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How to collaborate effectively for global projects and business growth

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One of the greatest benefits of the digital revolution is being able to work closely with colleagues based around the world. Effective collaboration is key to any company’s ongoing expansion; no matter how great your leadership may be, no growing business runs under one person’s steam alone. Any project will invariably be made up of different parts of the organisation coming together, and their success in working together is vital.

It’s important to know that ensuring great internal communication is essential to the growth of any business. It leads to fewer mistakes and a far better experience to those that matter the most—the customer. One study from Engage For Success revealed that effective internal communication leads to a 40 per cent increase in consumer satisfaction and a 30 per cent increase in profitability.

As the leader of a business that has a very ambitious growth strategy, having different strands of the organisation being able to work together smoothly is critical to our success. This has meant that as we’ve expanded from one office in Newcastle Upon Tyne to 18 locations spanning four continents, we’ve made global collaboration a part of our DNA.

Here are some ways to collaborate effectively on a global scale:

Involve the whole team wherever they are. It may sound obvious, but every failure I can think of boils down to poor communication. Usually that comes from the brief on a project not being clear from the outset, and as each step progresses, it’s interpreted differently and the solution ends up being far from what was initially envisaged. This can be easily avoided and can help global teams work together effectively.

When we were in our infancy, we hired a market research company to do some work for us. We paid our money, sent them away, and several months later received data that wasn’t specific enough to the various markets we operate in and was subsequently of no use to us at all. The market researchers didn’t have access to the information we specifically needed, but we hadn’t briefed them clearly enough in advance. It was the sort of mistake that a clear brief with complete communication would have prevented and we had to accept the blame on that.

Without everyone’s input, you can’t begin to put together a complete brief to work from. Once you’ve collated this information, be as detailed as possible in describing what you need. This will avoid having to change halfway through a project when it often feels too late to compromise, it also means everyone, around the world, is aware of changes and can accommodate their work in advance.

Maintaining a positive approach will go a long way. It’s challenging to work as a team when so little of your day overlaps when collaborating globally.  When our UK employees are dealing with colleagues in New York we know that approximately four hours of the day involves them being able to communicate in real-time. Although this seems like a disadvantage, you can use it to your benefit and perhaps schedule conference calls for that small window which gives the day a focus and enforces deadlines when it comes to working together.

We regularly have colleagues spread across offices in three or four different continents working together on projects successfully. When you approach it as a positive it’s definitely a strength that your organisation can possess. In my experience, there’s no other way to run a business or project globally. If we want to trade in a new country, we make sure we hire people from the local area since they know and understand the culture and it makes you a stronger organisation.

By the same token, while you may be buying into their local knowledge, it’s important that your hires around the world also buy into your company culture. Make sure that no matter where you are on the planet, it feels like home. I regularly travel between our offices around the globe—it feels different leaving the rain of our London office to the sunshine of San Francisco, but once you’re through the front door, it feels the same inside. Encouraging and enabling better communication helps foster this atmosphere.

If team members are based remotely around the world, ensure they have as many ways to contact each other as possible. Tone can easily be overlooked via email, so allowing opportunities for regular conference calls, international visits or Skype video meetings can help ensure more harmonious relationships between each other.

Email has proven to be the most common way of ideas getting lost during the process, despite being the easiest way for teams to communicate. It doesn’t take much for someone to open the wrong email or attachment and suddenly the entire project is out of sync and getting things back on track can be a real headache. It’s one of the main reasons why having a system designed for project work is the only way to do it, especially on a global scale with out of sync work hours.

Having digital options that allow you to communicate with each other is important, but it is essential to have software that hosts work and helps everyone involved to track the different stages of a project. Platforms such as Basecamp will let people in different locations talk to each other at different times, and share files to emphasise a collaborative approach to your work. It’s a critical investment. When work and responsibilities are clearly assigned and tracked through each phase of a project, the risk of anyone making assumptions about their tasks can be avoided.

When it comes to helping your project grow into new locations, you want people on the ground around the world. The advantages this brings are enormous; being digital allows you to communicate instantaneously around the world, but there’s no substitute for being truly and physically global.

In turn, it means that you need to make genuine efforts to ensure better internal communication between your team around the world, as well as to supply the tools and opportunities to enable them to collaborate. Doing this will make your output more efficient, which is an essential part of any expansion.

You can learn more about communication in chapter three of the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition.

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