the cupboard in a face-to-face meeting. Also, try to zoom in as close as possible on those participating so that the screen is filled with faces not background.
Discreet Individual Video Installations
If you opt for the broader installation of putting cameras on at least some of the workstations, treat calls like any one-to-one, face-to-face meeting, again allow for the transmission timing between statements but aside from that, speak as you would normally. Make sure you have good quality camera’s and provide personnel its headphones and microphones so they can have private conversations rather than broadcasting their discussions within the office, this is considerate for both those on the call and their co-workers.
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Managing Marginalisation In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/marginalisation/ Tue, 26 Apr 2016 15:06:07 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2478 <p>Recognising and managing the effects of marginalisation in a virtual team environment is one of the major responsibilities of the leadership of the team, all team members are at risk of marginalisation at some stage but particularly those in small and remote offices who may not receive the level of information and attention as the central and usually larger offices. This article attempts to highlight some of the symptoms and cures.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/marginalisation/">Managing Marginalisation In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Recognising and managing the effects of marginalisation in a virtual team environment is one of the major responsibilities of the leadership of the team, all team members are at risk of marginalisation at some stage but particularly those in small and ... Virtual team margins can be geographic, temporal or technical, but whatever their form, they are always there and must be consciously managed and controlled to keep your project on track. Losing the engagement of personnel to a sense of marginalisation is a risk no project should allow to occur.
Effects of Marginalisation
When personnel start to experience a sense or perception of marginalisation, they begin to behave in ways that are either contra to the best interests of the project, or at least not directly aligned with the projects needs. Usually this is not a conscious or malicious reaction, simply a survival instinct kicking in to help the personnel experiencing this sense of marginalisation to believe they have a purpose.
These personnel may react in one of several ways, usually preceded by some form of a plea to the project leadership or their line management to be allowed to be more engaged. They may try to do what they believe is the best for the project, this may be right or wrong when judged against the central view of the project goals but at least they would be trying. They could, simply, mark time, doing minor, less contributory tasks they know to be in the interests of the project but not necessarily the absolute best use of their skills and time, or they could actively resist the central views of the project, through either leaving the project to seek more engaged, less marginalised roles elsewhere or, in the worst case, actively sabotaging the activities of the project through resisting efforts from the project’s management to direct their and others efforts.
While it is far better to work to avoid marginalisation in your projects from the outset, through actively engaging with all of the teams and groups that form part of the endeavour, even with the best of efforts from all concerned, it is likely that any large project will, at some time, have some personnel who feel disenfranchised or marginalised from the collective effort.
Managing Marginalisation
When this marginalisation happens or starts to become apparent it is, I believe, vitally important that the thoughts and feelings of those feeling excluded are taken very seriously. If their marginalisation is occurring as a side effect of some other project strategy, change the strategy as much as possible to reincorporate the marginalised personnel back into the project, this could be things such as changing the timing or format of a regular meeting so that they are able to participate more fully or be more engaged with the discussion, it could also be to change some of the assigned tasks so that the larger groups on the project are forced to deal more inclusively with the marginalised party, whatever happens though, something must be done to include these disenfranchised personnel back into the job before the relationship fails completely and they go from feeling last out but wanting to participate to the point where they actively disengage from the project either mentally or physically.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with marginalisation in a virtual team you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations planestablish and run...]]>
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Strategic Alignment Of Virtual Team Goals http://ulfire.com.au/strategic-alignment/ Tue, 19 Apr 2016 16:18:50 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2549 <p>Undertaking a comprehensive strategic alignment session at the start of a virtual team project is essential to ensure all parties have a common set of goals and understandings before the project starts. This article considers some of the reasons and benefits of such a session.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/strategic-alignment/">Strategic Alignment Of Virtual Team Goals</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Undertaking a comprehensive strategic alignment session at the start of a virtual team project is essential to ensure all parties have a common set of goals and understandings before the project starts. This article considers some of the reasons and be... Strategic Alignment of Project Goals
Do you agree your aims and goals prior to executing the work so that you are both focused on the same outcomes? Do you just agree your project goals? or do you have a comprehensive strategic alignment planning exercise so that you understand not just why you are doing this project but how this project fits to your overall corporate targets.
Our recommendation is that, at the very least, you undertake a strategic alignment session for your project to get all of your project team focused on the common goals, but ideally, your strategic alignment planning should also include corporate goals, corporate challenges and long term relationship plans and desires. Specifically such a conversation with your virtual team partner, whether internal or external, domestic or international, will encompass at least the following;

* Financial goals, how do your and your virtual team partner’s cost models compare, is your business as important to them as the business from another client? because if it is not, you may well find that your level of service from them is not all you expect, particularly if they are able to make substantially greater profits in performing work for the other client.
* Deployment of personnel, continuing from the point above, if your work is less valuable to your international partner than that of another client, you will most likely struggle to get access to the personnel you so dearly desire, potentially resulting in the quality and/or schedule of work suffering.
* Agreed scheduling and quality of deliverables, Have you agreed what will be delivered to you, when, and at what quality level? getting the right work but three months late may completely destroy any benefits from engaging the international partner, equally, getting the work on time but incomplete for your needs will have a similar impact since there will be substantial levels of remedial work required to bring the work up to your required level.
* Standards, either national or industry driven, that must be complied with, will the work delivered be accepted in your country of delivery? I have seen several projects where equipment or designs were of a standard not accepted in the host country, resulting in substantial levels of project delay, additional, unplanned expense, frustration and loss of reputation while the work is re-performed to an acceptable level.
* Do you and your virtual team partner share common values? you need to ensure that any labour issues, safety requirements etc are held at a common level between partners otherwise you may find yourself losing reputation through poor safety records, environmental issues, low rates of pay to local labour forces, etc.
* Do you have a corporate cultural fit? If your corporate cultures align, you will find working together much easier than if they do not. This alignment can be as simple as having a common approach to raising issues encountered during the execution of the project, and how these issues are resolved. In some cultures, both corporate and regional, it is common to have open and frank discussions over issues, in others, these discussions are either not held or held at a specific level within the organisation. Having a common approach will avoid any embarrassing surprises as time goes by.

Share your experiences
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Language And Colloquialisms In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/colloquialisms/ Tue, 12 Apr 2016 17:33:03 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2539 <p>The use of colloquialisms and specialist technical language can be a great way to short hand conversations in a group with a common technical, regional or cultural background, but, when you start to work with others from different backgrounds or in different locations, these linguistic short cuts and regional colloquialisms can become a liability. This article considers some of the challenges of their use and argues for the use of a more simple language.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/colloquialisms/">Language And Colloquialisms In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> The use of colloquialisms and specialist technical language can be a great way to short hand conversations in a group with a common technical, regional or cultural background, but, when you start to work with others from different backgrounds or in dif... Using these little colloquialisms in conversations or correspondence with people from other cultures or countries, who may have a relatively rudimentary understanding of your native language, can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences, such as the following example which was relayed to me several years ago.
Damage From Colloquialisms
A negotiation party from a UK company were meeting with an asian client to discuss contract terms and conditions. One morning, the UK negotiation manager, after greeting the prospective client in the first meeting and exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes enquired after the client’s health and said
“You are looking a little grumpy today…”
The client, not familiar with the word grumpy pulled out his phrase book and looked it up, to find the following definition “Grumpy – A small, bad tempered, dwarf”, understandably feeling terribly insulted so early in the discussions, the clients negotiator, along with his team, walked out of the meeting and negotiations halted for several hours while the two teams met to resolve this international incident and for the UK company’s manager to explain that what he had intended his comment to mean was that his client’s representative looked a little unhappy, and that he was going to ask next if there was anything wrong that he could assist with.
While the story above seems a little comical on the surface, what it does do is show how easy it can be to offend others with innocent comments, comments that are often intended as relationship building by the unthinking speaker and are taken as insults by the listener who, without thinking, may be quick to assume the worst. In this example, neither party here acquitted themselves well, the UK’s manager should have been far more careful in his choice of words, if he did not yet know his client well he should have kept to simple, unequivocal language, and the client could have asked for clarification before walking out.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Such simple communication breakdowns occur all the time, a careless word here, an unthinking gesture there and the barriers go up and negotiating or collaborating return to an adversarial stance that can take weeks or month to overcome, causing unnecessary delays to the project and diverting time of both parties from their primary tasks. These trips and traps are there for all of us to fall over, regardless of our years of experience in international relations, our level of seniority and our own self confidence. It is up to everyone in these situations be be tolerant at all times and, when a perceived slight is encountered, to query the intent with the possible offender. It is most likely they will be terribly concerned that they have made the offended party feel slighted, retract and offensive colloquialism, comment or gesture and be keen to see both the error of their ways and learn the accepted way to conduct things.
So, the message here is, think before you speak or act, and if you don’t understand the intent behind a comment or action and it is out of context, clarify what was meant before you react to it.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with the challenges of the use of specialist language and colloquialisms you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Value Of Face To Face Meetings In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/face-to-face-meetings/ Tue, 05 Apr 2016 15:09:32 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2480 <p>Face to face meetings are key to relationship building and the development of trust in virtual teams. They can be expensive upfront but properly managed and structured should reap rewards many times the value of any costs incurred. This article considers some of the key times you should consider holding face to face meetings and their value.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/face-to-face-meetings/">Value Of Face To Face Meetings In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Face to face meetings are key to relationship building and the development of trust in virtual teams. They can be expensive upfront but properly managed and structured should reap rewards many times the value of any costs incurred.
* Planning sessions, both before the start of a major project with substantial unique features and at key milestones within the project, milestones where the project may be going through major structural or organisational changes,
* Kick off meetings for complex, high value or high risk projects,
* Client reviews and presentations (at any stage of a project),
* Periodic internal reviews of project status,
* “Sponsors” meetings – while many of these can be held virtually, using electronic platforms, holding some face to face can still bring advantages,
* Lessons learned sessions – which can be conducted as a combination of both face to face and virtual presence, with some members of the project team traveling to the meeting and others calling in when needed

Advantages Of Face To Face Meetings
Now, certainly these meetings bring value to the project and, if properly exploited, can also provide benefits to both the base organisation and the individuals involved; they allow for additional side meetings that otherwise would not happen, they allow for some social interaction and, they allow the visitors to develop more of an understanding of the environment and culture of the hosting office. All of these opportunities can help the project and the organisation work better together on current and future endeavors. Yet for all of these benefits, many project organisations either put little merit to such meetings or, in some instances, actively or passively discourage them.
Risks Of Strangling The Project
I have seen situations on projects where either the project delivery organisation, client, or both put restrictions on travel of members of their project organisations. In this they genuinely, though often naively believe they are containing project costs in doing so, but instead they are restricting the project’s ability to operate. Left too long like this and the project will reach the point where it starts to suffer from lack of coordination, communications breakdowns and failures of trust between groups, all of which frequently result in costs to the project far in excess to the monies “saved” through restricting travel.
Be Prudent
I am not advocating frivolous project travel budgets, nor am I suggesting that team members should travel for any and all meetings, far from it; the tools now available to support virtual working are perfectly adequate for the great majority of regular communications, however, allowing, or even encouraging reasonable levels of travel in a project to allow the team members to meet is an investment in the success of the project and should definitely be endorsed wherever benefits can be identified, so long as the travel is balanced.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with the value of face to face meetings you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations 
planestablish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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Please enter your details below to register for our...]]> Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 14:38 Why You Need Great Communication Skills http://ulfire.com.au/communication-skills/ Tue, 29 Mar 2016 15:53:15 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2521 <p>Great communication skills are essential for virtually every role these days, gone are the days when someone could have a successful career without being able to communicate well with others. As we move into a more networked and virtual society, those with the abilities to communicate effectively will become increasingly in demand in business and society.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communication-skills/">Why You Need Great Communication Skills</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Great communication skills are essential for virtually every role these days, gone are the days when someone could have a successful career without being able to communicate well with others. As we move into a more networked and virtual society, Skilled communicators have a level of perception of the interest, attention span, cultural and social differences in their audience that is almost like a sixth sense, they know when to speak and, as importantly, they know when to be quiet and listen to other words or even simply watch the body language of other participants in any situation. After all, silence can be just as strong a form of communication as speech.
Beyond this, the skilled communicator will spend a lot of time developing their skills, thinking about what was said and not said, how it was received and delivered and always looking for lessons that can be taken from any encounter. For these individuals, they will never be satisfied with their level of communications skills, even though they are often the most skilled in any situation.
Some people are fortunate enough to be either naturally talented at these things or develop the skills quickly, others will get help and build them from there, while yet others may never become the communicators they could be, continually struggling to find the right mix or, worse still, believing they are great communicators and not recognising all of their flaws.
These days, also, it seems you can get coaches for pretty much any aspect of you personal or professional life, there are the obvious ones such as sports coaches and leadership coaches, then there are coaches who will come in and help you adapt to a new job, a promotion, a lifestyle change etc. But, have you ever stopped and considered whether a communications coach could be appropriate for either you or someone in your team?
How To Build Communication Skills
So, the question is, are you one of these people, would you like to be one and, if so, how would you get started?
If you really do want to develop your communications skills, there are a number of ways to go about it;

* Observation is usually a great place to start, identify as many good communicators as possible, in the media, in your work and social lives, then really watch how they conduct themselves and listen to how they deliver their communications. The subject is almost irrelevant with the really good communicators, it is in the subtle changes of phrasing, the body language, eye contact, everything they say and do. You will find that through this you will begin to identify their strengths and once you have done this, you can start to adapt them to your own style. Observation of others mistakes and shortcomings is also a good way to learn, see what they do that does not work and try to avoid it.
* Feedback is also a great thing, find one or two really good communicators you trust and who will be honest with you, ask them to give you feedback after meetings or presentations, look for solid, constructive feedback, not simply criticism, and after each feedback session, try to keep the comments and suggestions in mind for the next opportunity to try them.
* Consider employing a coach to help you with your communication skills, this could be an external professional who can work with you to hone your skills between events, or it could be someone to take the role of the feedback team mentioned above. The nature of the coach will really depend on your own situation and your aspirations, some public figures feel that they must have a coach who is detached from their day to day situation for that person to be objective and, equally, you may feel that you don’t have the right level of trust in your colleagues, or that you simply don’t see anyone around you who can help.]]>
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Adapting To New Cultures http://ulfire.com.au/new-cultures/ Tue, 22 Mar 2016 15:45:17 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2513 <p>Adapting to new cultures as part of a corporate move or expat placement can be a challenging experience for many if not all people involved. In this article we consider some of the specifics of a relocation and how different individuals may or may not adapt.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/new-cultures/">Adapting To New Cultures</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Adapting to new cultures as part of a corporate move or expat placement can be a challenging experience for many if not all people involved. In this article we consider some of the specifics of a relocation and how different individuals may or may not ... culture shock associated with the move is a daunting experience. After a few days, weeks or, in rarer cases, months, what initially felt strange and possibly threatening, starts to feel more usual. Yes, you most likely still can’t understand much of the language, many of the local customs and manners still confuse you, but you are starting to find your way around, both geographically, which is very useful, and, more importantly, mentally.
Since the mental part of the settling period is the one that catches many people out, this part needs to be recognised and planned for where possible. Failing to come to terms with the mental shift required of any move is one of the most frequent reason secondments will fail and individuals will return home, often vowing never again to try to live in another culture.
This adaptation phase will, for many, be the make or break stage. The traveler will either go from experiencing the new culture as a challenge into it becoming a familiar, if slightly unusual world or from a challenge into a world of differences they simply do not believe they can come to terms with and need to leave as soon as possible.
Adapting To New Cultures
For those who do start to adapt, and even those who think they may never adapt but, for whatever reason, stay in country, the world in which they spend their days suddenly becomes much clearer. They will typically begin to feel comfortable moving around the country, even if they can’t read the street signs they at least develop a familiarity with their environment, familiarity with streets and public transport. This level of spacial comfort is important to avoid feeling like you are confined to one building, street or suburb.
Items in the stores and restaurants, while still alien in some respects, at least start to be identified to the point where the visitor feels they can start to select items with some level of assurance that they are getting what they expect. That bottle that looks so much like spring water, but turned out to be a local spirit, is at least now know for what it is and can be bought or overlooked with the knowledge that it is now well known.
Similarly, meals in restaurants become less threatening and more inviting as your comfort level and understanding of the different cuisine develops, again, some individuals may never enjoy the local food, it may be too bland, too spicy, too sweet or not sweet enough, but for others the local food and dining experience will become a major attraction as part of the new culture.
As time passes, this level of familiarity will build, until virtually everything in the new environment feels as familiar as the travelers original home and, with enough time and work, even language will start to be known. Language starts with a few faltering words at first, usually numbers, greetings and the occasional food or drink name, drinks and favourite foods typically. Then short sentences created using the new known words, and eventually more and more structured conversational sentences.
As with most things, time, patience and a little effort will make the difference for those who are comfortable with the transition. For those who are not comfortable, the best option may be to fully assess their situation and either try to see things through in the hopes of settling, or to remove themselves from the alien environment until either such time as they are comfortable trying again at some future point in their career or to continue their work from their home office.
Right Of Return
Expat and international work is not for everyone, and while it may seem exciting and glamorous to those who have never tried it, to some it is a terrifying thing that they will striv...]]>
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The Value Of Communications Coaching To Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/communications-coaching/ Tue, 15 Mar 2016 15:16:52 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2486 <p>Recognising the value of coaching in a modern workplace can deliver great benefits in terms of personal development and improved corporate and project outcomes. This article considers the benefits of communications coaching for leaders of virtual teams.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communications-coaching/">The Value Of Communications Coaching To Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Recognising the value of coaching in a modern workplace can deliver great benefits in terms of personal development and improved corporate and project outcomes. This article considers the benefits of communications coaching for leaders of virtual teams. Too Busy To Learn
Most managers in senior roles today began their careers in a world where projects were executed with a co-located team. They learned their communication techniques from a combination of personal experience and observation of the styles of their predecessors, all of who came from an even more traditional, and generally more command and control world. As such, it is of little surprise that these current leaders struggle to manage people they can’t see, people who are often just voices on a telephone, or line items on a project personnel list.
So, I considered the usual suspects as far as how to help these managers. I considered training courses, both short intense courses and longer training with intervals between units, these can be OK to address a specific need, but, in my experience, they tend to be considered as “fit and forget” exercises, where the attendees leave the course and everyone thinks they now know it all. This is fine for technical training, not so good for interpersonal skills which need continual development and practice. I considered training manuals and online courses, manuals don’t get read and online courses are hardly helpful if the participant is struggling to deal with a virtual world in the first place. All of these forms of training have one additional problem, the audience they are aimed at are already so busy, where will they find the time to attend or participate in training…
Coaching Can Be The Answer
So, as an alternate, I am suggesting this approach. Give your senior managers a communications coach, someone who can sit with them from time to time and help then navigate the labyrinths of communicating with personnel with generational, cultural and just plain temporal differences from themselves. This coach need not be a highly expensive external coach, although for many, finding an external coach can be better than an internal one as it removes some of the corporate group think and internalize that can occur.
The coach needs to be someone who can help the manager, in an ongoing way, learn to leverage all of their experience and skill to get the best out of their virtual team. I suspect there are many potential coaches in many organisations and outside, it is just a case of recognising the benefits, seeking them out and suggesting the role to them. If internal, they may be relatively senior or very junior employees, but the thing they need to have is an understanding of virtual teams and an ability to help others learn to function in the changed world in which they find themselves.
A good coach should provide an emotionally safe, reflective environment where the person being coached can spend time reviewing their experiences, reflecting not he outcomes of their previous actions and working to build a greater ability for communication. The coach also needs to have the ability to answer questions but to do so only as a last resort, they need to guild the person they are coaching to find their own answers in their own way.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with either being coached or coaching in project teams you have been a part of that you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan,]]>
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Communicating With Peers In Project Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/peer-to-peer/ Tue, 08 Mar 2016 12:33:50 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2525 <p>For every member of every project team, communicating with your peers is a day to day occurrence, yet many struggle with the demands to communicate well, particularly with those they can't see, the members of virtual teams. This article offers some assistance in improving your communication with your peers.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/peer-to-peer/">Communicating With Peers In Project Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> For every member of every project team, communicating with your peers is a day to day occurrence, yet many struggle with the demands to communicate well, particularly with those they can't see, the members of virtual teams. communicating down and communication up, with this, the third and generally most common direction of communication in any project, whether domestic of international, co-located or virtual team, and that is peer to peer communications.
Peer to peer communication occurs between similar level personnel within the project framework and will typically cover the majority of all day to day communication. In a traditional co-located project team this would include things such as one-on-one discussions with colleagues, team meetings, exchange of information between teams within the project etc. In virtual teams and international teams these exact same transfers of information and discussions need to take place, but are made more complex by time, distance, cultural differences and any other of the myriad of complicating factors that influence human communications.
Peer to Peer Communication is Essential For Success
Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge here is that peer to peer communication is essential to the success of the project, but will not be as intuitive or as easy for a virtual team as having the project team in the same office. Communication must be planned and structured to be successful, and the majority of the planning must be done by the individuals doing the communication, not imposed on them from above by their managers.
It is human nature to communicate easiest with those you see around you. Communication by electronic media has only been with us since the end of the last century and mankind, being very visual, tactile communicators, has really not well adapted to this yet, so it will not always be easy and it will take work to communicate to your non face to face peers.
Understand The Communication Tools
Modes of communication involved will typically be email, telephone, video conference if available, fax, though this is becoming less common with the easy of access and deployment of email, text messaging, blogs or any other convenient mechanism. Each of which has their own part to play in the distribution of information and the maintenance of the lines of communication.
Regardless of the mechanism used for any communication, the message must be accurate, appropriately delivered, make linguistic sense to all parties and be culturally sensible and sensitive. By this I mean it must not offend anyone on the project to the point where they disengage from the project or react in a hostile or disruptive way. So, for instance, don’t necessarily expect your international colleague to be happy when asked to participate in a phone hook up on a national or religious holiday in their location anymore that you would expect to do so yourself.
Language Can Be Tricky
Take care in the language used in your conversations to maintain an even and balanced level of respect between parties. Do not imply, either overtly or covertly, that you are in a position of authority over your international colleague if this is not actually the case. They may not react to this in the meeting, but you can guarantee that they will change their behaviour in some way as time progresses, either to become defensive, assertive themselves or start to make various internal political moves that will be detrimental and distractive to the project goals.
In projects where there are multiple languages involved, maintain as simple a project and correspondence vocabulary as possible, one that all parties can readily understand. Where more complex words and terms are required, explain them, maybe even establish a project dictionary or a project wiki to allow everyone to look things up where necessary and, if you are keeping minutes,]]>
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Communicating Down In Project Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/communicating-down/ Tue, 01 Mar 2016 16:01:35 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2529 <p>Learning how to communicate down to your team members is a skill all project managers and leaders need to learn. Regardless of the context of your team, you need to be able to deliver timely, useful and contextually appropriate updates to keep your team informed and motivated.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communicating-down/">Communicating Down In Project Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Learning how to communicate down to your team members is a skill all project managers and leaders need to learn. Regardless of the context of your team, you need to be able to deliver timely, useful and contextually appropriate updates to keep your tea... The Role Of The Project Manager In Communicating Down
So, if the project manager really wants to stand out to their team, they need find ways to communicate down to those mushrooms, and to do so in a way that will bring them out into the light and provide them with the best “food” available. By this I mean, inform them of the project status, the coming goals and how the project is tracking overall. An informed team is generally a much happier and coordinated one, rather than one which thinks it is being taken advantage of, plus, if they know what is happening, they are far, far, far more likely to act in the best interests of the project since they can see the alignment between the project and their own interests.
While all of the above is simply good project management practice, whether your project is a small co-located team or a large international endeavour with several international teams, it is however very much in the latter, in the virtual teams arena, form where real problems of levels of communication down to the team occur most frequently.
Causes of these communication breakdowns in both virtual teams and co-located teams are typically;

