Last week I posted an article titled “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, celebrate the good things as a global group, have a “virtual party” with all of the project teams in all of the locations rejoicing.
- Mourn the bad times together, sharing bad times in a project can be as powerful as sharing the good times, you will all learn from the problems together.
- Its not all about work, take a little time to get to know your virtual team mates, you may never meet face to face but that does not mean you can’t share aspects of your lives with one another.
With a little bit of hard work, some reflection and mutual forgiveness you can learn a great deal on a virtual team project, learn about your colleagues, the skills needed to be effective in the virtual teams environment and, perhaps most importantly, learn a lot about yourself.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences with jumping in at the deep end with a virtual team you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish 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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