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[In english] 3 tips to create successful virtual teams

My article on Digital-me-up.com


Do you know what « Nemawashi » means? It’s a Japanese word which defines a first meeting organized to gather support and feedback from the audience before an official meeting.
What’s the use? In Japan, people are looking for the consent of all sides (not the majority!). Moreover, executives don’t like to hear new proposals during a meeting, they feel like they have been ignored or rejected. It’s a key fact when working with Japanese teams, and not knowing this can easily lead to failure.

I learnt this small example during a course from Véronique Rostas few months ago, about building virtual intercultural teams. This course really made me understand that yes, cultural differences are fierce. And in the digital age, we all will have to work with people from different countries, people we certainly never met face to face for most of them.

Different perspectives, beliefs, values, cultures… So how can we be sure to really understand each other? How can we make our team effective?
Here are the key facts I keep in mind from this course:

  • 1/ Find a common purpose for your team
common purpose

You have a team and you’re already beginning to work? Good, but does everybody know what’s the purpose of the mission? In order to overcome the challenges of the project, you have to develop a shared strategy of how the team will work together. Create a common and unique framework, based on 3 pillars:

  • A crystal clear chart, with team’s objectives, tasks and responsibilities.
  • Define composition for each member: which role? Who has leadership? Who is the sponsor of the mission?
  • Build great processes too: How decisions are made? How do we ensure good communication to cultivate trust? Do we reward team performance?

You will perhaps loose some hours at first, but especially with virtual teams, you have to start slowly to end faster.

  • 2/ Monochronic or polychronic cultures?

Your virtual team is certainly composed of people from different cultures. Knowing if people are more monochronic or polychronic will help you a lot.

Monochronic are…cultures where you have to meet deadlines, where agendas are respected, and globally, only 1 person speaks at a time.

Polychronic are…cultures where deadlines are more considered as guidelines to follow, where you can add new topics to the agendas, and globally where several people can speak at the same time, without bothering the audience.

Of course, we as French are more of a polychronic culture. And UK (to name only one) are more monochronic.

Another easy tool to really understand cultural differences between people is « Trompenaar’s 7 dimensions », named after the management consultant Fons Trompenaars. It is a really amazing framework, helping us to rank cultures and background in 7 simple dimensions.

This model will allow us to distinguish for example the « I am the captain of my destiny » type of guy, from the « what will be will be » other type of guy. You certainly have examples like this around you. Feel free to learn more about Trompenaar’s 7 dimensions.

  • 3/ Using the right tools
the right tools

We have a lot of digital tools to communicate with people: email, chat, phone, conference calls, skype, IM, Yammer, etc. But on the other hand, we often use the same few tools on a daily basis. It’s working? So let’s use it again and again!
An important fact about digital teams seems to be adapting the tools you use, to the level of decision you are trying to reach. For example, high level decisions will need rich media tools, like Skype. But on routine tasks, emails will surely be enough. Use different tools, it’s not a problem. The more you will encourage cooperation, the less you will create conflicts.

Even if you are not working in a big international firm, intercultural teams are everywhere. In the real world of course, and in the digital world on a daily basis. So let’s build this little framework each time to merge the best of individual’s ideas…and diverse perspectives.