* physical separation between the project manager and some or all of their team,
* a lack of available time to conduct the necessary information sessions or
* the project manager simply not thinking the communication is important as it distracts them form what they believe are more important tasks…

Avoiding The Excuses When Communicating Down
Quite frankly, none of the above reasons are valid. The project manager should make every effort to communicate with every member of their delivery team on a reasonable level of frequency, whether they are co-located to the project managers office or in a remote location.
At the least, the project manager should hold regular communication sessions. These communication sessions should be frequent enough to keep the team informed of project progress, and to do so realistically, on a long running project, this could be monthly or even quarterly. The most important part is that the message should be appropriately pitched and regular enough that the personnel are aware of major trends in their project. They should be delivered in a form that is readily understood by the international project personnel, so the complexity of language used and, in some projects even the actual language needs to be carefully considered, including the use of interpreters where necessary. Also, they should be conducted at a time and location that is convenient for the recipients, so no ‘live only’ webcasts at 6am local time, if a webcast is used, make it available as a podcast, audio or video file for personnel to watch in their own timezone.
The form of delivery can be varied to allow the information to be delivered regularly, regardless of whether it is delivered in person by the Project Manager, by their delegate if the Project Manager is unavailable, or in writing. It is more important that the message is delivered at a regular interval than it is delivered in the same format every time.
Regular Updates Are Effective but must be Natural
The project could also consider running a regular blog with project statistics, highlights,]]>
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Communicating Up In Project Teams http://ulfire.com.au/communicating-up/ Tue, 23 Feb 2016 16:00:19 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2527 <p>Learning to communicate up in a project team, particularly a virtual team, is a skill every team member will need at some stage in their career. Understanding the needs and expectations of your managers from both an administrative and a cultural sense is critical.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communicating-up/">Communicating Up In Project Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Learning to communicate up in a project team, particularly a virtual team, is a skill every team member will need at some stage in their career. Understanding the needs and expectations of your managers from both an administrative and a cultural sense ... Regardless of their proximity to you, no two managers expectations will be alike. Some will demand fine detail on everything on the project, others will require this level of data for only specific areas such as financial performance, schedule, risk profile etc, while only seeking high level data for the balance. While other managers may only require a high level report and expect you to report any issues on an exception basis, so, if everything other than one part of the project is on schedule, they will expect you to tell them that and then explain why you believe the problem area is off track and what the plan is to recover.
Key Issues When Communicating Up In Your Project
Where things can start to get complicated with international reporting is in the language of the report, the method of delivery and the size of the audience to whom it will be delivered.

* With language – does your project have a common language? If so, how proficient with that language are you and your manager? If you are presenting your report to a manager with similar language skills to yourself, you should be on reasonably firm ground since you will both have a similar level of understanding. However, if your manager has lesser language skills to yours, you need to be careful to structure your message in ways they can understand readily. There is no point in leaving your manager with the impression that you are simply trying to impress or belittle him through your linguistic skills, nor in writing a report that is so complex it is impossible to read. Likewise, if your language skills are lower than your manager, be careful that you actually understand what you are saying and that your manager gets all of the message he is looking for, in these situations it may help to have a colleague proof read your report or present at the meeting to act as an interpreter.
* Method of delivery – how are you going to present your report? The most common methods would be either in writing, via email, or via a telephone conversation. All methods can be relatively simple to conduct, but each comes with its own potential hidden traps. A written report delivered across a distance must be well crafted and easy to understand as it may well be the only regular information the manager receives. A written report in this circumstance may well be your only opportunity to ensure your manager gets everything he expects, nothing more, nothing less. For written reports, I would recommend agreeing a template ahead of time and sticking to the template as closely as possible for as long as the template is appropriate for the phase of the project. Telephone discussions have their own series of potential pitfalls, they are often conducted at odd hours of the day, and the nature of the telephone is that participants often fail to take the conversation as seriously as a face to face meeting or written report, again, here it is vital to have an agreed agenda and to stick to it.
* Size of the audience – The size of audience can have an enormous impact on the way the data is to be delivered. Here it is important to understand who is in the audience, their role in the project organisation chart, their interest and support for the project and their requirements for the data you are delivering. This can be a complex political activity,]]>
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Developing International Skills In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/developing-virtual-teams/ Tue, 16 Feb 2016 10:51:26 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2493 <p>Organisations have many different mechanisms available to them to assist their personnel in developing the skills required to survive and throve in international assignments. This article explores some of the options and outlines how they can be both a developmental tool for the individuals and also deliver real benefits for the company.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/developing-virtual-teams/">Developing International Skills In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Organisations have many different mechanisms available to them to assist their personnel in developing the skills required to survive and throve in international assignments. This article explores some of the options and outlines how they can be both a... earlier article I discussed the different levels of support and training offered by organisations to their people when deploying them onto international projects, either as expat’s, or as home office based personnel working with international offices.

In my experience and observation, many organisations will give their personnel some level of induction and training into the situation they will be working as part of the set up of the project. The level and content of this will vary between company’s and even between projects. Some will have a minimal level of training, others more extensive and of course, sadly, some, either out of a lack of appreciation or lack of resources, will do nothing for their people and leave them to work it out for themselves.
Developing Personnel During A Deployment
The one stage, however, where many companies don’t have anything available for developing personnel is the provision of ongoing support to their personnel while they deployed onto their projects. I believe that much of this idea, that ongoing development and support is not needed, comes from the concept, derived from a more ‘technical’ training environment, that all training is essentially of a ‘fit and forget’ nature. That once an individual has attended the training course, they have the skills for the rest of their life and will not then need any further development or support; this is indeed a reasonable observation with many technical or so called “hard” skills, but is rarely the case with the humanistic, “soft” skills. To support this view I would point to the growing numbers of executive coaches offering their services to the more enlightened company’s, something many company’s would not need if they offered this internally.
So, what can organisations do to support their personnel on these international projects? I would propose a number of relatively simple and low cost techniques;

* Identify and engage with internal communications coaches, personnel who have been in similar situations before, whether in the same countries or not is a secondary issue, and link these experienced staff up with the new and less experienced ones, provide them with facilites to meet from time to time in a low pressure environment and compare experiences.
* Provide on line materials that personnel can access to help them with issues that arise, these will never be fully comprehensive but will deal with the majority of issues.
* Provide a forum (on line or simply a list of contacts) where individuals can discuss their issues, this forum could be moderated by seasoned professionals who can step in with advice as needed.
* Offer frequent refresher courses and additional training for personnel when things change within the project.
* Actively recruit additional personnel where needed with established international project experience and once recruited, listen to their experience.
* Put an observer into some meetings and have them provide feedback to the meeting participants after the meeting concludes, this does need care in selecting the right observer and having them give the feedback in a constructive and impartial manner, but it can be a powerful way for people to learn.
* Engage a professional trainer and coach who can provide both pre-deployment development and ongoing development for personnel.

All of these options could be executed with minimal cost to the project and the organisation and any cost incurred would, in my opinion, be recovered very quickly during the remaining life of the project. Although the ROI recovery of such effort can be hard to quantify, since it will avoid issues rather than remedy arising problems,]]>
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Developing A Personal Expat Support Network http://ulfire.com.au/support/ Tue, 09 Feb 2016 12:34:39 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2484 <p>This article discusses how you can build your own support network when you find yourself on a virtual team expat assignment with no formal company support in place. Building a strong personal support network allows you to thrive in your new location rather than struggle to understand the new challenges.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/support/">Developing A Personal Expat Support Network</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This article discusses how you can build your own support network when you find yourself on a virtual team expat assignment with no formal company support in place. Building a strong personal support network allows you to thrive in your new location ra... How Companies Develop International Communication Skills” where I discussed ways organisations can support their personnel when they are working in virtual team based projects and accepting expat roles. I talked about how some level of ongoing support can help the personnel to continue to grow together and, through that growth, deliver a much better project or the same project in a more efficient way. Sadly, however, as often as not this longer term, ongoing support is not available and, in many cases, even the initial support is not there, and this was the basis for the first option I presented in last weeks piece.
Recognising The Need For Support
Many organisations either do not recognise a need for them to support their personnel in their efforts to work collaboratively as expats in virtual team environments or, they recognise it but lack either the resources, will or skills to provide the necessary support. One is a lack of awareness the other a lack of will.
To any company that is in this situation, I would ask that you consider the potential benefits of having your projects completed in a more efficient manner, and what that would mean to your overall business; would you get the product to market sooner, would it be a better product, beat your competition or start to recover the cost of the project sooner. If the answer to any of these is yes, as I suspect it will be, how much would you pay to get that benefit?
If you were to invest a proportion of the potential benefit in supporting your people to learn how to work together better, would you do it? Would you provide them with better training and tools, such as dedicated cross cultural and communications training, improved or more widely available video conferencing, a larger travel budget so more of the team can meet for that all important face to face experience, or putting a specialist communications coach into the project team, even on a part time basis. If not, why not?
Support For Personnel
To those employees who find themselves in the situation of having been assigned to a project with no training, or support either before starting or in an ongoing basis, fear not, know you are not alone. There are many more like you on projects the world over, struggling to understand the situations you find yourselves in with your virtual team partners, and you will probably find that if it is happening to you on your project it will be happening to all of the others on the project. My suggestions would be these;

* Don’t keep your concerns to yourself, even if your company is not prepared or able to help you, you will find there will be people in your project team, or colleagues in your peer group who have the experience and skills to support you as you learn your way. Look for these people, they may be easy or hard to find, but they will be there.
* Be patient with your new colleagues, they will be struggling just like you and will have many of the same concerns and issues as you, theirs will manifest themselves differently but they all have common origins.
* Be prepared to have some bad days, there will be days in your project where you think the whole world is against you, those days will pass. The most important things are firstly to survive them, then to reflect on the experience and learn from it in a positive way. If, for example, you have a major misunderstanding with your international colleagues, work to see what caused it and how to improve things for the next time, don’t just look to blame the other parties. Communication is a two way exercise, both parties share the responsibility to get it right.
* Celebrate together, when things go well don’t just celebrate in one of your offices,]]>
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How Companies Develop International Communication Skills http://ulfire.com.au/how-companies-develop-international-communication-skills/ Tue, 02 Feb 2016 12:39:15 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2509 <p>Determining the appropriate level of training and support for your personnel before sending them off for an international assignment can mean the decision between a full training program and little to no training at all. In the first of a group of articles, we discuss the levels of training to be considered.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/how-companies-develop-international-communication-skills/">How Companies Develop International Communication Skills</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Determining the appropriate level of training and support for your personnel before sending them off for an international assignment can mean the decision between a full training program and little to no training at all.
* To throw the employees in at the deep end. This seems like a pretty brutal description, though to be fair, many employees also choose to jump in at the deep end and many company’s may not realise there is any option available to them.
* To give the employee basic swimming lessons then to let them swim, or otherwise propel themselves into deeper water. So equip them with the fundamentals of cross cultural awareness and basic communications awareness before sending them off on their assignment.
* And finally, to give the employee swimming lessons, a life vest and have trained life guards monitor the employees progress as their swimming skills develop over time in the deeper water. This represents a deeper level of developmental support and training, though of course comes with a higher cost to the organisations involved.

All three approaches will, hopefully for the project, eventually produce the desired results, though the first option of throwing employees in at the deep end will, on occasion, result in the corporate equivalent of individual or mass drownings. Communications fail and the project suffers the consequences.
Develop Through Immersion
In extreme cases of throwing personnel in at the deep end, the project owners may even limit opportunities for the project personnel to develop and perform as needed through constraints of budget. This budgetary constraint limits availability of support personnel or removes access to critical resources, the equivalent of tying a weight to the feet of those learning to swim. On a positive note however, sometimes one or two in the project team will already have either the experience and/or the aptitude, they will already know how to operate in an international environment and will help the new arrivals learn their skills, holding their heads out of the water while they do it. Though this is obviously not always the case.
I have seen all three variations used on projects in the past. Each one of them has had different results. Some people seem to respond and learn well in the first, deep-end scenario, their personality and learning style is suited to the experiential, self development style. From the personal level, this may be OK, however, from a corporate level, the risks associated with this approach may well out weigh the investment of even adopting the intermediate approach of providing some training before sending the personnel off on their deployment.
In some instances, project budgetary restraints will dictate the chosen path, in others, the path may be forced on a project by a tight schedule, one where it is simply not possible to spend the time developing people. Here the mobilisation must happen in a short time frame and those mobilised have to make the best they can in the circumstances. However, even in these emergency type of situations there should still be the time to do some on the job training.
I will discuss each of these three options in more depth in individual posts over the coming weeks, but in the mean time, if you have any thoughts or experiences of types of deployment, please do get in touch.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations planestablish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2533 <p>For many who spend large periods of time on overseas assignments the risks and opportunities of going native need to be carefully understood. There are many positives with the phenomena such as a greater level of connection to the host country and culture, but taken too far, personnel can become destructive or obsessive, leading to poor overall results for the business and its staff.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/going-native/">Going Native On Overseas Assignments</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> For many who spend large periods of time on overseas assignments the risks and opportunities of going native need to be carefully understood. There are many positives with the phenomena such as a greater level of connection to the host country and cult...
The expat lifestyle can be very rewarding. Those living it are usually living a quite privileged life in their host country, they tend to be treated better by both their employer in their home country and their host, and they usually have very few social responsibilities in the host country relative to their home base. This life can quickly start to become pretty seductive for people and, this attraction can lead to some unusual behavioral and communication patterns.
Negatives Of Going Native
On the negative side, expat’s who go native can start to become very defensive of their positions. They will jealously guard the opportunities to live and work in these privileged overseas posts. This manifests in them avoiding certain things like pre-start and periodic medical checkups if they feel unwell so that their physical ability to undertake the posting will not be questioned; they can start looking for justification to remain in their overseas location, through either expanding the scope of the project, looking for alternate work, changing project roles to one which keeps them there longer or, in an extreme case, sabotaging the project to make it run longer, becoming toxic expats.
On the communications front, these neo natives tend to become hard to contact and, when they can be contacted, will usually be defensive, evasive or aggressive in discussions, as they either avoid sensitive subjects or lash out at anything that may threaten their sense of entitlement to their project position.
Positives Of Going Native
While the extreme behaviours I have mentioned above must be carefully monitored for, and dealt with as soon as they start to manifest, the upside for the employers of many of these personnel is that they are passionate about living and working in these sometimes less attractive locations. As such, when they perform well, as is typical of many who are passionate about their work, role and location usually do, can provide a stable and consistent presence for their employer, and a foundation for any new personnel or activities, enabling their employers to use them as a foundation for building a stronger local presence.
These neo natives also can form very close ties to their host community, ties which often lead to additional opportunities for their employer, helping when conducting culturally sensitive negotiations and in many other situations where a local issue may need to be managed with cultural understanding and tact.
Properly identified, supported and on occasion, cultivated, these passionate and corporately engaged expats are major assets to their employers and should be cultivated and supported as much as possible, particularly if the employer wants to develop its business in the host country.
When it comes time to move the expat, they can often adapt well into other countries or, on returning home, become enormous local assets through their ability to operate remotely. Where they have to make decisions with little home office support, however, these transitions must be managed carefully and with diplomacy, otherwise these same individuals can suddenly become a very disruptive and potentially destructive part of the business.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences or views on going native and the broader expat experience, if so,]]>
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Impostor Syndrome And What It Means For You http://ulfire.com.au/impostor-syndrome/ Tue, 19 Jan 2016 12:35:17 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2499 <p>Understanding how impostor syndrome may impact you or your colleagues and how it may be holding back your business is an important way to be able to get the most from yourself and your company. This article aims to begin to describe how impostor syndrome can affect us all one way or another.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/impostor-syndrome/">Impostor Syndrome And What It Means For You</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding how impostor syndrome may impact you or your colleagues and how it may be holding back your business is an important way to be able to get the most from yourself and your company. This article aims to begin to describe how impostor syndro... Firstly, just what is Impostor Syndrome? Wikipedia defines it as “An inability to internalise ones successes“, such that, regardless of how successful an individual may be in accomplishing things in their life, they still feel somewhat inadequate. As such, these individuals are often reluctant to publicize their successes and skills, not to their colleagues, their employer or to society as a whole. Generally they believe that they are not as accomplished as their qualifications or experience may suggest. Their lack of self confidence means they are often overlooked when a business is seeking someone with their skills simply because others are not aware of their achievements. Consequently, the business is unable to learn from their experience and, they themselves are unlikely to receive the recognition they may deserve.
Individuals with this personality trait, when they are working as part of a team or an organisation, since they are not comfortable advertising their abilities, are then the hidden, undiscovered asset of the project team. They will often quietly sit in the corner in a meeting, knowing the answers to many of the project issues, but not confident enough in their own knowledge to speak out in the meeting. Instead, they will, at times, whisper their experiences to colleagues or to themselves, in the hopes that these insights may make it into the overall project consciousness and become part of the execution methodology.
These hidden assets are often times easily intimidated and drowned out by braggarts and empty vessels in project teams, these are the personnel who are over confident and have an over inflated sense of their own accomplishments, and who are at the diametric opposite of those with impostor syndrome. These overconfident personnel are, in many cases, the real impostors, impostors who think they know the answers to all of the problems and who are quite happy to tell the whole world their beliefs, when in reality their knowledge and experience may well be a facade with no substance behind it.
Spotting Those With Impostor Syndrome
So, how to identify them and get the best from these people in your project team…
In my experience, those people with impostor syndrome will work hard to stay unseen, to stay in the shadows and not become the center of attention. However, they are usually identified through their consistent effort and achievement. As such, looking in your projects groups for the quiet achievers would be the place to start looking.
Examine the kind of tasks they take on and the quality of the work they have done for you, look at their backgrounds, both inside and outside of the organisation, where they have worked and lived and often what they spend their spare time doing. They may be the person who reads a different kind of book on the daily commute to work, they could easily be the person who sits across from you in the bus to the office every day, yet you may not realise the value they will bring to your team, your project or your company.
One thing of which you can be pretty sure however, they will rarely advertise their own abilities, since they think they know no more than their colleagues on any given subject and don’t want to be exposed to the light of day, fearing the possible failure this could expose them to. However, they are usually more capable or more knowledgeable on their specialist subject than many others in your group. You just need to find them,]]> Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 13:10 Is A Virtual Team Right For My Project? http://ulfire.com.au/is-a-virtual-team-right/ Tue, 12 Jan 2016 17:40:24 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2473 <p>Determining whether a virtual team approach is right for your business, your project and your personnel is a critical decision that must be carefully considered.<br /> This article discusses some of the issues associated with making this decision and offers some advice to consider.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/is-a-virtual-team-right/">Is A Virtual Team Right For My Project?</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Determining whether a virtual team approach is right for your business, your project and your personnel is a critical decision that must be carefully considered. This article discusses some of the issues associated with making this decision and offers...
I have heard comments like “They (the other office) are all liars“, “They just don’t get what we need“, “Their quality is all wrong” and similar. Notice the ongoing pattern of blaming “them” here… The result of this is that the individuals and the organisations decide that it is all too difficult and they will revert to single office execution with all of the issues that entails. All of this in the belief that they at least understand these local issues.
The sort of comments I have quoted above, and they are all actual comments though paraphrased here, reflect a fundamental lack of planning and understanding of what is actually needed to make virtual teams work. Human nature being what it is, we tend to look externally for a place to assign blame when problems occur – it is almost always “someone else” fault, rarely our own. But it does not have to be this bad, with some real planning, identifying and drawing on the right experience, and having the patience to learn on the run, learn from your own experiences and those of others, virtual teams execution can be a productive, fruitful and, dare I say it, even an enjoyable experience.
Deciding If A Virtual Team Is Right For Your Project
To start to get virtual team execution right, you first need to go back to basics and deal with some fundamental, foundational project management and leadership issues such as;

* Why am I using a virtual team?
* Is my organisation set up to get the best from its virtual teams?
* Does my organisation support virtual teams?
* Do my personnel believe in virtual teams?

