It’s been said that the eight most frightening words in international business are “I’m from head office, I’m here to help”. The fear that an impending visit from head office can invoke in some support offices, coupled with the desire of those running the sub offices to make sure everything is just right for the visitors, can mean that the events feel more like a combination of a stage managed visit by royalty and an inquisition, than a business trip that should at least in part be aimed at building relationships. If they are run this way neither party will get anything close to what they want from the visit. So, here are a few tips for visiting virtual team offices.
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.
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 they will be expecting their visitors attend and to mingle. It can be tempting on these trips to decline offers of such events due to fatigue, fear of fitting in or simply not understanding the local customs, but I would definitely recommend that you try to attend as much as possible and to do as far as you can, what the locals do.
This may be an evening at a karaoke bar in Asia, a barbecue in South America or South Africa or a evening in a pub in the UK, wherever and whatever it is, treat it as a way to learn more about your partners and to build stronger working relationships. However, be careful how you conduct yourself, it is an opportunity to meet and build relationships but also to put budding relationships at risk. In some cultures it may be acceptable or even expected that you will really let your hair down, in others they will expect you to be very reserved and careful, if in doubt, ask a trusted colleague for advice.
Stay an Extra Day (or More)
There can be intense time pressures to spend as little time as possible on the visit and just keep it to business, but, at the risk of sounding like a holiday brochure, stay an extra day or two if you can manage it. Take some extra time to get to know your colleagues, take some informal “get to know you” meetings and even get out and see the local area if time allows. The investment of a small amount of additional time will help build a stronger relationship between your offices and your teams, one that may prove to be very valuable and important at some future stage.
Additionally, taking a little extra time in your visit may allow you to have a more healthy trip, it can help with time zone adjustment and allow you to be more rested for the whole of your visit and for your return home.
How Can We Help
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations 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 assist your business.
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