The Global Enterprise: Working on teams

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 31

There are a lot of us working on teams and many teams are not physically close to each other. You might think you’re doing OK, but how’d you like to work on this team for IBM:

“Consider Lotus Symphony, a package of PC software applications. Work on a new version of Symphony started last July. Teams in Beijing; Austin, Tex.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Boeblingen, Germany, are all contributing.”

Now start to figure out how you can keep the project you are working on consistently on track with all the people working on all the right things at the right time. Not to mention communicating with people in each of these different countries. Not to mention working on multiple projects with workers in even more countries.

As companies move closer to a “global enterprise” approach to operations, this type of team will become more common — and the job skills needed to function on this team will be different then what we have now.

Consider the following changes in skills:

  • Communicating over an expanded set of time zones. Coordinating team work is significantly harder over multiple time zones. Three hours in the United States, for example from the Eastern to Pacific Time Zones, is hard. But try the same work with twelve time zones and calculate meeting times.
  • The need to absolutely clarify next actions and accountability. It is difficult enough to know and follow through with people on what is being done locally; imagine the disconnects when one team member in China thinks another is working on a task to completion and the person in Singapore thinks the person in China is doing the work — and the manager is in Ireland coordinating the work.
  • Develop relationships and trust with people you never see, only communicate via voice and electronic means. It is very easy for voice only communication — especially if the primary language is secondary for the participants — to have interpretations, inflections, and meanings be incorrect. And e-mail? We all know writing, including what is written here, can have a multitude of interpretations.
  • Meetings will need to be reduced. One simply cannot have a team meeting with team members across the planet. Of course, it was suggested to me that workers will need to develop the skill to sleep one and a half to three hours at a time — day and night — in order to maintain the meetings now done with all the different time zones of people on the team. I’m hoping that won’t be expected.
  • Emergency procedures will need to be changed. If things go to hell in a hand basket, how do you get the entire team on the same page and provide all the next actions and accountabilities? While you may not need to sleep only an hour and a half at a time, the need for “being on” 7 x 24 will increase with poor management of the work.

When companies move functional operations to specific cities across the continents with team members spread out across the globe, the team dynamics will change. How are you working with team members across the globe today?

  • […] The Global Enterprise: Working on teams. This post describes how IBM, a global enterprise, uses teams – it is about the new set of job skills a knowledge worker needs to operate effectively on global teams. […]

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