Why am I using a virtual team? – This fundamental question must have a clear and sensible answer in the context of your project. Typical answers would be; to access skills not readily available elsewhere, to accelerate execution of the project, to maintain better utilisation across the business and to reduce execution costs through accessing low cost centres. All of these are valid reasons and, with the answers in place, its easier to look to the other questions.
Is my organisation set up to get the best from its virtual teams? – Many organisations new to virtual teams are simply not configured to get the best out of them. They may have a financial reward system that recognises profit and loss centres, rewarding local execution. They may have IT networks that are hard to share work over, and they may have procedures and practices that are not culturally sensitive or sensible and therefore are difficult to transfer between locations. These issues must be identified and either removed, modified or accepted and a work around put in place for virtual team execution to have a chance of success.
Does my organisation support virtual teams? – A supportive organisation will actively encourage and make adjustments where necessary to see virtual teams succeed, after all, it is the success of the business that is at stake. They will, on occasion, even make local sacrifices for the greater good of the organisation, in the belief that they succeed together regardless of some local pain. But, this is not always the case, if the organisation is not supportive of virtual teams, and if you are unable to change this situation, it may well be best to stick to whatever delivery structure the organisation does support and hope for the best.
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How Virtual Reality Could Transform Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-reality/ Tue, 05 Jan 2016 17:01:34 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2384 <p>As virtual reality technology becomes more accessible and, the software and server power needed to bring it into more of a mainstream business environment, its worth considering who virtual reality technology could impact virtual teams communication.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-reality/">How Virtual Reality Could Transform Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> As virtual reality technology becomes more accessible and, the software and server power needed to bring it into more of a mainstream business environment, its worth considering who virtual reality technology could impact virtual teams communication. While virtual reality technology is still probably not quite there, and the social and human interface aspects of the technology still need lots of further research, it is easy to see that, in the next couple of years, more businesses will begin to experiment with virtual reality.
Virtual Reality Technology
Before moving too much further with this article, I wanted to consider what virtual reality technology is. In it’s current incarnation, the technology comprises three principal components: the headset, the server and the software.

* The headset, which essentially resembles a large set of goggles with some form of earpiece, is used to provide users with an immersive experience, it displays computer generated images of either a fictitious or a real environment, that appear to the wearer to be either real, or a suitable approximation to convince the user’s brain that it could be a real environment. There is a great article on the current state of play in headsets here.
* The server, or more accurately servers, are used both to store the software and to provide the computing power to match the displayed images to the intended virtual environment. Servers to process data needed to support truly convincing virtual reality experiences, are becoming more cost effective and more available to those wishing to use the technology.
* The software is both the platform on which the virtual environment sits and, the simulated environment its self. Software is evolving rapidly, as both the physical hardware and the understanding of how to get the best form of user experience from the hardware develop.

All three components are as critical as each other to the overall experience. Without a capable headset, powerful server or cutting edge software, the user experience is severely degraded, and without a meaningful user experience the technology will not be adopted.
Environments For Virtual Reality Meetings
There are a couple of different meeting environments to consider when determining if its appropriate for your business to dip its toe into the virtual reality space. You could either try to blend the technology into your normal meeting flow or look toward more of a second life form of meeting space.
Blending into your current meeting flow
For many businesses, the idea of a virtual reality application for their meetings will be considered as a replacement or augmentation for their normal meetings. The technology is certainly attractive, as it could give a greater user experience to more traditional video conference meetings. The challenge will be to work out who will need to wear the headsets and how they, and the rest of the meeting attendees, will each see and experience each other.
Imagine, for instance, a business meeting where everyone was wearing virtual reality headsets such as the oculus rift unit shown above. Sure they would all get a really impressive user experience of whatever was being shown in their headset, but the experience in the meeting would need a lot of manipulation so that they did not simply see a room full of people wearing headsets.
Similarly, imagine a meeting where only some attendees, whether virtual or physical, were required to wear the headsets and others were not. In this instance,]]>
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Little People Not Big Data Make Teams Effective http://ulfire.com.au/little-people-not-big-data/ Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:38:22 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2203 <p>In this article we consider the meaning of big data and how it may impact on virtual teams and those who work within them. Big data is such a fashionable term, yet many still don't really have a grasp on why it is one how it may change their lives.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/little-people-not-big-data/">Little People Not Big Data Make Teams Effective</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> In this article we consider the meaning of big data and how it may impact on virtual teams and those who work within them. Big data is such a fashionable term, yet many still don't really have a grasp on why it is one how it may change their lives. So, in this post, I though I would spend a little time considering some of the things big data is, what it isn’t and how it could be used. I will also spend some time considering the real value of the personnel who may be impacted by the use of big data and, why we still need to value them for their contributions as humans, instead of casting them aside in our pursuit of the fashionable, shiny new concept.
What Is Big Data?
I will qualify this section of the article by stating that I am not a data specialist or a computer engineer, but, when dealing with such broad terms as big data it is not necessary to be too much of a specialist, specialists will develop the tools and techniques to use the data but we all need to have a working knowledge of what it is. In essence, what we are now referring to as big data is the vast pool of electronic data that is generated globally, generated from pretty much every source imaginable. This includes data created from sources as diverse as commercial transaction records, computer monitoring of jet engines, personal mobile phone usage, our travel habits and the data produced by industrial plant everywhere.
In the past, we lacked the computing power to both store and manipulate much of this data, resulting in the great majority of it being discarded, but, as processing and storage capacity and capability has increased, we are finding we are now in a position to try to distill some of this pool of data into useful and meaningful information.
Not All Data Is Valuable
One thing to note in the whole debate is that the vast majority of the data generated and potentially stored is essentially noise, having little to no real present or even future value. The process is the electronic data equivalent of distilling a pool of sea water to extract the salt, the water represents the useless noise component of the data and the salt the potentially useful data, though even the raw salt is just that, raw, and still needs further processing before it has any real value.
Once the data has been extracted from the noise, it must be manipulated and interpreted to produce useful information that can be acted on, whether that is to recommend an engine for maintenance or to send an email to an internet shopper suggesting something they may be interested in based on previous searches. This data interpretation will eventually be fully automated, but to identify the potential uses, develop the algorithms, and build a business around this data requires a lot of work by humans, and highly skilled humans at that.
Where data analytics will eventually lead the human race is the subject of a lot of debate. There are many uses for well considered opportunities that will bring enormous benefits in health management, traffic management, control of process plant, maintenance planning of critical equipment, etc. But equally, there are a great many ‘grey’ uses such as personnel profiling based on personal and family health records, travel, friend networks, and so forth that may be undertaken, but which may change society for the worse. As time passes both the good and the bad will appear and decisions will need to be made over what, as a society, we want and what we don’t.
The Role Of The Little People
So, in all of this rush buy businesses to jump on board the big data bandwagon, just where does it leave the little people.
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Trust, Respect And Fear: Emotions Of Getting Things Done http://ulfire.com.au/trust-respect-fear/ Tue, 15 Dec 2015 14:38:26 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2360 <p>Trust, respect and fear are the three emotions that most impact the ability of a business or a project to be effective. Sadly, fear is always going to play a part somewhere along the way, but trust and respect must be strong and present in all relationships for a long, sustainable and productive relationship to be built and maintained.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/trust-respect-fear/">Trust, Respect And Fear: Emotions Of Getting Things Done</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Trust, respect and fear are the three emotions that most impact the ability of a business or a project to be effective. Sadly, fear is always going to play a part somewhere along the way, but trust and respect must be strong and present in all relation... While the ideal position to have is one where trust is absolute and everywhere in all relationships, supported by mutual respect for the capacity and capabilities of all involved, with fear completely absent. Reality is a little different however, fear seems to always find a place somewhere in a business relationship, respect is often lacking and trust can, on occasion, be a rare and precious commodity.
Trust In Business Relationships
Of the three cultures, trust is by far the best for an effective, attractive and pleasant working environment and relationship, yet, sadly, trust can be hard to find in many organisations. Many organisations are simply not configured to become trusting places to work and modern business practices are rarely structured around trust.
Many employment contracts are written to protect the employer from potential litigation in the unlikely event that an employee does something the company may not approve of, they are also set up to enable the employer to commoditise the employee, dehumanising them and destroying any potential for the building of trust. Similarly, even many personnel review practices are structured to maintain a power relationship between manager and managed, not to enable the employee to be genuinely open with their employer, nor for the manager to be completely open with their staff.
Competition between personnel is often also used to build district between them. Reward schemes that favour employees who work individually and who don’t share information or ideas with their colleagues are completely counter any attempt to build trust, yet these schemes are still hugely popular in many businesses. Similarly, reward schemes that prioritise the profitability of one office over another are actively destroying attempts by many businesses and projects to build effective virtual team structures.
Indeed, many contracts are set up to be adversarial from the outset. That adversarial mindset also drives the language used in business, where terms are used for other businesses in the same space such as the competition and the enemy, and where vast amounts of time is given to strategic planning and tactical measures to defeat these other businesses, all language of combat rather than collaboration. If the same level of energy could be spent on building trust between businesses, whether at a customer/supplier or a peer to peer level, many businesses could become more productive and the entire value chain would potentially be less wasteful.
Respect In Business Relationships
If trust is often hard to find and hard to build, the next option is to engender a culture of respect between individuals, offices and businesses. While this can on occasion be hard, it is often easier than complete trust.
Yet, frequently, a client will engage a company to perform work for them but write the contract in a way that clearly states that trust is not freely available. Sometimes this is appropriate, but more often, starting with a lack of respect is planning to fail.
When an organisation employs personnel to perform a task or, to fill a defined role, that organisation will go to great lengths to find a person with all of the skills they need. Why, then, do so many employers not respect that person’s abilities once employed, frequently treating them like they know nothing about their area of speciality. These specialists deserve the respect that comes with their level of experience. Ignoring the experience of employees leads to a breakdown of respect in the employee/employer relationship, leading once again to disconnected and frustrated personnel.
Similarly, if one business genuinely believes that the other is the right one to deliver a service or some specific goods,]]>
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Social Media Use In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/social-media-use-virtual-teams/ Tue, 08 Dec 2015 14:51:17 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2207 <p>Businesses everywhere are struggling with whether to try to control the ways in which their personnel use social media in connection with their working lives. Some businesses are embracing the possibilities of using social media to support stronger and more resilient virtual teams, while others are still unable to let go of control of the message, insisting that their personnel don't use their social media accounts for any form of business relationship.<br /> In this article, we suggest that the time has arrived for companies to get out of the way and even encourage their personnel to use social media to build better work relationships.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/social-media-use-virtual-teams/">Social Media Use In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Businesses everywhere are struggling with whether to try to control the ways in which their personnel use social media in connection with their working lives. Some businesses are embracing the possibilities of using social media to support stronger and... For many businesses, social media is still little more than a presence on the world wide web, possibly accompanied by a LinkedIn company page, for others it extends beyond these into Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter or one of the many other assorted social media platforms that are available. This article is not intended to serve as a guide for which platforms would best suit different businesses, it is, however, intended to provide some guidance on how a virtual team, whether for a business or a project, could use social media for internal communications.
This article is primarily discussing the use of social media by the members of a team to build a sharing and more nuanced personal working relationship, one that is not built entirely on work related email and video conference calls, but one that involves sharing personal and professional experiences outside of the project environment.
Modes Of Social Media Use
Each team and organisation will experience the use of social media differently, whether the users see it as a purely personal tool or a corporate one, as a minimum, many still like to see some social media presence for their project team or business. The key different modes of social media use are:

* Personal use – many, if not virtually all virtual team members will use social media in some way. As an entirely social tool to keep in touch with family and friends, to share images of their lives or to maintain a professional profile the penetration of social media is such that there is an inherent expectation that there will be a touch point between their purely social life and its appearance on social media and their professional.
* Team use – sometimes with the support of though frequently in spite of the business’ views of social media, many team members will seek to establish an informal social media presence for their projects or businesses. Examples of this can be seen on LinkedIn, such as the alumni groups which are formed for past and present members of a company or project to remain in touch, and the use of the projects option to connect members, either working together on a current project or on a completed one. Many businesses and projects are now starting to recognise this as a way for team members to interact socially, and are encouraging the establishment of such communities. Many other businesses however remain frightened of the freedom social media affords their personnel.
* Business use – businesses have tended to see social media as either an inconvenience, a passing fad or a marketing tool to sell their product to an audience. Sadly, only a few organisations are seeing it was a way to build an internal community amongst their personnel, yet building a strong internal community is what every team needs to be successful, regardless of whether they are co-located or virtual.

Methods Of Use Of Social Media
There are a number of ways a business can use social media to build its internal communities, beside this, you also need to consider how you will select the platforms that make the most sense of your business, but essentially some of the factors to consider are;

* Do you want a closed or an open platform, and why – you need to decide whether your employee social media functionality will be inside or outside of your business firewalls.]]>
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8 Effective Virtual Team Leadership Skills http://ulfire.com.au/leadership-skills/ Tue, 01 Dec 2015 15:46:03 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2201 <p>Understanding and developing the skills to be a great leader of virtual teams is something that all members of these teams need to build. Leading virtual teams requires a skill set that builds on the skills of a leader of a co-located team.<br /> This article identifies eight of the skills that need to be developed to become a truly great leader of virtual teams.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/leadership-skills/">8 Effective Virtual Team Leadership Skills</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding and developing the skills to be a great leader of virtual teams is something that all members of these teams need to build. Leading virtual teams requires a skill set that builds on the skills of a leader of a co-located team. Virtual team leadership skills however are more complex, the leader of a virtual team must be able to inspire and lead their team without meeting them, without seeing them each and every day and without being able to model appropriate and desirable behaviour in a physically visible way.
The effective leader of a virtual team must also be able to deal with higher levels of ambiguity, understand and lead across cultural boundaries and lead a distributed team of personnel who, themselves, may never meet and relay on communicating using electronic media. In short, the skills required to effectively lead a virtual team are all those of a leader of co-located personnel with many additional skills added on.
Leaders, Not Managers, Needed
The first thing leaders of virtual teams must do is see themselves as leaders as well as managers. Managers roles involve ensuring the business aspects of the team’s work are undertaken correctly, that timesheets and documentation are delivered correctly and on time and to ensure the right skills are made available to the project at the right times. All of these activities still need to be undertaken, and often are done or overseen by the leader, but to be an effective leader you also need to see yourself as a leader and take responsibility for setting the culture, tone and pace of your team.
Your team will look to you for guidance and leadership more than they will look to you for management and, you need to make sure you do not disappoint them. So, just what are the key leadership skills a virtual team looks for?
Leadership Skills Wanted

* Be consistent – nobody enjoys working for a leader who is constantly changing their mind on things or behaves unpredictably. Personnel find themselves on edge, always second guessing an unpredictable leader, as they struggle to deliver what they think the leader wants. The answer is to be predictable, to set clear and well understood processes, practices and behaviour and to both model them and look for them in the rest of the team. These practices also need to be culturally and regionally sensitive when working across cultural boundaries, meaning that the leader of a broadly distributed virtual team also needs to be seen differently by different parts of the team. This need to have several subtly different cultural “personalities” can be challenging for many, but fundamentally these different personalities all need to be honest facets the leaders natural personality.
* Be supportive – an effective leader of a virtual team must be supportive of their personnel regardless of their location and role. The leader must neither actually or by perception be seen as having favorites and must support their entire team. This can often mean giving different support to different parts of a team dependent on their local needs and pressures, so the leader needs to fully understand the differing needs of their team at all times.
* Be prepared to lead from behind – it is often natural for leaders to want to lead from the front, to be seen heading a task force or a new initiative within their project or business unit. While this is completely appropriate in many situations and cultural settings, the effective leader of a virtual team also needs to be able to lead from behind when appropriate...]]>
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Simplicity In Virtual Team Communications http://ulfire.com.au/simplicity/ Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:26:53 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1916 <p>Maintaining the appropriate levels of simplicity in communications in virtual teams is an unending challenge. Resisting the temptation to write ever more complex, jargon filled emails or use multitudes of communication platforms is hard when there are so many tools to choose from and the jargon is such a part of our working lives.<br /> Yet, simplicity is key to maintaining clear and reliable communication, and effective communications are the glue that holds teams together.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/simplicity/">Simplicity In Virtual Team Communications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Maintaining the appropriate levels of simplicity in communications in virtual teams is an unending challenge. Resisting the temptation to write ever more complex, jargon filled emails or use multitudes of communication platforms is hard when there are ... At the same time however, team communications must be culturally sensitive and appropriate and, should be used to build and maintain communities of work and communities of practice as well as to ensure schedule and quality compliance.
Despite this need for simplicity, complexity always creeps in. Messages all too frequently become crowded in technical jargon, are written in management speak and rather than serve to build communities, frequently often build barriers and walls between personnel, through unnecessary use of language that alienates the readers, the very same readers the messages are often intended to reach out to.
As organisations and projects become increasingly global in reach and complex in structure, simplicity of communication seems to have become harder for many to achieve. Yet this communication is the glue that binds teams together and helps them coordinate their work across corporate, cultural and geographic boundaries. Following are some of our tips for avoiding complexity in virtual team communications.
Communications Simplicity

* Use simple language in all communications – For many working in projects, particularly those of a complex technical nature, it is easy to fall into a mode of communication that uses a lot of highly technical jargon. In some areas and in some communication, this use of jargon is fine and appropriate, but, when used in more open, broadcast style messaging, such as regular team updates, jargon serves only to alienate personnel. Using simple language allows more team members to see the messages clearly, to read and understand the words and the context and not to feel they are being “talked down to” in the messages.
* Use a common platform for all communications – With the vast array of communications technologies available to modern projects it can be tempting to use a multitude of different tools when communicating to your team. Research has however shown that simplicity beats complexity here every time. Using just a few platforms for your communications is far more effective than trying to use them all. Our recommendation is that you use a project webpage for regular updates and messages that are not time sensitive, email or an email like system such as Slack for team communication. Audio, such as telephone or Skype style VOIP audio, should be used for verbal discussions, video should be used for meetings of virtual teams where available, and then video or audio webcasts and podcasts for project updates. Twitter and similar tools can be used but should be considered as extra and avoided for day to day messaging. There is also some useful suggestions for selecting tools for your team on an article from Cloudwards which is worth reading.
* Work to maintain cultural sensitivity in communications – All messages in virtual team environments need to be culturally sensitive. Messages need to consider the needs and expectations of all of the team members who may be exposed to them, whether directly or indirectly. Senders of messages must consider the various cultural requirements of their team mates, how they will perceive the message and what the likely reactions and responses will be. If a message is not culturally sensitive it runs the risk of alienating team members and damaging both trust and relationships.
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How To Build High Productivity Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/build-high-productivity-virtual-teams/ Tue, 17 Nov 2015 11:35:04 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1470 <p>Attaining high productivity from virtual teams is a challenge for many businesses, this article introduces some steps to help get the most from your teams.<br /> From spending time planning for your virtual team venture to ensuring you have a suitable reward structure and avoid a blame culture there are many steps you can put in place to build a high productivity virtual team.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/build-high-productivity-virtual-teams/">How To Build High Productivity Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Attaining high productivity from virtual teams is a challenge for many businesses, this article introduces some steps to help get the most from your teams. From spending time planning for your virtual team venture to ensuring you have a suitable rewar... In reality, any individual or organisation can establish a virtual team, all that is needed is to engage with someone or a group working on the same task as you but located elsewhere.  Building a high productivity virtual team however is a very different endeavor, it requires planning, foresight, integration, training and ongoing support from the top down and the bottom up.
Steps To Build A High Productivity Virtual Team
There are a few steps to consider when planning and building a high productivity virtual team which we have outlined below:

