Techniques for managing remote teams successfully

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There are a number of techniques for managing remote and multicultural teams successfully
When considering the different elements that contribute to the success of a project, team building and people management are probably the most important and, at the same time, the most difficult ones to control. As if it wasn’t already complicated enough, over the past few years, the increasingly dynamic business scenario has made it more common for managers to lead remote teams spread across different buildings, cities, countries and even continents. 

This adds even more variables – such as different time zones, languages and cultural backgrounds – that need to be taken into account when choosing a management strategy. In theory, remote teams can be a powerful means to deliver complex, cross-sector projects, but they need to be managed in an efficient and carefully conceived way.

Knowing your team
When managing geographically dispersed teams, managers need to make an even bigger effort to create a strong team culture and promote bonding among members and with the management. This is particularly important when it comes to short-term projects with tight schedules. Remote teams usually also include members from different cultural and social origins, so managers should make sure that they deeply understand the values and social differences related to the background of those from other cultures and how such factors might affect their professional performance. 

In particular, managers should be mindful of choosing the most appropriate management style and decision-making processes by respecting these differences and promoting a sense of equality and fairness. As a result, team members will not only feel integrated and valued, but also more engaged in the work they are carrying out. 

Building a team culture
Remote teams also make the creation of a shared culture particularly challenging because the members have no or very little direct contact among themselves and with the manager. This can translate into a lack of trust that usually comes from both verbal communication and unspoken language such as tone of voice, body language, posture, etc. In order to compensate for the lack of direct interaction, managers should create an open and trusting environment where team members feel comfortable to share their opinions and concerns in alternative ways. 

For this to be achieved, there must be transparency around the running of the project and the creation of a shared vision showing each member the importance and relevance of his or her work within the wider context of the project. All of the above will strengthen the bond between individuals, resulting in higher productivity, increased team morale and greater motivation.
 
Leveraging strengths 
If managed properly, remote teams – especially when they are also multicultural – can be extremely successful in delivering complex projects. This is due to the fact that they provide a wide spectrum of expertise and skills as well as specific knowledge on different markets and sectors.

Similarly, any cultural or linguistic differences might be helpful when carrying out international projects where social references and language skills are instrumental to success. In order to leverage this wealth, managers should match each team member to the most suitable role when allocating resources. 

As a result, team motivation and engagement will increase because individuals will feel that, thanks to their specialist skills, they add value to the project and, at the same time, managers will achieve a higher level of buy-in for the project objectives.
 
Overcoming barriers 
What are the tools that managers should use to overcome the issues arising in the management of remote teams and to benefit from their advantages? Technology now plays a key role in the creation of a successful communication system and a strong team culture. 

First, managers should define a clear communication strategy by identifying the most suitable means and frequency of communication. Depending on the team and the work required, a combination of emails, Skype and conference calls will be necessary to promote team bonding and to avoid team members feeling isolated. 
 
From the manager’s perspective, choosing the right communication tools will also help keep an eye on morale and performance without compromising the flexibility and independence of each member. Managers should also make sure that they address and resolve any conflicts or dissatisfactions quickly and in a consistent way so that team members feel equally treated and comfortable sharing their thoughts at all times. Project work and responsibilities should also be distributed in an equal way and project members should be provided with clear and regular feedback – both positive and negative – using the most appropriate communication means.
 
Remote teams are becoming increasingly popular. In many cases, improving their performance can only be a ‘trial and error’ process: every team is different and presents specific issues that managers often need to solve on an ad hoc basis. Applying best practices based on previous experience is already a good starting point to leverage the strengths of these teams, but the skills and expertise of the project manager are crucial to overcome the difficulties of managing these teams while making the most of their strengths. More specifically, a project manager should be an extremely good listener and communicator with the ability to understand the needs and values of individuals without interacting with them directly.

The manager must be a good motivator and be capable of creating a trusting environment where team members feel listened to and respected. As a result, the project will benefit from the team’s strengths and will not be strongly impacted by its weaknesses.

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Posted by Valentina Lorenzon on 26th May 2016

About the Author

Valentina owns her own business providing project management, consultancy and facilitation services. As an independent project manager and consultant she advises companies on strategic decisions, for example, the development of new products, markets and propositions. Valentina is experienced working with companies of all sizes across different sectors and has specialist expertise in supporting SMEs and family businesses. Valentina is a Committee Member of Women in Project Management SIG.

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