I spent much of my time with global project managers who are sometimes a bit overwhelmed juggling their daily work in addition to time zones, cultural missteps, countless communication challenges and holidays at all the wrong times.
Sometimes all they want is a quick fix, something to smooth the wrinkles in their global communication.
To me, plucking low-hanging fruit is just the ticket. Go for what is easy, accessible and fast. While the following tips do not ensure project success, they can help ease the strains of global project teams.
1. Share the pain of time zones
Always being the person or group that has the late night or 6 AM call is a drag. But people show remarkable flexibility if they can see that the pain is shared. Some groups rotate with one location taking the early morning time slot one month and the evening slot the next month.
To me, this seems obvious, but I frequently see that if one group does not have the power (an outsource partner, for instance,) it is very easy to assume they are just willing to always be the ones on the late night calls. If you are the client, they will not tell you how much they dislike it; indeed, they might even say it is OK. But it is not. Small but significant actions that show respect such as rotating the time of calls can help increase productivity and stem attrition.
2. Paris in the spring
We tend to save our holiday photos for Facebook or Flickr. Workmates may not be interested. Besides, who has the time to share them or look at them. And is it really appropriate anyway? While nothing fits everyone, I have found that an artsy photo of the Eiffel Tower that I took a couple of weeks ago makes a fine addition to a thank you email sent to someone on my project team in the Netherlands. The photo sent a bit of humanity to a virtual colleague. And who doesn’t love Paris?
I worked with a Cisco project team in Shanghai this year and asked them if they would like to receive an occasional photo from a global team member. Twenty nine out of thirty said yes! It would increase the connection with global teammates and that is one of the benefits they were looking for by working for a multinational. Twenty nine out of thirty: to me, that says it is worth the effort. And if someone doesn’t like it, well, there is always the delete button.
3. I come in peace
In any email, but especially those that span different cultures, it is easy to take offense or read bad intent where there is none. My solution: a friendly smiley face tucked somewhere into the email. If it does not fit anywhere, I often add it after my name. Why? Like a human smile, it signifies I come in peace. Does it work across cultures? Yes. Easy to do? Yes. Positive impact? Yep. So why not, I say, if you think it might help. It is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit of all!
4. Light up your brain
I used to use the time until everyone had joined a global conference call to dash off a couple emails. It felt highly efficient.
Recently while waiting for a call to begin, a colleague in Bangalore casually mentioned that he did yoga at home after the calls. My ears perked up and soon he and I were IM’ing about our latest yoga insights. Not unusual, you might think, except this was someone I had never connected with and didn’t particularly like. It was surprising how much better I thought of him after this yoga chat.
The latest work on neuroscience proves what we have always known: we like people are similar to us. Unfortunately, unless you make the extra effort to get to know someone by actively engaging in conversation, you may never know your similarities. This can actually keep you from working as effectively as possible with each other as your amygdala, the center of emotion in your brain, may never have a chance to light up when it senses commonality.
Now I am much more conscious of using little bits of “scrap time” to develop a virtual relationships. The email is still there when the call is over.
These simple ideas have worked so well for me and my colleagues. May you find them useful and easy as well. Ah, low hanging fruit: the sweetest kind.