* Plan your work – Its can sometimes feel cliche, but planning the work you intend to undertake, how, where and why it will be done is the first step in building a high productivity virtual team. If you don’t really know why you are using a virtual team you will always struggle to get the best from it. Equally, if the team members don’t really know why they are there, they will not be as focussed on their work and, productivity will suffer – So, spend the time planning your work, and do the planning before the work starts.
* Engage the best people you can – Again, this is a seemingly obvious comment, but it is surprising how often a virtual team will simply use whoever is available, whether they have the right skills and aptitude to work in a virtual team environment or not. Highly productive virtual teams will comprise personnel who are highly effective communicators and collaborators, as well as being technically proficient at their assigned task, you need to seek these people out in your business and actively engage them in your virtual teams.
* Ensure quality leadership – The leadership of both the virtual team its self and the organisation overall need to be united in supporting the efforts of their workforce, whether they are in a virtual team or co-located team environment. Leadership of virtual teams is a specialist skill that is not possessed by all, to build high productivity virtual teams you need highly skilled leaders of virtual organisations, leaders who can communicate and lead across the boundaries of time, distance and culture.
* Provide suitable training – Where skills and knowledge gaps exist, typically in areas such as communications and cross cultural working, it is vitally important that training is provided for those that need it. This can take the form of classroom training, one on one training, mentoring or coaching, dependant on the needs and role of the individuals involved. Building and releasing productivity in your virtual teams requires the team members to possess all of the core skills, not just the technical ones.
* Deliver ongoing effective support – One off training is rarely enough when it comes to virtual team interaction. As circumstances change and projects move from phase to phase, personnel will leave and join the virtual team. Each change will impact the communication and trust dynamic and, as such, adjustments will be needed to the structure and character of the team. These changes require support from an organisational level, to ensure the virtual team continues to be given access to the right skills and personnel to maintain its productivity.
* Deal with conflict quickly – Every business and team will experience conflict from time to time. Some conflict is productive and valuable, resulting from disagreements over tasks and leading to a better overall outcome, but some conflict is negative and damaging, leading to a loss of productivity, fractures to relationships and an erosion of trust. It is important in a virtual team environment that the leadership of both the team and the organisation remain vigilant to damaging conflict, and move to resolve things quickly and efficiently in the interests of the overall team.
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4 Ways Your Virtual Teams May Be Failing http://ulfire.com.au/4-ways-your-virtual-teams-may-be-failing/ Tue, 10 Nov 2015 16:55:48 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2198 <p>There are many ways virtual teams can fail to deliver the outcomes expected of them. This article draws on all of our years of experience and research to identify the top 4 reasons virtual teams fail and offers some suggestions for ways to avoid the worst of the failures.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/4-ways-your-virtual-teams-may-be-failing/">4 Ways Your Virtual Teams May Be Failing</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> There are many ways virtual teams can fail to deliver the outcomes expected of them. This article draws on all of our years of experience and research to identify the top 4 reasons virtual teams fail and offers some suggestions for ways to avoid the w... After decades helping virtual teams, here are four of the top ways your virtual teams may be failing (and some ways to fix things!)
The Top 4 Ways Your Virtual Team May Be Failing…
1 – Insufficient Planning – Planning for your virtual team work is as critical as any other planning in a business. Sadly though, we regularly find companies who have planned everything else in their project, then just jumped in to their virtual team and hoped for the best.
Without planning your virtual team, you risk failure on so many levels; sending the work to the wrong location, having the wrong systems and processes to support your project, having an immature leadership and management model that is not able to support the undertaking or having a business that does not have the required infrastructure to facilitate communications and sharing of materials needed by virtual teams.
Any one of these factors can be a project killer on its own yet many organisations have multiples, leading to massive risks, huge distractions for business and project leaders and a potentially poor project outcome.
Remember the old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” this applies as much to communications and team structures as any other part of a project.
2 – Wrong Leadership – This is not something many managers want to hear, but often your virtual team may be failing because of the wrong leadership. It may be that your project manager is unsuited or unprepared to lead a virtual team, it may be that your business leadership does not understand the demands of supporting a successful virtual team structure, but again, it is a common reason many virtual teams are failing.
Virtual teams are a relatively new organisational structure, having only been on the business landscape for around 20 years and only really heavily adopted in the past 10 years. Consequently there is still not a collective body of knowledge around what a leader of such a structure need to know and do to be effective.
Helping your business leaders understand the different requirements of running a business using virtual teams will make your organisation stronger and reduce the risk of your virtual teams failing. Similarly, looking for the required skills in your project managers and their key staff required to build and run strong and effective virtual teams will ensure their projects avoid failing.
Many of the general skills to run a business or lead a project are completely transferable to virtual teams, but as we discussed in a number of earlier articles, there are many additional attributes that are also necessary to stop your virtual team failing.
3 – Wrong Personnel – Having the right personnel on any project is critical to its success, this applies to virtual teams as much as it does to co-located ones. However, similar to the issues associated with leadership, having the wrong personnel on your virtual team can lead to it failing to deliver.
In a typical co-located team communication skills are necessary but often not essential, personnel will see one another around the office and keep in touch on the project almost through osmosis. In a virtual environment however, the need to be an effective communicator is critical, personnel at all levels need to feel confident to reach out to colleagues, to ask questions and to give concise and reliable answers.
Similarly, the ability to build and maintain trust is critical to maintaining an open and productive environment.
If your personnel don’t aren’t good communicators or are unable to build and maint...]]>
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Understanding Asymmetrical Risks In Project Planning http://ulfire.com.au/asymmetrical/ Tue, 03 Nov 2015 16:51:22 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2165 <p>Asymmetrical risks are frequently discounted in the estimation and management of projects, yet the impact of a risk with a high downside can cause major issues within any project.<br /> This article considers why we are so bad at conceptualising asymmetric risks and how the impact of disregarding them can have a disproportionate impact on virtual team activities.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/asymmetrical/">Understanding Asymmetrical Risks In Project Planning</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Asymmetrical risks are frequently discounted in the estimation and management of projects, yet the impact of a risk with a high downside can cause major issues within any project. This article considers why we are so bad at conceptualising asymmetric ... This poorly evolved perception of risk has also transferred into how we rank risks in our working lives. We tend to overestimate the risks associated with things we are unfamiliar with and, conversely, underestimate the risks and likelihood of eventuating of things we are familiar with.
Regardless of our familiarity with a particular potential risk, we also have a tendency to assume a linear, balanced symmetrical profile for risks, so we assume that, for instance, a particular task we are scheduling has as much chance of finishing early as late and, that the degree of variability will be evenly distributed. This assumption is, however, highly flawed, the great majority of risks in the business world are, in fact, asymmetrical in nature. They almost always have a bias either to greater or lesser than the perceived normal point.
What Are Asymmetrical Risks
Asymmetrical risks occur in situations where there is a likelihood that the outcome of the risk event will be either greater than or lesser than the norm, so something is more likely to occur or less likely to occur, not equally as likely or not.
So, for instance, if you were to predict that a particular task would take a week to complete, the absolute minimum time for that task to be completed will be no greater than one week before it is due to complete, since it has a predicted duration of one week, but the potential for the task to be late is almost infinite, since the time following its planned completion date stretches into weeks, months and years, though in reality the task is of course likely to be finished within a sensible duration.
Similarly, if a commodity is anticipated to cost $1,000 when an estimate is generated, the realistic minimum a project may pay for the commodity could be $0, assuming one were to be found in stock or donated, but the potential for it to cost substantially more than the budgeted $1,000 is again a realistic possibility.
This asymmetry of likelihood manifests its self most commonly in schedule and budget planning, where personnel are required to predict a plus and minus for task durations and likely costs for goods and services. It is here that a combination of our natural human difficulty in perceiving risks and our optimism that we can control, and even reduce risks begin to cause real problems for projects in what is known as optimism bias.
The Impact Of Optimism Bias on Asymmetrical Risk Planning
Our poorly developed ability to adequately comprehend and conceptualise risks leads to toward optimistic projections for things we believe we can control but, in reality are completely outside of our control.
For instance, when planning a project budget there is a tendency to assume that if you are buying in bulk you will get a discount on the items, when in reality it could be that other market forces drive the cost of the equipment up so far that even your discount will still result in a greater per unit cost. Similarly, there is a tendency to assume that labour rates will progress at a constant pace, though market forces could drive them higher much faster. Also, the time taken to complete a task may be accurately estimated and that e...]]>
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Consistent Messaging In Virtual Team Communications http://ulfire.com.au/messaging/ Tue, 27 Oct 2015 17:42:35 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=2067 <p>In this article we consider how important it is to maintain a consistent message when leading teams.<br /> Having all of the project team leaders not just say the same thing, but act in a way that reflects their words, helps personnel maintain their focus and avoids un necessary distractions.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/messaging/">Consistent Messaging In Virtual Team Communications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> In this article we consider how important it is to maintain a consistent message when leading teams. Having all of the project team leaders not just say the same thing, but act in a way that reflects their words, Whether the message is being formalised in newsletters and announcements, conveyed in team meetings, one on one discussions or simply shared when chatting at the water cooler or coffee bar, the messaging delivered must be consistent with the aims of the project and, more than anything, it must be delivered consistently and repetitively, both in words and in actions by everyone in the project.
Behaviour Counts
This need for consistency applies also to the way leaders behave. If you, as a leader, expect your personnel to be relaxed and open in the way they interact and perform, and if you want them to feel relaxed and comfortable working on the project, you must try to look and behave relaxed when they can see you. So, rushing between closed door meetings with a concerned expression on your face is not, therefore, congruent with this message of relaxation, it will only lead to confusion and concern in the team and wasted time as people try to work out the real message they should be getting.
Staying On Message
This act of staying on message is perhaps most publicly demonstrated by politicians. When a politician has a message they want to get out, be it a new initiative they are pushing, a general party line they follow or an attack on an opposing party. In every situation, with every question they are asked, their comments, statements and responses are to return to their message of the day.
While to the observing public this behaviour can start to appear as a comical exercise, it ensures that the media does not have an opportunity to exploit any cracks in their message and it shows at least a facade of alignment and consistency to the public.
Building Urgency Through Body Language
One additional skill many leaders can develop is to use their body language and level of activity to build a sense of urgency within their team.  Maintaining consistent messaging in your public and project statements will go a long way, but acting in accordance with your words can be a great amplifier.
So, if you need your team to act a little more urgently, move a bit quicker and engage in discussions at a highly focused and enthusiastic level. Your colleagues will notice the level of activity and as long as it does not seem false, will subconsciously mirror it in many of their behaviours.
Be Genuine
Whatever your messaging, your words and actions must be believable. I have seen too many projects start to go bad when leaders set completely unrealistic goals. Often referred to as “stretch targets” or “stretch goals“, these goals can, on occasion, be simply unrealistic and fanciful. Unrealistic goals leave personnel feeling that no matter how hard they work, their efforts will never be fully appreciated.  Personnel will begin to lose faith in the leadership of the project and, if they believe the goals are completely unachievable, will start to reduce their effort, believing that whatever they do, it will not be enough.
Project Messaging
In the project world, where, thankfully, the scrutiny is generally less intense but still present, it is equally important to keep the focus of the project team on the key current requirements as well as maintaining a focus on the long term project goals. One of the methods to do this is for the key leaders such as the project manager/director and their direct reports to maintain this consistency of message, any infighting and disagreement should be kept out of sight of the team behind closed doors, since any visible discord will be noticed and magnified....]]>
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The Martian – The Ultimate Virtual Team Challenge http://ulfire.com.au/martian/ Tue, 20 Oct 2015 16:10:23 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1986 <p>The recently released movie 'The Martian" contains some excellent examples of the difficulties of communicating in an extreme virtual team environment. Without giving away the plot to the book or film, this article tries to draw out the examples and bring them back to a more terrestrial virtual team environment where time zones, technologies, trust and empowerment are just as relevant.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/martian/">The Martian – The Ultimate Virtual Team Challenge</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> The recently released movie 'The Martian" contains some excellent examples of the difficulties of communicating in an extreme virtual team environment. Without giving away the plot to the book or film, this article tries to draw out the examples and b... movie adaptation of Andy Weir’s book “The Martian”, its interesting to take a look at the book’s storyline and scenario from the perspective of communications and virtual team functionality.
Setting The Scene For The Martian
Without giving away too much, the basis of the story is that Mark Watney, an astronaut who is part of a mission to Mars, becomes stranded on the planet and has to work out how to survive while NASA tries to find ways to mount a mission to rescue him.  The story follows his successes and failures, highs and lows, as he works to source food, survive the Martian climate and communicate with Earth.
Among the many challenges of life on Mars is the fact that the planet is over a years travel time away from Earth and that communications take around 13 minutes to travel each way between Earth and Mars.  Coupled with this, a Martian day is longer than an Earth day at 24 hours 37 minutes and 22 seconds, so it is not even possible to communicate at the same time each day.
Along the way, Watney loses and regains contact with Earth and NASA several times using a number of different methods and tools, switching him between completely autonomous and controlled from a distance.
All of this combines to make Watney’s time surviving as a Martian a wonderful example of the extremes of some aspects of working in virtual teams.
Time zones
As has been discussed in a number of earlier articles on this website, learning to work across multiple time zones is a skill every member of a virtual team must learn.  Communicating to team members who are in different timezones means you need to learn to be flexible, adjust your schedule and adapt the tools you use to be effective. In the martian, this challenge is made more complex by the continuously shifting time difference between Earth and Mars, such that each Earth day the time on Mars is some 37 minutes later than the day before.
In a conventional, terrestrial, business environment it is also critical to be aware of the time zones of your virtual team colleagues.  You need to tailor your message, communication expectations and technologies to suit the time differences.
Communications Medium
The communications medium can be a critical and highly influential tool in how virtual teams maintain contact. In an environment like the one depicted in the martian, having a method to communicate that is robust and that gives both parties a written record of messages is also important.
With the 13 minute transmission delay each way between Earth and Mars, it is also highly impractical to use verbal communications, the latency in message send and receive is just too long to have a sensible and effective discussion, so regardless of the relative times between the two planets, written text is the best way to proceed. This is a great example of the use of asynchronous communications.
Similarly, it is very important, in a business environment, to choose the right communication platforms and tools for the messages being conveyed. The platform needs to be sensitive to timezone differences, the criticality of the message and its level of complex data and needs to be accessible to all parties. For instance, even with highly effective video conference and telephony, if the communications are around highly complex technical data, it is best to leverage both email and shared server access to convey the data.
Ability To Work Autonomously
Astronauts need to be able to think for themselves and work independently, they also need to be exceptional team players and communicators.]]>
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Virtual Teams In Engineering Projects http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-teams-engineering-projects/ Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:51:31 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1987 <p>Engineering projects have been using virtual teams for over a decade to deliver major facilities and equipment, along the way they have had varied success in the outcomes of their projects. This article considers how the highly technical focus taken at the planning stage can lead to a lack of consideration of the human communication requirements for these teams to be really effective.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-teams-engineering-projects/">Virtual Teams In Engineering Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Engineering projects have been using virtual teams for over a decade to deliver major facilities and equipment, along the way they have had varied success in the outcomes of their projects. This article considers how the highly technical focus taken a... Boeing, Airbus and Shell among others have been adopters of the use of distributed teams or workshare, as they often refer to it, for their projects for the past couple of decades.
Driven, or at the very least enabled by the rapid advances in digital communication technology, it has become increasingly easy for large, complex engineering projects to be coordinated over distances and across time zones.
Projects undertaken with the aid of virtual teams have ranged from small research undertakings, to some of the largest projects ever attempted.  Indeed, the use of virtual teams in engineering projects has now progressed to the point where it is more the norm than the exception, even if some of these teams may only have one or two virtual members.
A High Focus On Enabling Technology In Engineering Projects
With engineers and the managers who lead these projects being largely technically focussed, the natural inclination in planning projects where virtual teams are to be used is to focus on the technology.  As such, when discussing communications in these projects, it is common that a great deal of time is spent on the selection of the video conference platform, whether personnel will have access to webcams and the server architecture to be used to support the project.  These discussions happen often to the exclusion of whether the people working on the project will have the right skills and aptitude to use the tools effectively.
These same technically focussed individuals will also, typically, spend a lot of time debating the computer modelling platform they prefer, establishing technical standards and practices and putting travel policies in place.
With these technical ground rules established, their next focus tends to be on finding the locations for their work to be performed.  For many organisations, this is almost pre ordained since most engineering companies.  This is particularly true for those who’s business is selling engineering services to clients, will have established global engineering centres.  These established engineering centers are already connected to their corporate data network, have in place management structures and an established workforce.  The workforce at these locations has usually been chosen specifically to undertake particular phases or aspects of engineering.  These offices also have an established cost structure, enabling them to rapidly estimate and subsequently control costs.
People Have A Role In Engineering Projects Too
Often forgotten during the set up stage of these major technical endeavours however, is the role of the individuals and their required non technical skills.  There can be a tendency for individual engineers to become commoditised, recognized more for their technical background and technical contribution, than for their abilities to collaborate as part of a virtual team.  This tendency to select for technical skills, rather than personality or communication skills, is understandable in a technically focussed environment.  However, having an engineering project team comprising technical experts can result in substantial communication challenges.  These challenges can include non technical issues going unresolved and technical issues being obsessed over.
While acknowledging that any technical project must have a strong focus on the right technical skills, it is also critical to note that any successful project is heavily dependant on communications.  Indeed, http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1458 <p>The value of strong personal networks can not be underestimated in a virtual team environment. Having trusted colleagues and friends distributed around the organisation means you will get insights and support in areas you may not have ever considered previously.<br /> You will experience fewer surprises as work progresses and, in the event of any conflicts, you will be able to access your networks to get a deeper understanding of the background to the conflicts and culturally relevant solutions.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/personal-networks/">Personal Networks In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> The value of strong personal networks can not be underestimated in a virtual team environment. Having trusted colleagues and friends distributed around the organisation means you will get insights and support in areas you may not have ever considered ... They need to have sufficiently strong and robust relationships with colleagues in each location, these relationships enable them to openly discuss any issue that may arise, regardless of its personal or business implications. Strong relationships also mean that issues that may threaten the work at hand, but which may be awkward of difficult to raise, have a better chance of being discussed in a dispassionate and regional way.
Why Build A Personal Network
Building a strong personal network in a virtual team is a long term undertaking.  You need to spend days, weeks, months and years cultivating trust and understanding with colleagues in other offices.  You need to spend time with your virtual colleagues in real face to face meetings and in social settings where you get to know each other.  These relationships need to extend beyond any veneer of business only into a relationship that has an appropriate personal and social depth.
For many, particularly in some cultures, business networks and personal networks are considered to be separate to the point of isolation.  A business relationship is exactly that, all about business, while a personal one is something that typically happens predominantly outside of the business environment.  The concept of a personal network inside of the business that includes both the working and social sides is what is needed for effective virtual team work.  Your network needs to be both business and personal to get the breadth and depth of insight needed to work effectively.
Getting The Most From Personal Networks
A robust, broad and inclusive personal network in a distributed team should provide the members with a great deal of benefits.  Principal among these are: –

* Better cultural understanding – If a relationship is purely based on business interaction, all of those involved will miss out on the opportunity to build a stronger overall cross cultural understanding.  Looking beyond purely dealing with business, with the details, facts and figures of the organisation, to the subtle and fluid world of cross cultural understanding will give everyone a greater insight into how their colleagues think, how they approach decisions and discussions and what motivates them and their colleagues on a day to day basis.  This cross cultural insight will enable you to be more effective in your day to day work, to better understand not just your virtual team partners, but also your clients and customers.
* Better business insights – Building and expanding your personal networks to be more balanced, more social, less business focussed, you will be able to establish deeper relationships and understandings with all of your contacts.  This in turn will let you better understand the business drivers prevalent in each culture, to see what motivates customers and business partners in different cultures and to understand how you need to tailor your approach to each.  Without this broader, more nuanced network it is too easy to assume that everyone sees the world the same as you, that what motivates you motivates them.  This blinkered and closed perspective is usually wrong, leading to many failed virtual teams and business ventures.
* Increased organisational productivity – The better you understand your virtual team colleagues, whether there be cultural differences between you or not, the better you can all work together toward the organisational goals.  This can mean understanding the cultural differences as they impact communication styles, views on time,]]>
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Podcasts In Virtual Team Communications http://ulfire.com.au/podcasts-virtual-teams/ Wed, 30 Sep 2015 07:27:04 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1705 <p>Podcasts are emerging as a great addition to the selection of tools available for members of virtual teams to stay in touch with each other, learn about each other's cultures and be kept appraised of project status.<br /> With their ease of production and increasing simplification of delivery, audio files such as podcasts need to be considered as part of the mix when planning your virtual team communication strategy.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/podcasts-virtual-teams/">Podcasts In Virtual Team Communications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Podcasts are emerging as a great addition to the selection of tools available for members of virtual teams to stay in touch with each other, learn about each other's cultures and be kept appraised of project status. International Podcast Day, a day when podcasters around the world are celebrating their art and craft.  As such it seemed appropriate that this post should consider the role of podcasting in supporting communications in virtual teams.
In celebration of international podcast day, we are delighted to unveil our own podcast stream, “Virtual Team Dynamics – the Ulfire Podcast” is available on all of the usual sites.  Please do check it out via our subscribe to podcast page.  We will be releasing new podcasts with each future article on the website and are working to record episodes for many of the existing articles.
What Is A Podcast
Firstly, its worth defining what a podcast is, both broadly and in the context of this article.  At its simplest, a podcast is a web based stream of audio files to which a listener can subscribe, with the subscription ensuring that the listener is then served new files on their chosen device as and when they are released.  There are many thousands of podcasts publicly available covering virtually every aspect of life and individual interests.
In the business environment, some businesses use podcasts to engage with their client base, others use them internally, on a closed network, to engage with their workforce.  More broadly, many podcasts are produced by hobbyists to share their experience and views with a broad audience.  Some podcasts will have tens of thousands of subscribers, reaching to every corner of the earth, others will have small, specialist audiences in either a single profession or a town, sit or community.
A recent survey conducted by Edison Research found that in the USA people listen to an average of 4hrs of audio per day.  Consuming audio during their daily commute, at the gym and at their workplace.  Of this audience, a little under 2% are listening to podcasts as part of that mix.  This is a growing percentage as technology streamlines the delivery of audio to mobile devices.  Whatever their reach and content, podcasts and the concept of podcasting has a genuine role to play in the communications mix for virtual teams.
Podcasts In Virtual Teams
The first question then is, what do podcasts offer that more traditional, and more conventional forms of communication don’t?
Podcasts offer an organisation an opportunity to have direct, one to one discussions with their personnel. Listening to a podcast is a very personal experience, with the listener putting on a set or ear buds or headphones and listening directly to the voice or voices on the recording in a closed environment.  The use of recorded media such as podcasts is very different to the traditional town hall meeting format so long used in business.  In these town hall meetings, management representatives “broadcast” their message to a room full of employees, typically in a heavily scripted and stage managed event once a quarter or half year.
In contrast to the town hall type of address, a podcast or similar audio file can be produced quickly , circulated immediately and is consumable on a user by user basis, giving a less intrusive and more informal way for personnel to be kept up to date.  This personal contact between the listener and the speaker means the message can be more individually focussed one, constructed so that it speaks directly to each listener.
This is not to say that each listener should have their own podcast, rather that the tone of the podcast can be more personal, more conversational, than the more structured and stage managed format of a town hall event.  Also,]]> Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 13:22 Cultural Assimilation http://ulfire.com.au/cultural-assimilation/ Tue, 22 Sep 2015 10:29:15 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1683 <p>For those undertaking an expat posting, the challenges of cultural assimilation are real and can be surprising and complex.<br /> This article considers some of the challenges faced by a new expat when they are working to blend into their new location and understand how things work.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/cultural-assimilation/">Cultural Assimilation</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> For those undertaking an expat posting, the challenges of cultural assimilation are real and can be surprising and complex. This article considers some of the challenges faced by a new expat when they are working to blend into their new location and u... For some, the expat experience is full of excitement at the new experiences and opportunities afforded by the change, for others, even the prospect of the expat experience it is largely one of fear, fear of the changes they must undertake, of the need to learn different ways to function in their new environment.
Regardless of the emotions associated with the experience, the demands of cultural assimilation associated with undertaking an expat deployment are complex, demanding and little understood by anyone other than those who have lived it.
For most people, cultural assimilation is a combination of the two, sitting somewhere between fear of the unknown and excitement at the prospect, expectation and trepidation.
Arrival And Early Cultural Assimilation Issues
Emerging into your new, temporary, home country through the doors at the airport, train or ferry terminal, having cleared customs and immigration, you quickly find yourself needing to start to understand customs of a different nature.  You need to come to terms with language, monetary and cultural differences of your host country.  To understand different ways and methods of working, different communication structures and levels of individuality, power distances, uncertainty avoidance levels different to your home, different views of the future and the past and different levels of masculinity.
The new arrival may feel that they find themselves in a parallel universe.  A new world where they look and dress like the residents of their host country but don’t understand the language.  A place where they find themselves confused at simple things like road crossings (do they look right or left before stepping out as the traffic may well be on the opposite side to what they are used to).
It is a parallel world where you have problems deciding what to eat when you can’t read a menu, or understand the labels on packages in the stores.  Once you have managed to get your food, how do you pay for it if you don’t have an understanding of the local currency, should you tip or not? and if you do, how much should it be, so many questions…
The challenges of cultural assimilation are, quite literally, everywhere.
The Public Challenges Of Cultural Assimilation
In public, should the new arrival make eye contact with the locals? is it socially acceptable or a sign of disrespect or intimidation?.  Even determining which side of the pavement to walk on can be confusing, Typically, people from countries that drive on the right tend to also walk to the right, while those from countries which drive on the left would also tend to walk to the left, leading to some awkward encounters on both footpaths and stairs, with both parties confused about what is happening.  If the unwary traveller is not careful, these small yet confusing differences can lead to levels of xenophobia, where suddenly everything new and different is to be treated with fear and suspicion.
Cultural Assimilation In The Workplace
It is in the workplace where most expat’s will face their most challenging cultural assimilation issues. They have arrived from a culture they understood and a workplace where they knew their position into a strange world.  They need to work out how to address their new colleagues, they need to determine how the hierarchy works, whether it is formal and highly structured or informal and flat.
The new expat needs to consider how they deal with their office pee...]]>
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Comparing Communication Technologies In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/communication-technologies/ Tue, 15 Sep 2015 14:15:58 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1703 <p>Choosing the right communication technologies to support your virtual teams is critical to their ability to interact efficiently.<br /> Having the right tools and knowing how to use them will make your teams more productive, their outcomes more predictable and should help avoid some of the conflicts typically encountered in virtual team environments.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/communication-technologies/">Comparing Communication Technologies In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Choosing the right communication technologies to support your virtual teams is critical to their ability to interact efficiently. Having the right tools and knowing how to use them will make your teams more productive, Different communication technologies will suit different projects requirements, budgets and phases.  It may not be sensible, to instance, to install a $100,000 state of the art video conference suite in a remote construction office with only a satellite internet connection.  Equally, it would not be realistic for a large corporate headquarters, with multiple satellite offices located around the globe, not to have an array of different technologies installed and available to the project teams based there.
All of these different communication technologies have their place, they each offer relative advantages and disadvantages and have different levels of richness of content.
Email
Email has become the ubiquitous form of communication technology and is often, unfortunately, used in many situations where it should not.  These misuses of email include using it to avoid uncomfortable verbal discussions and to retaliate to perceived personal insults.
For managers of international projects, email allows them to send the same message, often carefully crafted and considered, to their entire team or sub set of the team at the same time. This “mail blast” is certainly convenient, but, if the manager is not careful in crafting his message, members of the team from different cultures may read an entirely different message into the content of the email to their counterparts in another part of the project.  This miscommunication often goes undetected until unexpected consequences start to appear later in the project lifecycle.
The message is to take care in writing a broadcast message to your entire team, consider instead sending the same message, differently structured and worded, to each cultural cohort in your project.  This same level of care of the structure of the message must be considered in one on one email messaging, the message must be suitable for the culture of the recipient.
Telephone
Despite the length of time they have been in common use, the telephone is, in my view, a somewhat misunderstood and misused device, especially when applied to the international communications environment.
Where email allows the recipient, who may not speak the same language as the sender, to translate and analyse the message, the telephone removes this option.  Instead, the telephone forces both parties to struggle with linguistic complexities while attempting to hold an otherwise straightforward message.  This complexity can lead to frustration and misunderstanding between the two participants.  With no lasting record of a telephone conversation, it is easy for both parties to leave the call thinking they have understood the message, yet they may have both have completely misunderstood the entire conversation.
When planning and conducting telephone conversations, particularly with people who have different first languages, my suggestions would be to keep to simple language and to employ active listening techniques of checking the message sent is the message received.  Remember also, that telephone communications, while substantially richer than written communications, are still a long way short of a face to face or even a video conversation, with, at best, 20 to 30% of the content of a face to face discussion being conveyed.
Web Cam
The technology for web cam meetings has been available to the domestic user for a ...]]>
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Self Awareness For Successful Communications http://ulfire.com.au/self-awareness/ Tue, 08 Sep 2015 15:21:50 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1701 <p>Being aware of your personal beliefs and perspectives is a very important attribute in an effective communicator. Your personal beliefs will influence how you deal with others and how you communicate both one on one and in a group setting.<br /> Building self awareness is therefore a critical skill needed by effective leaders and team members.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/self-awareness/">Self Awareness For Successful Communications</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Being aware of your personal beliefs and perspectives is a very important attribute in an effective communicator. Your personal beliefs will influence how you deal with others and how you communicate both one on one and in a group setting. People need to understand not just what they like and dislike but why, what motivates and demotivates them and why, what they find rewarding in their work and private lives and how they gain gratification from the work they do. Then, having done this initial self assessment, they need to pause and consider what all of these factors really mean to them. In essence, what they are doing is identifying their personal values systems, picking out the highs and lows from the many things that happen in a working day or week, and really considering how these events influence their level of motivation.
Only after taking the time to do this exercise of introspective examination, can you even begin to understand what makes you tick, and for that matter what will stop you ticking or make you explode.
Ways To Build Self Awareness
There are many different ways for an individual to build their self awareness, including meditation, coaching and mentoring, self reflection and others.
Meditation
For many, meditation is part of their daily routine and can help build self awareness. Whether it is private, self directed meditation or follows an external process, such as that offered by on line services such as Headspace who offer a range of guided meditation audio files that help users find both inner peace, along with websites such as Nestmaven who have a number of resources available. Meditation is a great way to let your mind rest, then to let that rested mind explore your inner thoughts and ideas. With so many busy people swearing by meditation, it is also relatively easy to find experienced practitioners who can help beginners find ways to practice.
Mentoring and Coaching
On the other side of the coin is building self awareness through the use of facilitated coaching and mentoring. This relies on the external support of professional and on occasion, amateur mentors or coaches to help the individual understand and explore their views and beliefs. Done well, and with a good mentor or coach, this can be a very powerful way to really get to grips with how you see the world and, more importantly, how others see their world and see you in it.
General Self Reflection
Self guided reflection is also a good way to explore your inner thoughts and beliefs and build your self awareness. Taking time to sit quietly, often with a note book or blank page, and to write down what you believe and how you see things. With these notes you can then start to expand and investigate the opposite factors, why these negative thoughts and ideas are negatives and how these negative thoughts may impact your actions and reactions, particularly when dealing with others.
Growing Your Self Awareness
Now, at this point, I really must stress that this just a beginners level discussion of self awareness.  Its only just scratching the surface; really deep self awareness can take many years of dedicated self examination and critical thinking, exploration of your conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions to achieve. Not everything you find inside of yourself will be attractive to you, you may well find some things you would like to change, but you will find plenty of good things you like and want to retain and build on.
]]>
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Understanding The Costs Of Communication Failures http://ulfire.com.au/understanding-costs-communication-failures/ Tue, 01 Sep 2015 15:00:54 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1460 <p>Failing to communicate in a robust and effective way has been the cause of many project failures. Issues fail to get the attention they need because of the reluctance of some in the project to communicate with others and to ask for assistance where needed.<br /> This article discusses a number of the causes of communication failures, offering suggestions for ways virtual team communications can be managed to make them more effective.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/understanding-costs-communication-failures/">Understanding The Costs Of Communication Failures</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Failing to communicate in a robust and effective way has been the cause of many project failures. Issues fail to get the attention they need because of the reluctance of some in the project to communicate with others and to ask for assistance where ne... All of these issues result in a drain on the bottom line and unnecessary distractions for senior management in addressing the symptoms of the communication failures.
This article works through the issues associated with communication failures in distributed teams, suggesting ways to address issues to build a more collaborative and robust organisation.
The Need For Robust Communication
Good communication is at the heart of any group endeavor, whether the group is a small, co-located team or a large, distributed virtual team the need is the same. Maintaining a robust level of communication in a virtual team is a constant challenge faced by all members of the team.

* Business leaders must have an open and collaborative communication channel with their colleagues. Having this will ensure the organisation is coordinated and openly sharing ideas and issues.
* Project managers need to have solid oversight of their projects and the issues and challenges being faced by their personnel regardless of their location. With this, they should be able to predict issues before they occur and facilitate solutions in a timely way.
* Project team members need to be able to communicate freely to ensure work is performed in a coordinated and structured way, avoiding overlaps and gaps in effort. Dependent on the size and structure of the project, this may be direct one to one communication or it may be through a single point of contact within each location. Regardless of the method, those actually charged with doing the work must be able to share ideas, issues and progress.

Causes Of Communication Failures
Communication failures occur in virtual teams for a number of reasons, however, virtually all of the causes of communication failures are the result of the physical and temporal separation of team members.
When individuals and teams are physically separated, regardless of distance, it is very easy to simply forget to talk to one another. It may just be that people get distracted by those in the same location, become engrossed in their own local work or the timing of communications needs are inconvenient due to personal or local commitments, but whatever the cause, this breakdown in communications causes many of the issues.

* Wrong time and wrong place – Often communications failures are the result of team members being in inconvenient time zones to facilitate regular, easy communications, this is at its worst when the teams are separated by more than 9 time zones. This large temporal separation means that communication must be carefully planned rather than organic. Such large separations lead to communications occurring at socially inconvenient times for one or all parties, which can then lead to calls being cancelled.
* Communicating with strangers – many people are uncomfortable meeting and talking to new people in a conventional social environment. Trying to communicate with strangers in a virtual context, when they are just a name and possibly a few personal details is even harder. This is why face to face, or at the least video facilitated meetings can be so effective in building relationships. Without a sense of personal bond, many people will not feel the same need to communicate as they do with those they have met and know reasonably well.
* Communicating across language barriers – Projects will typically establish a common language, this is then the language all personnel are expected to use when communicating....]]>
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Virtual Team Communication Toolkit http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-team-communication-toolkit/ Tue, 25 Aug 2015 13:35:04 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1653 <p>This article explores some of the communication skills needed to successfully lead a team through the use a series of metaphors written around hand tools.<br /> Learning to communicate in different ways, with different people.<br /> Adapting your communication style to match the needs of the situation, and the cultural expectations of the audience, is critical for effective cross cultural leadership.<br /> Those with a single style will suffer through a lack of flexibility and lack of empathy in their communications, it is important to learn to adapt.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-team-communication-toolkit/">Virtual Team Communication Toolkit</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This article explores some of the communication skills needed to successfully lead a team through the use a series of metaphors written around hand tools. Learning to communicate in different ways, with different people. Many of us have a single communication style, one that we have had since our early years. For some this single style will work well in most situations, for others, in only a few.
Over the years, we develop skills in additional styles of communication, while still having a favourite tool we will revert to.  If this tool is a subtle and flexible one, we will generally get by OK, however, if our default communication style is confrontational, one that some may find overly direct and hard, it is time to go back to shop class and learn to use a few of the smaller tools in the kit.
To further complicate this situation, you may well have a communication style which is highly developed to work in your native culture.  This style may not translate well across cultures, if you find yourself in a different cultural location or working with multicultural teams, you may well find that your tools are no longer appropriate.
Trying to Work With A Default Communication Toolkit
To assume that you can communicate with everyone, even those from your own culture, in the same manner is a major oversimplification of the complexity of interpersonal relations.  But, to presume that the same approach can be taken with personnel from different cultures and nationalities is at best naive and, at worst, simply delusional and potentially destructive to any team environment.  Yet, time after time, I see otherwise extremely talented people who simply don’t get it.
There is a saying which I believe sums up this situation beautifully, “give a child a hammer and the whole world is a nail“.  Putting this into the communications context would be for individuals to take the same approach to communicating with every member of their project team.  So this article tries to outline, in a metaphoric sense, a few suggested “tools” to try and when it is appropriate to use them.
We all have our favourite communication tools for some it is a hammer, a cleaver, a rubber mallet, spanner, blow torch or a fine adjustment screwdriver.  All of these have a place in the overall communications toolkit, but a good communicator needs to carry as many of them as possible and know how and where to each them all.
A Standard Communication Toolkit
So, as some examples of the tools we need to carry, develop and, to borrow a term from Stephen Covey “Keep sharp”, I would suggest the following minimum tools for your toolkit;

* Spanner – Used this form of communication to tighten loose connections and bring things together.  Keep in mind however, that while appropriate use of a spanner to tighten loose things is all well and good, over use can cause stress fractures which may eventually result in a sudden and catastrophic breakup, this can happen as readily with your people.
* Screwdriver – This communications tool is used for fine adjustments and to align things.  In many fields this is the most used tool in the box, and rightly so.  It can be used frequently when applied with care, and is capable of very precise work.  The communication equivalent would be regular minor reviews and short conversations, with a little coaching and mentoring included in the mix, to ensure your team remains closely aligned and well adjusted.
* Hammer – The hammer in your communication toolkit is used to drive home a point and to fix things in position.  The hammer must be used sparingly as it can be both rough and imprecise and we all know how much it hurts when you miss the nail and hit yourself.  Similarly,]]>
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How To Avoid Personnel Burnout In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/avoid-personnel-burnout-in-virtual-teams/ Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:33:39 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1539 <p>Burnout is one of the less discussed, yet most destructive side effects of many virtual teams. Due to the global nature of many virtual teams, leaders, managers and team members find themselves continually engaged with the work at hand, working both their local core hours and frequently extended hours to remain engaged with their virtual colleagues.<br /> This article aims to discuss some of the causes of potential burnout in virtual teams and offers some solutions and suggestions for consideration.<br /> A well rested member of a team is always more productive and able to focus on the task at hand, fatigue and the inability to switch off lead to unfocussed and over tired personnel who will struggle to remain productive.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/avoid-personnel-burnout-in-virtual-teams/">How To Avoid Personnel Burnout In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Burnout is one of the less discussed, yet most destructive side effects of many virtual teams. Due to the global nature of many virtual teams, leaders, managers and team members find themselves continually engaged with the work at hand, Leading a virtual team is even harder.
Leading a virtual team, where members are spread across multiple geographic locations, adds additional management complexity including; managing across time zone differences, communicating using different media and dealing with conflicting cultures and social pressures.
Leading a virtual team and managing your health, however, can become a major challenge for both novice and seasoned managers.  Knowing when to switch off and when to delegate can make the difference between both a successful virtual team and an unsuccessful one, it can also mean the difference between a healthy leader and burnout.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review defined Burnout as “the mental and physical exhaustion you experience when the demands of your work consistently exceed the amount of energy you have available.”  The article goes as far as to describe it as the epidemic of the modern workplace.  And there are few more modern workplaces than a virtual team environment, making burnout the potential epidemic of the virtual workplace.
Burnout can manifest in many ways, overwhelming fatigue, loss of ability to concentrate, unexplainable bouts of anger and frustration, anxiety, disorientation, mental breakdown and in extreme cases potentially suicidal tendencies as the extent of depression increases.
Avoiding Burnout
Achieving balance in a virtual team can be difficult, but avoiding burnout is something that every team member needs to work toward. They need to monitor their mental state for themselves, but also need to be on the look out for their colleagues, reports and managers starting to show signs of over work.  Below are some tips to consider when working virtually that may help you preserve your health and effectiveness:

* Choose your communication medium – Consider if it is really necessary to have a voice conversation with a colleague located in a time zone where their normal working day does not overlap your own.  Doing so will mean that at least one participant will be working outside of their core hours, potentially sacrificing rest time.  Ask yourself, will an email suffice?
* Learn to delegate – As a manager, how much of your decision making can you delegate to your colleagues located in other time zones?  As a minimum you need to consider operational decisions that impact only the single location.  The more of such tasks you delegate, the more you will be able to filter the critical tasks and decisions from the mundane, operational “noise”
* Understand your organisations culture – Do you have the right organisational culture to operate effectively in a virtual environment?  If you have a culture where every decision is deferred to the leader or the founder of the business for example, either by design, by tradition or by dint of national culture, the appointed decision maker is going to have an unsustainable workload as the business becomes virtual.  This leader will, potentially, become the weak link in the decision chain and needs to recognise that some things need to be decided without their input.
* Understand your control needs – Are you a control freak?  This may seem an odd question, but someone who has trouble letting go is a prime candidate for burnout in virtual teams.  If they are fortunate enough to survive intact themselves, they are likely to leave a trail of burnt out colleagues and employees in their wake.  If you think you might have control issues, ask a friend, someone you trust to give you an honest answer, and listen to what they have to say.
* Learn to accept ambiguity – How comfortable are you with ambiguity?]]>
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7 Problems With Teleconferences http://ulfire.com.au/7-problems-with-teleconferences/ Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:12:10 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1501 <p>Teleconferences are the backbone of communication for many virtual teams, yet they are often incredibly ineffective and unproductive exercises, resulting in wasted time, disengagement of personnel and for those participating outside of their core hours, are also a major intrusion into personal time.<br /> This article raises seven of the major problems with teleconferences and the symptoms and efficiencies they bring to the businesses using them.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/7-problems-with-teleconferences/">7 Problems With Teleconferences</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Teleconferences are the backbone of communication for many virtual teams, yet they are often incredibly ineffective and unproductive exercises, resulting in wasted time, disengagement of personnel and for those participating outside of their core hours... Yet, few things less intellectually or emotionally stimulating than a teleconference, sitting in a sterile office talking to colleagues in other locations who themselves are sitting in similarly sterile offices, or on occasion sitting in hotel rooms, home offices or bedrooms while holding that all important meeting.
1 – Teleconferences encourage group think
So many teleconferences become more of a grand standing exercise where one or two of the participants dominate the discussion.  These are often the convener of the teleconference or the one from a highly individualistic culture who simply wants to be heard on every subject.
Teleconference participants who come from quieter, more reserved and retiring cultures, or those who have the language used on the teleconference as their second language, tend to be overpowered and often just listen to the discussions without adding comment.
2 – Teleconferences are anti social
The great majority of teleconferences are extremely impersonal events.  Typically they neither hold nor help develop any sense of relationship between participants, they are simply a number of disembodied voices struggling to hear and be heard.  Each participant or group is shut away in a small room, only able to communicate through a plastic box on the desk, with nothing except the tone of voice of the other participants to indicate the level of human engagement in the discussion.
3 – Teleconferences are unnatural
As humans, we are social animals and work best in a socially normal setting.  Our forms of communication have evolved over millennia to rely on all of our senses to understand and interpret messages.  We crave a more tactile form of interaction than what is afforded by a teleconference, we need instead an environment where we can see and fully experience our meeting colleagues.
Denied visual cues, we infer through our own cultural experiences what we believe to be the real message, sometimes we get this right but often we don’t.  Plus, many high context cultures use silence as part of their form of communication, either to invite others to participate or to emphasise a point, silence on a teleconference does not provide the same level of context and is so often misunderstood.
4 – Teleconferences are generally unproductive
Despite many business beliefs to the contrary, the average teleconference is an incredibly unproductive exercise.  During the average teleconference, most attendees spend the majority of their time either listening, trying to hear what is being said or checking their email (and you never know which).  This level of passive or even active disengagement from the meeting takes the inefficiency of meetings to a new level.
It is generally far better to have 2 or 3 people talk on a smaller and shorter call and for them to then share the outcomes than it is to gather larger numbers on a teleconference.  Let those who would only be passive participants in the teleconference do whatever they would be doing if they weren’t needed in the call.
5 – Teleconferences encourage social loafing
Following on from point 4 above, it is so easy to unplug and just drift along with the phone on mute that many teleconferences simply become an excuse or even force their participants into social loafing.  A number of organisations use a teleconference as a way for one person to be briefed on events within the business by ...]]>
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Cultural Filters http://ulfire.com.au/cultural-filters/ Tue, 28 Jul 2015 14:49:08 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1543 <p>This article discusses how we all apply filters to our cultural experiences. These filters can either help of hinder our ability to work effectively in cross cultural situations.<br /> If our filters lead us to react badly to some of the experiences, that reaction may be interpreted by our local colleagues as representing disapproval, leading to a break down of relationships and eventual degrading of our abilities to collaborate. If however, our cultural filters allow us to experience different things as new, interesting and simply different we can use them to build stronger and more enduring working relationships.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/cultural-filters/">Cultural Filters</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This article discusses how we all apply filters to our cultural experiences. These filters can either help of hinder our ability to work effectively in cross cultural situations. If our filters lead us to react badly to some of the experiences, Assimilate
Whether our view of the world is as an inclusive and open one, or as a distinct number of groups, some for and some against us both as individuals and teams, will have been decided by our subconscious long before we are even aware of how we really feel. These perceptual filters, when we are cognizant of them, can be removed or adjusted if we take the time to think them through.
However, even then, our subconscious can surprise us with actions and reactions we can’t really understand, much less analyze. Relatively benign manifestations of this occur when we are presented with, say, a selection of food or drink completely alien to our own experiences. This can result in some fairly strong reactions, such as when someone tries a very spicy meal for the first time, or is offered a type of meat or vegetable they have never tasted before. These reactions are usually seen as non-offensive and, may often be a source of amusement for all parties.
Anticipate
The insidious and destructive side of these reactions occurs when they are triggered, either subconsciously or consciously, by an unexpected cultural difference where the reaction may be one of surreptitious withdrawal or outright abhorrence.  These reactions can, at best, cause great distress to the host individuals and, at worst may lead to a long-term, or even permanent, breakdown in a business or personal relationship.
Evaluate
To avoid these potentially damaging outcomes, you need to develop filters on your perception of the meanings and intent behind inter-cultural relationships. Before you turn away in surprise or recoil in disgust, try to think through what is happening and see it through the eyes of your cultural host or visitor.  For instance, just because it is rare in most Anglo Saxon societies for colleagues to hold hands when discussing things, does not mean it is the same in all other societies. Similarly, if your international visitor shakes your hand for what you consider to be an uncomfortably long time, accept it as a cultural difference to learn from not something to be upset by.
Appreciate Cultural Differences
Intercultural interactions and encounters are an ongoing learning experience.  The longer you spend immersed in other cultures, observing how other peoples act and react, the better you will become at understanding that these differences are what make the world a better and stronger place.  Multi-cultural teams bring diverse perspectives and expertise to any project or organisation, which can only serve to produce a better result.  Such opportunities, while freely available simply by engaging with international partners, can on occasion, be proven fragile by unconsidered or spontaneous reactions to some of the very differences that produce the benefits. So, be careful out there and try to look on every new experience as a positive one.
Intercultural interactions and experiences are an ongoing learning experience.  The longer you spend immersed in other cultures and observing how other peoples act and react, the better you will become at understanding that these differences are what make the world a better and stronger place.  Multi cultural teams bring multiple perspectives and divergent skills to any project or organisation, this diversity only makes the outcomes better.  These opportunities are freely available simply by engaging with international partners, but can, on occasion be proven fragile by unconsidered or spontaneous reactions to some of the very differences that offer the benefits, so be careful out there and try to look on every new experience as a positive one.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations 
Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 10:00
Work Life Balance In International Projects http://ulfire.com.au/work-life-balance-in-international-projects/ Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:59:01 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1544 <p>Working across multiple timezones can bring many challenges to those involved, not least of which is how to maintain a healthy work life balance. In this article we consider some of the major issues to be addressed when a project manager is faced with leading a distributed team. We identify some things to avoid and offer suggestions of ways that a balance can be achieved that lets both the Project Manager and their staff survive the project.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/work-life-balance-in-international-projects/">Work Life Balance In International Projects</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Working across multiple timezones can bring many challenges to those involved, not least of which is how to maintain a healthy work life balance. In this article we consider some of the major issues to be addressed when a project manager is faced with... For some, a balanced life is one where they spend 15 hours or more, 7 days a week, involved in their work, only pausing to sleep, eat or do other essential tasks.  For others, the concept of working more than 35 to 40 hours a week is completely alien and they relish the time away from the office, as much as their opposite personalities crave the office time.  Both of these approaches to work life balance and everything in between, have their own view of a balanced life, but it is to those in between, people looking for a 40 to 50 hour working week within normal, sociable daytime hours that I will be addressing the bulk of this article.
Work Life Balance Challenges in International Projects
International projects place the whole project team and the project manager in particular, in a very time poor situation. They have to negotiate the ‘here and now’ challenges of the portion of the project being performed where they are located, while at the same time, dealing with the interfaces and other issues being experienced in other geographic locations, often several time zones distant.  In these situations it is imperative to have a solid understanding in each location of who has what authority and, at what point they need to raise issues outside of their own location.
Any project manager who sets up their project so that everything has to be approved by them, regardless of their location, at any given time, is setting him or herself up for a very difficult and sleep deprived time.  Further, these project managers may well inflict upon their team a frustrating and micromanaged project, potentially leading to a severely demotivated and disenfranchised staff and schedule delays, resulting from decisions being held up while the project manager struggles to keep up.
Conversely, a project manager who delegates all of their authority across the different geographic locations, while empowering the local personnel to do their jobs, is also abdicating some of their own responsibility to coordinate and oversee the whole project.
Solutions For A Work Life Balance
Thus, a sensible and pragmatic approach to the issue of work life balance needs to be reached, where the personnel in each location have explicit authority but with clear limits.  One where staff can act as they need to, as long as they maintain an open communication dialogue with their colleagues in the other locations, deal with issues where they can, while keeping their Project Manager informed and refer back to them when they either reach the limit of their authority, or encounter an issue which requires resolution from their Project Manager.
Additionally, to achieve a reasonable work life balance, I would recommend that the Project Manager establish clearly agreed communication times, along with communication free times. Times when the Project Manager delegates his or her authority to a deputy, enabling them to step away from their email, turn off the phone to get some rest.  A micro managing, stressed out, sleep deprived and over informed project manager will be of little use to the project in the long run and, may even make decisions in this state of confusion that are to the detriment of the overall exercise.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations 
planestablish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way mem...]]> Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 12:05 Outsourcing And Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/outsourcing-virtual-teams/ Fri, 10 Jul 2015 16:18:25 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1468 <p>Understanding the relationship between outsourcing and the use of virtual teams is important to facilitate strong working relationships between offices. When a business starts to outsource its work it needs to plan for how it will manage its relationships, many of which will move from face to face to virtual. Some businesses will simply assign work to another location and await its completion and return, this is a very high risk approach however.<br /> Experience has shown that the greater the level of planning and preparation that goes into establishing communication between locations, the more predictable the outcomes will be. This predictability reduces the risks to the business and improves its chances of a successful outcome.<br /> This article considers the relationship between outsourcing and virtual teams and introduces some of the issues to be considered.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/outsourcing-virtual-teams/">Outsourcing And Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the relationship between outsourcing and the use of virtual teams is important to facilitate strong working relationships between offices. When a business starts to outsource its work it needs to plan for how it will manage its relations... What Is Outsourcing
To provide some context to this article it is important to define how outsourcing is being used here.  In this article we consider outsourcing to be the process by which a business function or task such as engineering, HR, payroll, manufacturing, shipping etc. are undertaken by an organisation other than the principal. For instance, a company that traditionally has undertaken its own R&D, engineering and manufacture may choose, for business reasons, to send some or all of its engineering to a different location to be undertaken by a different company.
The outsourcing decision is typically made for one of the three principal reasons, namely;

* Access to specialist skills not readily available at the home of the business.
* Access to workers at a lower cost than in the home of the business
* Access to a volume of workers not available in the home location of the business

There are, of course, hybrid reasons why businesses will outsource work, but typically these three cover the vast majority of causes.
Impact of Outsourcing
The impact of outsourcing is a very complex one. At its simplest level, outsourcing can be seen as shipping jobs to another location and, this is sometimes the case. However, properly managed and structured, outsourcing can result in the business and its home office being able to expand through being able to undertake additional projects with its in house staff while at the same time providing work in other locations.
Outsourcing of some parts of a business can mean that the business, which may not have been viable with a sole location delivery model, is suddenly revitalised and is able to maintain some local employment, local employment that may otherwise have disappeared. It may also be able to give more stable or more varied work to its staff and avoid being too exposed to local variations.
Business Impact
Outsourcing of some tasks can also mean the difference between a project going ahead and that same project not happening. The outcome of some of these same projects can then lead to long term broader employment in a region, employment that is generally welcomed by the community as a whole. As such, from a business perspective, outsourcing can add value to the business, its shareholders and, where managed well, the broader community. It can also bring employment to developing nations, given that this is often where outsourced manufacturing is sent.
Done badly, outsourcing can lead to a severe social impact on the home office location where the work is moved from. Badly managed or ill-conceived outsourcing can also, on occasion, result in exploitation of the workers to which the work is outsourced, something which is reported in the media from time to time.
As such, the business impact of outsourcing needs to be carefully balanced. Businesses need to deliver a fair and reasonable profit to their shareholders but, also must maintain their social license to operate. Allowing the pendulum to swing too far in either direction is not good for the long term sustainability of the business, nor the social environment in which these businesses operate.
Social Impact
The social impact of outsourcing needs to be judged from a number of different perspectives. For the personnel at the location the work is moved from, outsourcing will be seen it as a bad thing, at least during the period of adjustment when their jobs are transferred overseas and they must seek work in outer businesses or industries. For those receiving the outsourced work it will be generally be seen as a good thing,]]>
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Building Corporate Culture In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/building-corporate-culture-virtual-teams/ Tue, 30 Jun 2015 14:51:34 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1466 <p>Corporate culture is a critical part of building and maintaining a brand. Matching employees and business partners to a business's culture will ensure that the business has a clear public image and will help clients and future employees determine if your business is right for them. The challenge of building a corporate culture in a virtual team based organisation is a complex one, particularly when the business is established as a distributed team model from the start.</p> <p>This article attempts to unpack some of the challenges facing both new and established businesses when establishing a corporate culture in a virtual environment and sets out some of the steps that need to be considered along the way.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/building-corporate-culture-virtual-teams/">Building Corporate Culture In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Corporate culture is a critical part of building and maintaining a brand. Matching employees and business partners to a business's culture will ensure that the business has a clear public image and will help clients and future employees determine if y... Building corporate culture in virtual teams is a question that comes up quite frequently in our discussions. Every organisation has its own culture, some corporate cultures are demanding and high pressure, others may be more relaxed and nurturing; some will expect their employees to put work ahead of everything else while others will expect that work takes its place alongside the rest of a persons life. Like corporate culture, the way an employee reacts and “fits” into a given organisational culture will also change, evolving over time as the person’s life changes.
However, how do you establish a culture for a business where the employees are working virtually, displaced from each other by distance and time and interacting only electronically?. This is the question I am going to try to unpack in this article.
Corporate Culture In Virtual Teams
In the world of virtual teams, most businesses started out with a single location. The founder and employees would collaborate face to face, this founding business and location is usually where the culture of the organisation is established, the founder determines how they want their business to work and expresses, either overtly or by modelling, what they expect their corporate culture to be.
Some corporate cultures will be demonstrated in dress codes, how the office functions, how rigidly roles are defined and guarded, who gets the corner office (if offices even exist) etc. As the business grows into more locations the culture of the home office will defuse into the new locations, becoming either a replica of the home culture or, more likely a hybrid of the home culture and the prevailing local business culture.
Home Office Influence
The influence of the home office on the emerging corporate culture will remain strong. Through interactions, the home office personnel will model and display the culture they expect of their virtual colleagues, at both the visible and the invisible level, the new employees will get to see their virtual predecessors in the business display their dress codes, meeting formality and ways of addressing one another.
Some of this home office corporate culture will transfer relatively easily between offices and across diverse cultures, other facets of corporate culture will not transfer readily, particularly between locations where the prevailing national business and social culture is radically divergent to the home office. It is unlikely, for instance that a home office culture of a very flat organisational structure will rapidly transfer to one in a location where the prevailing culture is toward a more rigid and formalised structure. These local cultural differences need to be accounted for when trying to find a culture that works in a new location.
Virtual Start up Culture
Determining a corporate culture in a start up that is virtual from the first day is a more challenging issue. The relative luxury of building a culture in the home office then exporting that culture to new locations is not possible, as such, it falls to the founders to work hard to build their cultural vision into the business from day one.
Firstly, I believe the founders need to determine for themselves and describe as best they can what they want their culture to be. Some of this will be what they will write down, other facets will be simply how they operate. Having the culture defined will mean that when they are recruiting their virtual colleagues and employees they can readily describe the culture to them and gauge their suitability against their ideals.
Secondly, the founders need to work every day to ensure they live their culture. A corporate culture is as much what you do as what you ...]]>
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The Future Of Work http://ulfire.com.au/future-of-work/ Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:06:25 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1432 <p>There are a number of scenario's to consider when thinking about the future of work. Clearly technological evolution and indeed revolution will have a major impact, that is very much a given, the big question is how will society respond to the technological changes, at the personal, corporate and societal levels. Will there be resistance or acceptance of the technologies and their impact on the status quo, how will large corporates and developed economies respond to the disruption to their traditional place in the pecking order, and how will we prepare the next generation to gain the most benefit from the changes.</p> <p>This post considers several different scenarios then introduces three different options that may be possible, options of defence, allowance and embracing of the changes.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/future-of-work/">The Future Of Work</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> There are a number of scenario's to consider when thinking about the future of work. Clearly technological evolution and indeed revolution will have a major impact, that is very much a given, the big question is how will society respond to the technol... History of Work
To frame the discussion on the future of work it is important to recognise the history of work as many of us know it now. Prior to the industrial revolution, the vast majority work was individual and most individual work was of an agrarian, subsistence form, with individuals and families working on the land or in artisan roles to produce food or hand made goods that would be traded. It has only been in the past 250 years or so, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, that society has reached the point of mass producing food and goods.
Primarily individuals are paid by employers to work in the production of these goods or services and use their salary to purchase good from others rather than making them themselves. These employers typically demand that their workers all congregate together at proscribed hours to perform their tasks, this requirement dates back to the early factories and research conducted at the time, which demanded such a way of work, one which has carried forward into modern business.
For much of the developed world however, the nature of work has changed. Moving from highly labour intensive manual work in early factories to more skilled manual work and office based knowledge work, yet during the evolution of the work role, the way that organisations are structured and work its self is regarded has changed little, aside from shortening of hours and a reduction in the overall labour intensity of the task undertaken.
Computerisation in the last quarter century has, again, changed the way much work is or at least can be undertaken. Profound changes in the way work can be performed have occurred within the working life of many mid to senior level leaders of businesses and large numbers of the general workforce, yet the ways in which work is assigned and managed and the way in which workers themselves are regarded has changed little. Personnel whose work is individualistic and knowledge based are still expected to attend a common place of work for a fixed number of hours per day, thile there they work under the scrutiny and supervision of their managers, while, in reality, their work could be performed at any time and in many cases in any place.
For many, of course, things have changed little, there are still many countries in the early stages of development where much of society is still agrarian, post industrial and equally for many in developed countries their work is still largely manual and requiring of attendance at these central locations, be they factories or offices. However, as countries and societies move up the industrial evolutionary curve it is to be hoped that they will rapidly progress toward a more knowledge based economy, allowing them to develop businesses that will bring in foreign exchange and provide more free money in their economy to develop their nations.
Challenges To Modern Practices
The current working environment in most of the developed world is one that is evolving at a rate not seen since the early days of the industrial revolution. Yesterday’s seemingly stable and long term businesses are under constant threat from todays and tomorrows emerging businesses. These threats are coming in ways that are continuing to surprise owners, investors and futurists alike.  Former, stable, bricks and mortar businesses are being overtaken by on-line businesses, often run out of warehouses and garages, with prices being undercut, broader ranges of goods available at the click of a mouse expanding the possibilities and changes on a daily basis.]]>
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Employee Feedback In Cross Cultural Teams http://ulfire.com.au/employee-feedback-in-cross-cultural-teams/ Tue, 05 May 2015 15:59:17 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1420 <p>Delivering and receiving feedback in cross cultural teams is a relatively high risk, but high reward endeavour. Done well it can help built strong and dependable teams who understand each other and are committed to supporting each other in their work. Managed badly, the feedback cycle can destroy working relationships through seemingly innocent comments, misunderstandings and reactions.<br /> Feedback may either be seen as overly critical or overly praising dependant on the expectations and cultural norms of the parties involved.<br /> This article attempts to set out a few points to consider when planning for a cross cultural feedback exercise.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/employee-feedback-in-cross-cultural-teams/">Employee Feedback In Cross Cultural Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Delivering and receiving feedback in cross cultural teams is a relatively high risk, but high reward endeavour. Done well it can help built strong and dependable teams who understand each other and are committed to supporting each other in their work.... One of the problems with relying on management research from a culture and country other than ones own, is that much of the advice may not work for your culture. This is the case as much in delivering feedback as it is on performance incentive schemes, leadership and organisational structures, along with many other facets of business life that are heavily influenced by prevailing cultural norms.
This issue is brought into stark visibility in a virtual team, or even a co-located cross cultural team, where team members derive from multiple cultures, each with its own expectations and ways or managing employee feedback that work in their own culture.
Context Matters When Managing Employee Feedback
Cultures with different levels of ‘context’ are one area where attempting to use the same feedback method can lead to issues. This is particularly the case when comparing and working within cultures with noticeably different levels of context, so, high versus low cultures. High Context cultures, are those where many things are left unsaid, relying instead on social norms and nuance for others from the same culture to fill in the gaps in a conversation. Low Context cultures, however, are those where the expectation is for things to be explained or stated in great detail, leaving only minor details for the participants to fill in for themselves. Then along the continuum are all of the mixed cultures where context varies both around particular subjects and also generally.
Individuals from cultures with divergent levels of context often find it hard to communicate in the early days of a working relationship, with each party struggling to adapt to the other’s level of context. Those from a high context culture will see the low context colleagues as being overly verbose, and possibly even condescending, when explaining their needs while conversely, the low context personnel will feel they are only ever getting part of the story in any conversation.
Managing employee feedback in this environment is, therefore, complicated by the communication expectations of the other party. A manager from a low context culture may feel they need to explain everything and, in doing so, the high context person receiving the feedback may feel they are being overly criticised or even victimised by their manager.
A high context manager providing feedback to a low context employee is likely to come across as vague, and to be giving meaningless feedback, since the low context employee may be expecting to receive detailed feedback and not have to resort to filling in gaps themselves.
Tips For Managing Employee Feedback In Cross Cultural Teams
There are a few simple tips to avoid some of the worst traps of managing employee feedback in cross cultural teams.

* Firstly, just accepting that others have different expectations to yourself is a critical starting point, that everyone is different and that there is no “One size fits all” way to give feedback.
* Work to understand how the feedback recipient and their culture differ from your own, and to best understand what their normal expectations are for receipt of feedback.
* Having established the base expectations, when starting to deliver your feedback to the recipient, explain how you normally do it and “warm them up” to your style. In some instances this will allow the recipient to ask questions or adapt their expectations to suit – beware however that in some high http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1398 <p>Effective workshare planning is imperative for the success of any virtual team project. Planning the way in which the work to be undertaken will be shared, who will be responsible for the outcomes of the project and obtaining the full engagement at the overall business level will ensure the project is given every possibility of success.<br /> This article discusses some of the major factors to consider when embarking on a workshare planning exercise.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/workshare-planning-for-project-success/">Workshare Planning For Project Success</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Effective workshare planning is imperative for the success of any virtual team project. Planning the way in which the work to be undertaken will be shared, who will be responsible for the outcomes of the project and obtaining the full engagement at the... While  workshare is now a relatively common practice, adopted by organisations ranging from very small alliances of companies through to multi national conglomerates, the predictability of the outcomes of their various projects is still extremely variable, some being outstanding successes, other absolute disasters. In short, the technology has caught up with the desire but the knowledge of how best to plan and run a workshare project is still lagging behind.
What Is Workshare
Before going any further, its worth considering how the term workshare is used. Workshare is the term commonly used to describe the process where a business splits the work involved in a project between a number of different physical locations. In doing so they assign tasks based on cost, availability of personnel, any specific project skill requirements and balancing the workload of the organisation. Workshare is often interchanged with virtual team but in reality, as discussed in an
earlier article, the two terms are different facets of the same phenomena, the virtual team is the group of personnel undertaking the task, workshare is how the tasks are assigned and managed.
Why Workshare Planning Matters To Projects
Historically, project planning has consisted of establishing a scope, schedule and budget, considering risks and opportunities and managing stakeholders. Since the advent of workshare however, project planning has changed little, except that when multiple locations are considered, those undertaking the planning look to see how they can save costs and access skills across the locations.
The need for workshare planning however goes beyond the tactical planning processes of a typical project of previous years and must consider how the different locations will interact. It calls on the skills of more than the usual project management personnel to undertake it effectively and, indeed, requires some specific skills not often found in the offices of project delivery organisations.
Project managers need to be able to conceptualise, coordinate and lead work in multiple locations concurrently, they need to be able to inspire personnel from multiple cultures, who work in different languages and to different procedures and standards to collaborate to the common good of the project and they need to be able to deliver a project using all these different locations.
Equally, project sponsors need to be able to put aside the traditional partisan relationship created by individual offices profit and loss requirements for the common good of the organisation and the project, to make available personnel who otherwise may be lock up on local work and to share skills and information.
Workshare Planning For Project Success
When planning for workshare the project owners need to make some key initial decisions, decisions that will influence the outcome of the project month or years in the future. Among other things, they need to decide how work will be shared, who will lead the work, who will support the execution of the work, who will cover costs of inefficiencies in one office due to a different office missing a deadline and they need to decide how much money they are prepared to commit to travel and communication expenses that are beyond those of a traditional co-located project.

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Building Trust Across Cultures http://ulfire.com.au/building-trust-across-cultures/ Tue, 03 Mar 2015 16:48:05 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1376 <p>Building trust across cultures is a complex and difficult task that is critical to the success of a virtual team. Without a fundamental level of working trust between individuals and groups it is not possible to establish or maintain a high performing team.</p> <p>There are several different ways in which individuals are culturally programmed to build trust, through transactional experiences, relationship building or through working with those who have a strong shared common interest or history. Each of these will readily understand how to build trust with like individuals but will struggle to do so with those who have a different culturally programmed way of building trust.</p> <p>This article discusses both the differences between the different ways trust is built and offers some methods to build trust across cultures.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/building-trust-across-cultures/">Building Trust Across Cultures</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Building trust across cultures is a complex and difficult task that is critical to the success of a virtual team. Without a fundamental level of working trust between individuals and groups it is not possible to establish or maintain a high performing... The big question, of course, is how to build trust across cultures, between people who have been born and grown up in different parts of the world, who see the world through the lens of their own culture and experiences.
Fundamentally, as a member of a global virtual team and specifically, as a leader of such a team, it is essential to know how each member of your team conceptualises trust and how they then go on to build trust between cultures.
Different Ways Of Building Trust Across Cultures
There are several fundamentally different ways that trust is built in different cultures, each has its own methods and processes and they can be made to be compatible with careful planning:

* Transactional trust – In this form of trust building, the person building the trust will think “This person is good at their job and has reliably delivered work for me in the past, therefore I trust them”  Essentially this person needs to have a working relationship with their virtual colleagues, one where the colleagues can demonstrate that they are capable and able to deliver the required work on time and to the right quality. Only after that will the individual begin to trust their virtual partners.
* Relational Trust – In this form of trust building, the person building the trust will think “This is a nice person, I enjoyed working with them in the past, therefore I will trust them”  In this form of trust building, the individual needs to have a personal relationship with their virtual colleagues, one that is built through spending time together and getting to know one another, before they can start to trust that virtual colleague in a working relationship.
* “In Group” Trust – In this third form of trust building, the person building the trust will think “This person comes from the same place as I do, we share a lot of common experiences, language and history, therefore I will trust them”  In this form of trust building, the individual feels at their most comfortable and trusting when they are working with people who are like themselves, whether that is similar in terms of place of birth, ethnicity, political perspective, socio-economic standing or whatever, once they can identify someone as being like them, from the same “in group” they will begin to trust them.

Barriers To Building Trust Across Cultures
Getting people with similar preferred methods of developing and maintaining trust to begin to trust one another and work well together is relatively simple. If every person on a virtual team establishes trust by transactional experiences, they just need to work together and reliably deliver for one another and the trust will follow. Similarly if they all prefer to build trust through personal relationships, spending time getting to know one another will set them up for a productive working future. However, getting people with different preferred ways of building trust to build a trusting relationship is more complex.
Those whose default way to build trust is through transactional relationships of consistent and regular delivery will not find it easy to start to trust people who, in their minds, “just want to socialise” instead of getting on with the work.  Equally those who need a sense of personal relationship before they can start to work with someone else will struggle with partners who...]]>
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Team Building Tips For Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/team-building-tips-virtual-teams/ Tue, 17 Feb 2015 15:58:28 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1363 <p>Team building is one of the keys to successful virtual teams. With the teams forming to undertake a specific project or deliver a change to an organisation it is often easy to overlook the bonding phase between virtual colleagues, when this happens the team will take longer to form and the bonds binding team members will usually be weaker, leading to fragile relationships that will break down under tension. </p> <p>Undertaking well planned and structured face to face or remote team building will help to avoid these weaknesses and instead build a team that is cohesive and interdependent, that will survive the inevitable internal conflicts and ultimately deliver the best outcomes for the business.</p> <p>This article discusses ways that team building can be planned and undertaken in virtual team environments.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/team-building-tips-virtual-teams/">Team Building Tips For Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Team building is one of the keys to successful virtual teams. With the teams forming to undertake a specific project or deliver a change to an organisation it is often easy to overlook the bonding phase between virtual colleagues, There are fundamentally two different approaches that can be considered when starting to think about team building in virtual teams, face to face events and virtual events.  The face to face team building events are only really available for teams where the budget will allow everyone to gather together for the initial and subsequent events. This is typically either a virtual team made up of groups located reasonably close together or where only a small part of the overall team is located remote to the core.
Virtual teams with large groups dispersed over large distances or even small teams with very limited budgets are not going to be able to arcade face to face team building events. These teams must therefore find ways to undertake team building activities by distance.
Why Team Building Matters
Team building is a way to establish relationships between personnel. Properly conducted, team building allows personnel to move up the relationship curve from complete strangers to acquaintances relatively quickly.
Teams starting out with no previous relationship, will spend much of their first period working together getting to know each other and coming to understand how their new colleagues think and operate. By undertaking a team building session these same personnel get to know these things quickly, allowing them to get down to their tasks quicker and become more productive more quickly.
 Face To Face Team Building
There are many different ways to conduct face to face team building, and many organisations providing excellent material along with numerous books on the subject. Regardless of the approach thats taken, there are a few things I recommend for face to face virtual team building that may differ from team building for a co-located team.

* Cultural sensitivity – When planning and holding team building events for virtual teams the material and approach must be sensitive to all of the cultures involved.  What may work in one society could be a complete disaster in others, some cultures will prefer to be involved in team building exercises that are open and gregarious while others will prefer to be more reserved and introvert in their activities. Holding team building that places the quiet cultures in an environment where they have to share personal details and behave in ways that are uncomfortable to them will not build a strong team and may even be destructive.
* Allow extra time – Allow time in the team building event for the personnel to undertake some self determined activities.  This could include quiet, small group discussions, facilitated sight seeing, or whatever activities the personnel want to experience, so long as it is undertaken by groups of personnel from more than one location.  Building shared experiences will allow them to have common points of reference once they return home.
* Include some work activities – Set some tasks for the teams to undertake while they are together around how they will coordinate and share work once the project starts. get them to agree the foundations for their collaboration between them and where appropriate document it in flow charts, charters or some other similar form.

Remote Team Building
In contrast to face to face team building, building remote teams presents a very different set of challenges for organisations, not least of which may be time differences, access to the required technology and the availability of the right personnel at the appropriate times. As such, remote team building will often be a slower, more organic exercise when compared to face to face.
As with face to face virtual team building,]]>
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Team Composition Diversity Between Cultures http://ulfire.com.au/team-composition-diversity/ Tue, 03 Feb 2015 10:00:36 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1313 <p>Understanding how to balance the different team attributes of personnel from different cultural backgrounds can unlock a broad range of potential synergies in a virtual team. Team members from individualistic cultures, where often teams are made up of specialists, are best suited to some work while those from more collective cultures, where teams tend to be built to get the best overall outcome from the group are stronger in other areas.</p> <p>This article considers how to go about establishing the right balance and introduces some of the factors to consider.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/team-composition-diversity/">Team Composition Diversity Between Cultures</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding how to balance the different team attributes of personnel from different cultural backgrounds can unlock a broad range of potential synergies in a virtual team. Team members from individualistic cultures, In many cultures, principally those with a North America or European base, teams are typically made up of a group of experts and specialists, essentially a team of individuals, with some less experienced support personnel.  Typically these team members expect, culturally, to be treated as individuals and recognised individually for their achievements and contribution to the outcomes of the project.  They expect that their rewards, bonuses and career prospects will also be developed based on their personal value to the group.
In contrast, in large numbers of other cultures, principally Asian and South American, teams are made up of a group of complimentary workers who’s strength is their team work, many will still be experts in their fields, but they work more as a collective.  Individuals in these teams see the performance of the collective as more important than the performance of an individual, and will often sacrifice their personal ambitions against the overall success of the group.  These teams expect that their performance will be recognised collectively, and that their rewards and career prospects will depend as much on the overall performance of their team, as on their individual contribution.
Individual Challenges Of Team Composition Diversity
Team composition diversity can be a subtle, yet challenging phenomenon to adjust to when working across cultures.  For those used to working in highly individualistic structures, the personal challenge of suppressing their personal identity to become part of a collective can be difficult to adjust to.  It is not easy to go from being seen as an individual and rewarded as such to being seen as part of a group.  Equally, for those moving from a collective society to a more individualistic one, the change can pose challenges in asserting their individuality and, feeling comfortable in expressing their personal views, rather than the considered views of the group.
Cross Cultural Challenges Of Team Composition Diversity
When working as a manager in a cross cultural environment, the challenges of team composition diversity mean that the manager must be able to lead using a number of different styles.
When leading a team of individualists, the global virtual team manager must be able to address the needs of each individual, to consider their personal needs and to tailor the way they lead to the expectations of these individuals.  Even at a group level, the way meetings are run needs to consider the need these individuals have, to express themselves and feel they are contributing personally.  With the collective side of their teams, these same leaders need to be able to lead groups who expect to be treated as collectives, to inspire and challenge them as a group to deliver the outcomes needed for the project.
Learning to get the most from a global virtual team, one made up of groups from different points along the individual versus collective continuum, is a challenging and exciting experience.  Once the team leader has developed an understanding of the ways to get the best from each group, they are able to balance tasks so that each assigned task plays to the strengths of the group to which it is assigned.  So tasks requiring a large amount of individualised effort would be assigned to members of the more individualistic teams, where tasks that require larger amounts of interaction and an overall group effort are sometimes better suited to members of the collective culture teams.
It can take a little time to get the balance right, but, once an understanding is reached by all parties, the possible outcomes can be extremely rewarding a...]]>
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Tips For Visiting Virtual Team Offices http://ulfire.com.au/tips-visiting-virtual-team-offices/ Tue, 20 Jan 2015 10:19:48 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1201 <p>Visiting your partner offices as part of a virtual teal project can be brought with potential risks. Cultural, business and personal mistakes are relatively easy to make, but equally easy to avoid, or at the worst, to mitigate to the level that they may even help build relationships.</p> <p>This article gives some tips, such as avoiding a sense of intimidation during your visit, maintaining a level of cultural sensitivity and considering extending your stay beyond the time needed for business only, to consider when making those all important business trips.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/tips-visiting-virtual-team-offices/">Tips For Visiting Virtual Team Offices</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Visiting your partner offices as part of a virtual teal project can be brought with potential risks. Cultural, business and personal mistakes are relatively easy to make, but equally easy to avoid, or at the worst, Avoid Invoking a Sense of Fear and Intimidation
Business visits can be intimidating both for the visitor and the visited. It is easy to forget but for many offices, visits from head office are a once in a quarter or even a once a year opportunity to both demonstrate their capabilities and also to raise any issues. As such, a lot of pressure can be placed on the host office personnel to be ready for the visit and to use it to showcase their skills.  Equally, for the visitors, it may be that a particular visit is part of a global or regional tour and may come as part of a series of visits, they can be high pressure and very busy and stressful events.  It is no less the case in a virtual team project environment, where visits may include intensive project reviews and negotiations over future scope.
So, with all parties trying to be at their best there is a real opportunity that even the slightest hiccup can turn into a major disaster for one party or another.  Small issues can get magnified under the intense scrutiny of the visit, even non issues may seem to be big issues if staff start to get flustered under pressure.
My recommendation is, when visiting virtual team offices, therefore to try to maintain a lower level of tension in the overall meeting.  Set a sensible agenda well ahead of the meeting, clearly identify what the key things to achieve from the visit are and try to at least cover most of them at a high level in the first session.  Doing this will mean that any gaps that appear during the first review can be worked on in the background over the course of the visit and hopefully closed out before the end.  The alternate of addressing each item in detail sequentially will mean that some things will logically be left until the end of the visit and, if issues are found with them, they will be harder to address before the end.
Be Culturally Sensitive When Visiting Virtual Team Offices
Try to be as culturally sensitive as possible during your visit, if you are visiting an office where they start late and finish late, try to fit in with that, likewise, if the office starts early do so also. It will allow you the opportunity to see the office in as normal a way as possible and will mean the personnel involved in your visit can maintain a standard week.  If the office takes long lunches do so, even if it feels like a waste of some of your time.  Actions like these show a lot of respect for the locals and will give you some extra credit with the staff, for very little effort.
Also, when visiting virtual team offices, try to be as observant as possible on the local customs for how to address colleagues, learn how their hierarchy functions and how it differs from your home culture, and try as much as possible to understand how the office functions.  It may well function quite differently from your home office, but the differences are as likely to be the result of local cultures and customs and will make sense in that environment.
Be Social
Often, when visiting virtual team offices, the host office will want to have some form of social event to give the visitors the opportunity to meet personnel inn a more relaxed environment.  These events are very important for the hosts and the...]]>
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Common Virtual Team Problems http://ulfire.com.au/common-virtual-team-problems/ Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:29:31 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1188 <p>This article discusses some of the key virtual team problems that occur in organisations, it highlights the causes of the problems and draws out some ways in which these issues can be identified and avoided.<br /> Many issues will occur on project after project in organisations, some organisations will quickly learn how to build and run effective virtual teams, others will have very varied results with some projects being successful and others extremely problematic. A considered and planned approach will, however, usually help avoid many of the major issues.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/common-virtual-team-problems/">Common Virtual Team Problems</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> This article discusses some of the key virtual team problems that occur in organisations, it highlights the causes of the problems and draws out some ways in which these issues can be identified and avoided. Following are a few of the common virtual team problems, along with some suggestions for how to avoid them. These mistakes are not identified in any particular order, but they are some of the biggest and most common.
Assuming That Traditional Methods Will Do
Many organisations get into virtual team execution having been successful at executing work in single locations. They assume their success in their traditional approach will automatically carry forward to a multi centre model. The reality though is that by trying to apply the same methods, practices and leadership style to a multi centre, potentially multi cultural structure is not so simple.
Systems and processes developed for single centres tend to make a lot of assumptions about the culture of the host office, they become part of the natural way of working for those in that office and make a lot of unstated assumptions about how lines of communication will operate. Transposing these practices onto another location will present the new location with an alien way of working, one which may well not fit with their established practices and may even be less productive than their previous approach.
Ignoring Culture
Culture, of the individuals, the organisation and the locations plays a enormous part in the way an office and a business operates. Every individual will have their own cultural perspective on life, one that is developed over their lives based on the norms and expectations of their home society, where they grow up and who they associate with. This culture will pervade everything they do and how they work with others. Organisations develop a culture driven from their founder, shareholders, management, staff and home culture.  Similarly, every location will have its own cultural norms, even if all of the offices are in the same country there will still be some differences.
For an organisation to then ignore the impact of culture on their systems, their communications and the way they interact is asking for trouble. Any personnel required to interact with those from another locations should have the opportunity to access appropriate training and support to help them collaborate better.
Under Estimating Leadership Style
Successful leaders of single centre work tend to be extremely good at understanding both the visible and invisible issues facing their team, they can read situations clearly and recognise intuitively how to get the best from their people. Single centre leaders however are not always so good when challenged to lead multi centre, diverse teams. Successful leaders of virtual teams need to be able to understand the subtle and not so subtle signals coming from each of their offices and respond accordingly, they need to be more comfortable with ambiguity, very even tempered and comfortable in delegating responsibility to trusted colleagues in the other offices.
Many organisations will put their best single centre manager in charge of a multi centre project without considering their overall suitability, only after some real issues start to surface will they then reconsider the deployment. Redeploying those who have been unsuccessful in leading a multi centre team can have negative impacts on their careers, confidence and retention which is an unfortunate and often unnecessary outcome for otherwise talented and valuable personnel.
Cutting Costs
Many organisations will also enter into multi centre execution in an attempt to save costs of delivery. They apply the same estimating methods and metrics with different salary rates, as they would in their home office, but with no allowance for either regional variatio...]]>
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Email Use In Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/email-use-virtual-teams/ Tue, 09 Dec 2014 16:29:28 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1149 <p>Getting the most from email in a virtual team environment is far more then just sending requests and receiving responses. Used well, email can be a good tool to help maintain a trusting environment and relationship between team members.</p> <p>Email is frequently treated as a purely transactional tool, resulting in a purely transactional relationship. With due consideration, email use can genuinely help build a team. This article considers some of the challenges and offers suggestions and solutions to doing things better.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/email-use-virtual-teams/">Email Use In Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Getting the most from email in a virtual team environment is far more then just sending requests and receiving responses. Used well, email can be a good tool to help maintain a trusting environment and relationship between team members. - Email Trust Challenges
As teams become more dispersed, and particularly as they are separated by increasingly large timezone differences, the need to use asynchronous, written communication over verbal, synchronous communications increases the reliance on email.  The increased email use pushes individuals and teams to become more concise in their communications, in turn removing many of the pleasantries and verbal checks and balances we all take for granted when communicating verbally or face to face.
Without these checks and balances, team communications will inevitably become more technically focussed.  Without the human personality in the communications, building and maintaining a trusting environment becomes harder and relationships become more transactional rather than collaborative. The emails turn into a series of instructions, demands and responses, where a verbal equivalent would comprise requests and answers, with personal discussion and input in between.
Additionally, once a high reliance on email begins, it is easy to become over loaded with email.  The 50 to 100 new emails that greet a virtual team member on a morning can seem like an unending list of tasks, without any real priority or pleasantry.  As such, the recipient will do their best to respond to as many as possible, but will inevitably start to slip behind, leaving some virtual colleagues wondering where their response is and whether their virtual colleague is there at all.
Uncertainty in email correspondence can result in repeat emails, increasing terseness in correspondence and attempts to escalate the question to a superior, or attempts to circumnavigate the original recipient by asking the same question of colleagues, thus duplicating the work and spreading the potential distrust.
Email Overload
In parallel to the challenges of dealing with increased email use comes the difficulties associated with email overload. Someone overloaded with email will typically start to triage their correspondence, dealing with those that seem most important first and continuing until they runout of time. Those left over will remain until the next day and so forth.  The backlog will progressively accumulate until their email inboxes start to become completely unmanageable, with hundreds or even thousands of unread emails, each representing a potential unanswered request.
This email overload then stops corresponding individuals from following the normal civilities such as acknowledging assistance, it is simply too time consuming to write an email to thank someone for their help, so the help goes un acknowledged and another opportunity to build and maintain trust is sadly lost.
Getting Virtual Team Email Use Right
Understanding the issues with email use in virtual teams can help teams get better value from both the technical and relationship sides of email, below are some tips and traps to consider;

* Wherever possible communicate verbally and follow up with email where needed.
* Only copy people who absolutely need to know or be part of the conversation. Ideally include everyone in the “to” line rather than some in the “cc” line, many people will filter “cc” emails and only deal with them when they have free time.
* Be explicit in your requests, give context and a realistic response time, this allows the recipient to prioritise work and get back to you in a timeframe that suits everyone.
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Distributed Team Review http://ulfire.com.au/distributed-team-review/ Thu, 04 Dec 2014 17:23:26 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=530 <p>Holding a regular distributed team review ensures that the host organisation is getting the best efficiency and value from its distributed teams, and that the personnel in the teams are receiving the support and leadership they need to perform at their best.</p> <p>Reviews should be performed, at a minimum, at each major change in the focus of a operationally focussed distributed team and, at each major stage change in a distributed team working on a project.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/distributed-team-review/">Distributed Team Review</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Holding a regular distributed team review ensures that the host organisation is getting the best efficiency and value from its distributed teams, and that the personnel in the teams are receiving the support and leadership they need to perform at their... Sometimes things change for the better, sometimes less so.
These changes can be in the status of the work or project being performed by the team, changes in the client’s expectations and scope or changes to the business climate in which the work is being performed.
Changes are typically most noticeable when a project passes through a major stage change, or when an ongoing organisational team changes its focus such as in a corporate reorganisation.  At these change points it will be usual for the business or project to pause and review its structure and practices.  These reviews are, however, almost exclusively performed on the technical and operational aspects of the organisation or project and rarely on the workforce and their changing interaction needs.  Rarely is a distributed team review conducted.
Why Conduct A Distributed Team Review
Even the most effective, high performing virtual team will, from time to time, benefit from a review of processes.  Taking the opportunity to undertake a little fine tuning to boost the team’s effectiveness or change its focus, reflecting changes in the working environment and project or business needs.  A poorly performing virtual team, or one which has not been reviewed for an extended period, will benefit from a more extensive review, possibly some changes to personnel and restructuring to try to return it to a higher level of performance.
Aims Of A Distributed Team Review
A distributed team review should aim to bring the team to its optimum functionality and level of performance relative to the business needs.  To achieve this, firstly establish an understanding of the baseline functionality and performance level of the team in question. At the same time, an understanding of the current and immediate, short term future needs of the organisation should be assessed, so that the team and its goals can be compared.
Any functional issues within the team need to be identified and addressed, regardless of the focus of the future needs of the team.  These may include things such as structural issues, conflicts needing to be resolved, inefficient or inappropriately assigned teams and individuals, and basic procedures and practices that are no longer suitable for the way the distributed team is operating.
Learning From Your Distributed Team Review
Having established a baseline of efficiency of the distributed team, along with an understanding of the background changes needed, the next step is to consider the way in which the team will need to function in the future.  Assess how the project or organisational needs are changing and how these changes will impact the distributed team and its requirements.
Using the information gained from the review two things can be established:

* A retrospective understanding of the way in which the team was working can be documented,  providing learnings for future, similar endeavours.  This data will allow the organisation to learn from its past and, if necessary, do things differently in the future, becoming a more effective virtual team organisation along the way.
* Develop plans for the future of the distributed team, so that it can continue to be as effective as it was previously and, ideally, improve its effectiveness.

With the benchmarking information in hand, the management and personnel of the distributed team can implement considered improvements and changes, changes that will place the organisation as well as possible, ready for the future demands of the anticipated changes in its working environment.
Benefits A Regular Distributed Team Review
Regularly pausing to conduct a distributed team review allows an organisation the opportunity to continually identify and learn from its current practices.]]>
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Empathy In Distributed Teams http://ulfire.com.au/empathy-distributed-teams/ Tue, 25 Nov 2014 14:13:46 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=843 <p>Empathy is a vital skill to build in a distributed team relationship. Virtual colleagues need to be empathetic to the cultural, social and temporal expectations placed on and experienced by their colleagues.<br /> The different pressures coming from each team member's working situation, social and cultural environment can be a major cause of misunderstanding between personne. This article discusses some of the challenges faced and introduces some ways to mitigate and manage the impact of these differences.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/empathy-distributed-teams/">Empathy In Distributed Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Empathy is a vital skill to build in a distributed team relationship. Virtual colleagues need to be empathetic to the cultural, social and temporal expectations placed on and experienced by their colleagues. Distributed team collaboration requires a great deal of additional empathy, beyond the needs of a traditional single location team. To be effective in distributed teams, members must have a high level of empathy, giving an increased level of awareness and understanding to the differences and issues faced by their virtual colleagues.
Forms of Empathy
Empathy requirements in distributed teams are such that, to be able to work at their most effective, the team members should be sensitive to the cultural, temporal and social differences between themselves and their colleagues. These same expectations exist in a traditional co-located project, but the combination of physical proximity and the relatively homogeneous nature of co-located teams, mean that it is easier to be aware of and allow for the circumstances of colleagues seen every day, than it is those perhaps never met.
Cultural Empathy
Cultural empathy in a distributed team includes the challenges of being aware of and working with the cultural circumstances of ones colleagues.  Culture includes the national and religious culture of the individuals involved, the culture of their working environment and any other cultural similarities and differences that may exist between the team members. Gaining an understanding of other cultures can be gained through conversation, background reading, training and actual lived experience, all of which add to the understanding of those involved.
It is incumbent on every team member, regardless of their location, to appreciate that personnel working in different locations, and often indeed in the same location, will see things through the lens of their own experiences and that these experiences will colour the way they approach their lives and the work they perform. As such, making an attempt to understand and be empathetic to the cultures of colleagues can help build a better understanding of challenges and issues that may have an impact on the working relationship.  This awareness should then help avoid unnecessary conflict and disagreement when misunderstandings arise.
Temporal Empathy
Temporality, the different way in which individuals value, manage and experience time, can be the source of many business disagreements. From relatively minor issues such as timeliness of attending meetings and responding to communications through to major issues around the different ways that schedules are seen and managed, the way that time is seen and managed by others needs to be understood for a truly collaborative endeavour to be successful.
When setting up a new working relationship and establishing timelines for work the relative perceptions of time need to be only discussed and understood by everyone.  An examples of where an imprecise temporal relationship can cause issues would be where one group of personnel are highly time orientated and work with a strong focus on meeting scheduled times and dates to the potential detriment of the quality of the product are working with another group who place a lower value on timeliness than they do on, for example, accuracy and “perfection” of the final product.
This clash of temporality can lead to major fractures in the working relationship, fractures that can perhaps be avoided by a clear agreement at the start of the work as to whether time or quality are the principle driver for the work.
Social Empathy
Empathy to the social differences and demands of distributed team members can also help avoid some of the inevitable pitfalls that w...]]>
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Corporate Politics in Virtual Team Organisations http://ulfire.com.au/corporate-politics-virtual-teams/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:35:08 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1080 <p>Issues around corporate politics are common in co-located organisations where they are generally well understood and managed, however, the issues associated with corporate politics extending beyond a single location into a virtual team are less well understood but can be equally destructive.<br /> This article discusses some of the common issues and challenges associated with corporate politics in virtual teams, the causes, impacts and some potential resolutions.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/corporate-politics-virtual-teams/">Corporate Politics in Virtual Team Organisations</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Issues around corporate politics are common in co-located organisations where they are generally well understood and managed, however, the issues associated with corporate politics extending beyond a single location into a virtual team are less well un... At the heart of most politics lies power.  The quest for power by individuals and groups and then the wielding of that power to achieve an end. In public politics, the quest for power is to achieve the ambitions of one or another group, whether for the benefit of a large or small part of the population or to pursue the ideals of some who believe those ideals will be to the greater good of the rest of the population.  Corporate politics are not that different, individuals and groups will jockey for power and authority, both actual and implied, then use that power either for personal gain or the benefit of their faction.
Home Office Politics
Each office will have its own formal and informal power structure, whether it be clerical personnel withholding access to certain key staff, senior employees supporting favourites, managers employing family members or some groups of employees discriminating against others for any number of reasons, corporate politics is always present if often hidden from view.  To be successful in an organisation it is not always necessary to directly engage in corporate politics, but it is essential to understand how things work so that you can avoid the major traps.  This understanding is usually only gained over time, through observation and experiences such as the results of upsetting one faction or another.
Once you have recognised the formal and informal power structures that contribute to and support the corporate politics in an office, working life can become easier since you will then know who to talk to outside of the formal structure to get things expedited, and equally who not to rely on.
Inter Office Corporate Politics
Corporate politics between offices are typically a result of one of a few of factors coming into play. The reward structure within the organisation may bias the way one office behaves toward another, there may be an overlap in either territory, product line or client base that leads to direct competition between offices or there may be a group in one location that believes they should have formal authority over some personnel in another location but that authority is not in place.  All of these situations will lead to direct and indirect tension and political manoeuvrings between staff in different offices, and most can be resolved by some careful management actions.
If an organisation genuinely believes in a virtual team approach, they must ensure that the reward structure and processes in the business reflect this, and that management and personnel are rewarded for their contribution to the whole organisation not simply to the interests of their own office.  It is of little benefit to the organisation to reward the performance of one office as a discreet unit if, to achieve that performance, the office compromised the efforts of another office.
Care must also be taken to manage overlap of any kind between groups and offices, and appropriate structural changes put in place. Likewise, competing teams should be evaluated and any structural changes enacted to remove or at the least alleviate the conflict. Any other forms of potentially destructive inter office rivalry should also be carefully monitored for and managed as and when it is found.
Virtual Team Corporate Politics
Most of the corporate politics experienced in traditional office structures will also occur in virtual teams, there are also some added potential issues that derive from the usually temporary nature of a virtual team. Some of the additional issues can come from issues such as time pressures to deliver work,]]>
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Surviving Culture Shock In An Expat Relocation http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-culture-shock-expat-relocation/ Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:25:38 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1108 <p>Understanding the impact of culture shock in an expat relocation, planning for the potential experiences and seeking and providing support through the process through corporate mentoring, local administrative and cultural assistance and accessing existing informal expat communities will make the experience easier for most expats.</p> <p>This article discusses some of the major issues that will be experienced during a relocation and provides a sense of the way in which the changes can be managed and understood.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-culture-shock-expat-relocation/">Surviving Culture Shock In An Expat Relocation</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the impact of culture shock in an expat relocation, planning for the potential experiences and seeking and providing support through the process through corporate mentoring, local administrative and cultural assistance and accessing exist... Culture shock can vary from relatively small, such as would be experienced by those moving to a new city in their home country while remaining with their previous employer, to extreme culture shock, where the expats move to a new company in an unfamiliar country and, where the language and prevailing culture in the host country are substantially different to their previous experience.  This extreme level of culture shock can be further exaggerated if the expat has had little previous experience of relocations, and where they have accompanying family needing to settle into the new location.
The experience of culture shock starts, for some, before the actual relocation occurs and continues at varying degrees for many months after the actual relocation.
Before The Relocation
Culture shock can start before the expat relocates as they begin to learn about the new culture and likely experience of their move.  This will typically be a mix of excitement and fear, as the various aspects of the impending move start to become real.  The excitement of the change, new experiences and new challenges will inevitably be tempered by some level of self doubt and concern over the challenges ahead.  All of these, though, will be anticipatory rather than experiential, though the way the brain manages such things can be much the same.
At The Time Of The Relocation
The days and weeks immediately surrounding the expat relocation typically carry the highest culture shock risk.  The expat and any accompanying family are leaving the comfort and security of their home and home base for a new role in a new location, with potential language, culture and business shocks that will accompany the change.  For some, this period will pass relatively smoothly, for others it can become a nightmare that will colour the rest of their expat experience and, potentially a large period of their subsequent career.
For those who experience the extreme side of culture shock, this is often the result of just how different the new location is compared to their previous experience.  To work through the required period of adjustment it is good to try to find either a work colleague or a social contact who can share their experiences, make introductions and help with the overall adjustment process.  There are also some very good social networking platforms such as internations, who give access to local expat communities where new expats can meet with new and more seasoned expats and build a support network.
Life cycle Of Culture Shock
As time passes, the nature of the experience of the expat will change.  Typically there is a period of excitement and optimism prior to the relocation, followed by a drop in excitement and a sense of fear and risk during the weeks immediately following the relocation.  This is often followed by a renewed sense of optimism and excitement as things become clear and the expat starts to see the good side of the experience.  As more time passes, things will return to a more normal sense of being settled, with only the occasional fluctuation caused by either a new and pleasant experience or a new and unpleasant experience.
Cultural Xenophobia
Cultural xenophobia is the negative side of culture shock.  In this state, an expat experiences a feeling that most of what they see, experience and are exposed to in their new location is worse than what they recall of their home life.  This sense of cultural xenophobia should normally be transient, but for some it may never pass.]]>
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Surviving An Expat Relocation http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-expat-relocation/ Tue, 04 Nov 2014 11:55:32 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1076 <p>Undertaking an expat relocation contract is an exciting and risky experience in the career of many employees. Some will thrive in the experience, emerging as a more rounded, more experienced and more valuable employee, others will find the experience traumatic and may well suffer lasting personal and career damage.</p> <p>This article attempts to highlight some of the major areas to consider when planning an expat relocation, things to include when planing for the experience and offers some guidance to help things go smoothly.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/surviving-expat-relocation/">Surviving An Expat Relocation</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Undertaking an expat relocation contract is an exciting and risky experience in the career of many employees. Some will thrive in the experience, emerging as a more rounded, more experienced and more valuable employee, Assuming that you are an established member of the organisation for which you work before your expat relocation, there are a number of things to consider before embarking on what will be a life changing experience;

* Will you be going alone or will you have accompanying family, are you going into a role you have performed previously or into a new role?
* How well do you know the personnel in your new location?
* What support network will you have, both in your original location and your destination?
* How long will your expat contract last?
* What forms of travel, financial and accommodation allowances are made in your contract?
* And finally, what happens if it all goes wrong?

Single or Accompanied Expat Relocation?
If you are single, the likely form of your expat contract will also be single status, if, however you are in a relationship, with or without children there are generally options to undertake an expat contract either single status or as a family unit.
Taking the single status expat contract as someone in a relationship is frequently the chosen option for those with high school age children, or where the partner is in a career they are unable to break without losing future opportunities.  This situation puts a lot of strain on both sides of the relationship and is one that needs careful consideration before making the commitment.  For some it works well, for others it will be a disaster, ending in separation or major contractual issues as they try to break their contract to return home.  Before making a decision either way seek out colleagues who have experience in the situation and get their guidance.
Previous Role Experience
There is little doubt that moving location in a consistent role is easier than taking a new role in a new location, however, for many expats the choice does not exist.  Many employees are relocated as part of their career development plan and, as such, will be in a new role at their new location.  Many others will be moving as part of a project progression, so moving to a new location to complete the next phase of their project.  So, for the majority of expats, the new location includes a substantially new role.
Known Or Unknown Colleagues
Taking an expat relocation where you are established in the organisation, and have had time to meet and build relationships with your colleagues in your new location, is a far less risky undertaking than one where you join the organisation and are immediately deployed to a new place of work.  I have seen a few instances where someone was hired into a company for a specific expat role, they quite literally pass through their home office, receive an induction and some plane tickets and head off to their expat posting, rarely have these postings been successful from the point of view of the organisation, though the individual’s experiences are often quite positive.
It is best, wherever possible, to have some period of establishment for the new hire, potential expat, to spend time in their office of hire before being deployed.  Taking this approach allows them time to learn the organisation and meet key individuals before they are posted.
Support Network
Having a support network in the home office can be extremely useful to the effectiveness of an expat relocation.  This network should include both formal and informal relationships,]]>
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Managing Not For Profit Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/managing-not-for-profit-virtual-teams/ Tue, 28 Oct 2014 09:50:52 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1033 <p>A not for profit organisation operating in multiple locations will face different challenges to those of a for profit organisation. Among these are their limited access to funds to pay for technology and any training they may need, the relatively low level of control the organisation has over the level of commitment and turnover of personnel and the difficulties motivating staff, who are often volunteers, to do something that may not have signed up for.</p> <p>Many not for profit organisations do however have highly motivated and enthusiastic personnel, something that many for profit businesses sadly lack.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/managing-not-for-profit-virtual-teams/">Managing Not For Profit Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> A not for profit organisation operating in multiple locations will face different challenges to those of a for profit organisation. Among these are their limited access to funds to pay for technology and any training they may need, Generally a not for profit will be either a volunteer organisation or a charity, where the income collected is used principally to forward the aims of the organisation.  This leaves little, if any money, to pay for personnel development or the employment of specialists.  These not for profit organisations are also typically staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid personnel, with most of the people drawn to the higher goals of the organisation, often without some of the skills needed to operate in distributed team environments.
Not for profit personnel are typically passionate about the organisation’s cause and will dedicate many hours of their own time to the aims of the organisation, but again their available hours are frequently dictated by the available time outside of their day job.
Technology And Skills Access
With limited funding it is often difficult for not for profit organisations to access the tools needed to operate complex virtual teams.  They must spend their resources sparingly on things they need and make do with whatever they are able to find.  This scarcity of funding often limits them to using free communication tools like Skype, rather than higher spec’d video conference facilities.  It also leaves them reliant on learning through experience rather than being able to pay for specialist training.
High Personnel Turnover in Not For Profit Virtual Teams
Coupled with the limited access to tools and training, not for profit organisations often either have a high turnover of volunteers as individual’s lives progress and their circumstances change, limiting their ability to participate, or they have stagnant pools of volunteers who may not be aware of many of the evolving ways they could become a more effective organisation.  This real or potential high turnover or stagnation of personnel means that the costs of training can be high and the returns to the organisation relatively low.
Personnel Attracted To The Cause
Additionally, many personnel in these NFP’s are attracted to the cause, and will often work for free or for little financial reward.  As such, linking the performance of personnel to any form of payment is therefore very difficult, meaning that it is not possible to manage individuals performances, select for skills or offer tailored training, as the personnel may be in roles for which they are less suited but which they are passionate about.
Building An Effective Not For Profit Virtual Team
Faced with the challenges set out above, of a workforce largely made up of volunteers with a passion for the organisation’s cause and either a high turnover or a stagnant pool of personnel, the challenge for not for profit virtual teams is how to make the best of what they have.
I would suggest there are a number of things that such an organisation can put into place that may help:

* Codify their operational processes – Producing standard documentation that sets out how things are done will help any organisation with a high turnover of personnel retain some of its ability as personnel leave and are replaced. Having manuals and practices means that the next person can pick up reasonable easily when moving into a new role.
* Put in place solid and effective succession planning – having a realistic succession plan means that the organisation is able to bring replacement personnel up to the required skill level and level of contacts before they need to assume ful...]]>
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Temporal Diversity in Virtual Teams http://ulfire.com.au/temporal-diversity-virtual-teams/ Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:32:31 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=750 <p>Understanding the concept of temporal diversity, where individuals and teams will each place a different value on time, timeliness and schedules is one of the key skills needed to successfully lead a international virtual team.<br /> When team members place widely differing values on the time available it can lead to tension and conflict in the team, This tension in turn can result in schedule issues and failure to deliver the desired outcomes.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/temporal-diversity-virtual-teams/">Temporal Diversity in Virtual Teams</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the concept of temporal diversity, where individuals and teams will each place a different value on time, timeliness and schedules is one of the key skills needed to successfully lead a international virtual team. There is however a second, more subtle, though no less critical area in which time affects the operation of a virtual team.  That is temporality or temporal diversity, the way in which each individual, with some external cultural influence, perceives and values time and timeliness.
Temporal Diversity
Temporal diversity in the context of this article refers to the ways in which individuals perceive time. Some individuals will see time as a precious commodity, something to be carefully managed and spent wisely. Others will see time as expansive and freely available, something that is less critical than, say, spontaneous commitments.
Those who see time as precious will be recognised for their punctuality at meetings, they will worry about meeting schedules and will work long hours to meet deadlines, these same people will become very conscious of the timeliness of their colleagues and will often be observed checking on the status of work being undertaken by others.  Those who see time as expansive will typically see a schedule more as a set of indicative guidelines, these individuals may be more focused on the quality of the work being undertaken rather than its timeliness, they may appear late to appointments and may not be as concerned about the perception others may have of them in this regard.
Temporal Dissonance
When the two forms of temporal diversity described above clash there can be extreme tension and conflict between the parties.  Each side of the divide will see the other as being wrong, often without recognising that it is simply a different way of seeing the world, but the clash can be destructive and cause irreparable damage to relationships and trust in organisations.
One side will feel let down by work not being complete when they believed it should, the other may not understand why there is so much pressure on time in a project where they were working hard to deliver a quality outcome.
This situation has led to the failure of many endeavours, since, once the bonds of trust are broken between offices and individuals they are extremely hard to repair, and the time it will take to make the repairs and get the project back on track will leave the budget in tatters and the project a likely failure.
Temporal Symmetry
Temporal symmetry is the condition where individuals have matching or relatively similar perceptions of time and its use, these matched individuals will find it relatively easy to relate to each others views of time and as such will generally be aligned over issues such as schedule and timeliness at calendared events like meetings.
Having a team where groups of individuals exhibit temporal symmetry but where the groups themselves are asynchronous is however also problematic, if, for example, one team places high value on timeliness and the other assigns it a lower value, there will be almost continual tension between the teams unless there is some training or instruction given as to how they should manage time issues between them.
Managing Temporal Diversity
Managing teams with high levels of temporal diversity demands a high degree of involvement from the managers of each group, a far more hands on situation than one where all of the teams are relatively synchronous in their perception of time. The managers need to be regularly checking that everyone is working to the same dates and the same quality outcomes, the managers also need to be ready to intervene to address any issues as soon as they surface since if left unaddressed even the smallest issue can quickly become a major problem.
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1061 <p>Understanding the impact of different language skills in virtual teams is a skill that must be mastered for the teams to work effectively. Language challenges can manifest in both the communications and correspondence and in the documentation requirements of any virtual team. These language challenges can be introduced through either multi national virtual teams or through standard contract languages imposed by client organisations.</p> <p>However they are received, the outcomes of getting your language planning wrong can be devastating for any project, leading to delays, rework and conflict among the team members.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-team-language-challenges/">Virtual Team Language Challenges</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the impact of different language skills in virtual teams is a skill that must be mastered for the teams to work effectively. Language challenges can manifest in both the communications and correspondence and in the documentation requirem... However, as in so many things, reality is not quite so straight forward.  Most language issues are visible in the project correspondence, whether that be written in emails and letters or spoken in meetings, but then there are the less visible ones of written documentation and the almost invisible, particularly to the less observant, or the challenges for staff for whom the chosen project language is a second or third after their native tongue, and frequently a distant second or third at that.
Language Challenges in Virtual Team Correspondence
The issues language differences bring to team correspondence are perhaps the most immediate and visible of the language challenges. Sentence structures and differences in meanings of words combined with different skill levels in even the first language for some personnel let alone a second or third language cause no end of confusion in meetings, with participants needing to repeat, restructure and expelling even some of the simplest things.  Combine these issues with some cultural differences, where many people are simply reluctant to use what second language skills they may have due to embarrassment at potential mistakes, and lack of confidence, and you have a real recipe for trouble.
Language Challenges in Project Documentation
The language challenges associated with project documentation are some of the hardest to quantify and overcome. Many projects will adopt a single common language, typically dictated by the client, and from then on all documentation will be required in that language.  This is completely understandable from the clients perspective but can cause some real challenges for the project organisation, particularly if either they work in a different language or they are operating as a virtual team where some of their offices are in countries where the project language is not the first language.
Some of the biggest issues associated with working in a different language are;

* Documentation can become very hard to understand for employees not comfortable with the different language, this can lead to substantial delays in progressing work and usually also additional rework over organisational norms as employees develop understandings of the interpreted documents.
* Employees can experience difficulty asking and responding to questions, or even knowing that they need to ask questions on occasion.  These issues can occur due to personnel not readily grasping some of the nuances of requirements when written in a language they may not be so fluent with.
* Checking and finalising of final documentation can be a much longer and protracted exercise, not only do the technical content of the document need to be correct, they also need to be expressed in the right way in the project language.

All of this can lead to frustration, delay and tension between individuals and offices during the execution of the work, with personnel from all sides struggling to integrate as easily as they would with a common language.
Overcoming Virtual Team Language Challenges
Every situation will be different, but there are a few ways that major virtual team language challenges can be managed.

* Be cognisant when establishing your virtual team of the project language and the principle language of both the home and remote office.  It may be that a remote office may have a strength in the project language that can be a real advantage in the delivery of the project.
* Always have key documents translated into all main languages and ensure that you have personnel conversant with and key delivery or performance standards required under the contract.
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What is a Virtual Team http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-team/ Tue, 07 Oct 2014 10:41:08 +0000 http://ulfire.com.au/?p=1046 <p>Understanding the different forms a virtual team can describe helps to better from a discussions about how virtual teams can be used and how to build and maintain high performing virtual teams.</p> <p>Each form of virtual team will have a different set of requirements, challenges and benefits to an organisation and each will need different skills to lead and manage it, yet for may organisations the term is used as a catch all to describe multiple different organisational structures.</p> <p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au/virtual-team/">What is a Virtual Team</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="http://ulfire.com.au">ULFIRE</a>.</p> Understanding the different forms a virtual team can describe helps to better from a discussions about how virtual teams can be used and how to build and maintain high performing virtual teams. - Each form of virtual team will have a different set of ... Despite much discussion on the subject, a single clear and concise definition of just what a virtual team is does not really exist. Some will use the term to describe any situation where one or more team member is working remotely to the balance of the workforce, others will use it only to describe specific situations such as large and complex organisational structures where teams of personnel work remote to each other. Then just to confuse matters the terms ‘work share’ and ‘distributed team’ also appear from time to time. In an earlier article I discussed the differences between virtual team and work share, and realistically distributed teams and virtual teams are interchangeable terms, both describing essentially the same form of work practice.
There are many varied understandings and concepts of a virtual team, ranging from a organisational structure where one person works remote to the rest of the team through structures where groups work remotely to one where a large number of individuals all work separate from each other.  There are also different durations of participating in the team, ranging from short term membership where one or more persons join a virtual team from a matter of a few days to those where everyone is permanently part of the distributed group.
Forms of virtual teams
With the broad possibilities of form of a virtual team it is worth considering the different structures they can take to better understand the challenges and benefits each brings.

* Individuals working remote from each other – Though less common than some of the other forms of virtual teams described below, there are many different situations where single individuals work collaboratively while not meeting face to face to perform their work. Typical among these are organisations with a representative in each city or state with responsibility for the operations or marketing, and some research structures where individuals will work in their home research organisation on collaborative projects without actually meeting to work.
* Large co-located teams with individuals working remotely – This form of team is quite common, where a technical specialist or a support person is not located with the rest of the group. The specialist may be separate because they are needed in their base location or because they are not needed as part of the main team for any number of operational reasons, typically those located remote to the team will be assigned specific tasks and a clear point of interface, will undertake their assigned work and deliver their outcomes to the main team. In many instances the remote team members may be known to some members of the core team and will have previous professional relationships with them which can make the separation easier to manage but where this is not the case, specific vigilance is important to ensure the remote team members are included in group discussions and information sharing.
* Several teams working separately from each other – This form of virtual team is found in organisations and projects where specific skills are found are available in clusters, such as several design centres working collaboratively on a project. Typically the teams will be brought together for the project with each assigned a series of tasks and an area of the project to work in.  Coordinating these teams falls to a number of key interface managers and an overall team or project manager and the teams will collaborate until one or all finish their assigned work then they will disperse.

Duration of Virtual Teams
Virtual teams can be either a short term temporary structure or a long term and permanent part of an organisation.]]> Virtual Team Dynamics - The Ulfire Podcast clean 8:07