Leading virtual teams. Say what??

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If you have ever worked with virtual teams you know how challenging it may be to cooperate with someone you don’t know in person.

The thing is that you don’t know the attitude of the people working with you in such circumstances, you don’t know their faces, their mimics, etc. You have no clue whether they are nodding their heads while saying “yes” to your request/question. You don’t know how they feel about the current situation. Because many of them will never be completely honest with you, they will try to hide certain things. Whether on purpose or not.

Sounds familiar?

I have worked with virtual teams for the past few years. These were people from all around the world, coming from different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, with various stereotypes, sometimes unfounded stereotypes. Yep.

As a project manager, I had a pleasure to lead multiple teams and bring together all various personalities, be it specialists or vice presidents, from all the time zones, starting with New York, ending up in Singapore,

It wasn’t an easy task to manage virtual meetings while having so many different people on the call. What kind of difficulties one may have during such meetings, you will ask. Well, imagine one of the following scenarios:

  • You have a list of items to be agreed upon by members of your meeting, there are specific deadlines to each item, You don’t hear any objection nor disagreement during the meeting. Everyone seems pleased by the outcome. You end up the call. It seems John is unhappy with the deadline the group established. He just didn’t want to make a burden out of it during the call. But he’s telling you NOW. He won’t make it by Thursday. He’s way too busy with other stuff. Period.
  • There is this new small project to be carried out by your team and you are meeting with the folks to catch up on details. Several locations are involved. Everyone seems to understand the details but you ask if all is clear. Just in case. Then you ask again. Just in case. All clear. All perfect. Awesome… It turns out a couple of hours later that one group of people attending the meeting have no clue how to proceed. They didn’t admit there was lack of understanding while the specialist was explaining the procedure. It is not well seen in their culture. They will never openly admit they don’t know something. Like ever.

I could go on like this forever 😉 But let me keep something spicy for later… And btw, these are real life examples. Just so you know.

What do these examples show? Let me give you a metaphore:

When you go for a blind dinner (you know what I’m talking about, right?) and you don’t see the food on your plate, your other senses are being developped. You tend to use your nose and fingers more than usually. You discover a new way of experiencing food.

Working with people you normally don’t see… moreover, working with people you don’t know in person, may be treated as an analogy, IMO. You will just have to develop other soft skills.

Some good practices which worked very well (from my observation):

  • Whenever possible, go and meet the people you work with. There’s nothing better than putting the name to the face in business. Direct contact allows better communication and help building stronger relationships. I know, not always possible. Especially if your team is dispersed all around the world.
  • Use technology.
  1. Companies, such as CISCO (no, I’m not getting any benefits out of it ;)), provide excellent solutions for your virtual meetings. You will feel as if you were all sitting in the same room.
  2. The example presented above being costly, try using what’s available and for free. Solutions offered by Google, Webex or Skype (for instance) are not that bad either.(Bear in mind phone is not enough. People will appreciate more if you make a little more effort and try to connect them in an unusual way).
  • Share your desktop with the participants. Show them graphs, notes, Excel files, etc. Some people don’t hear well what is being discussed. Furthermore, if your audience is multinational and the official language in your company is English, do not assume everything will be well understood by everyone. People have different accents, intonations. Likewise, do not use jargon or colloquialisms which are less known. 
  • Once in a while check with your audience if all is clear or if anything need to be repeated/explained. Ask especially those who are very quiet.
  • Be natural but also use humour. It’s a good practice to start your call with a small talk. Get to know your participants better. I used to attend meetings where the chairman greeted everyone in their mothertongue. A very cool ice-braker.
  • Organize team building activities from time to time. It’s important to build and maintain strong relationships.
  • Never let a problem escalate to bigger extent. Act quickly. Offer your help to resolve the conflict. Don’t sweep the problems under the carpet. They will resurface sooner than you think. Bigger than you expect.
  • Use your emotional intelligence. Trust your guts but ask questions. If you feel someone agreed to the Friday deadline because they felt forced by the group, check with them if the timelines are indeed feasible. People tend to be more open when approached individually.
  • Check beforehand whether people will be attending you meeting. The same applies to their “homework”. If someone was supposed to present a report on your Wednesday meeting, ask them on Monday if they are still good to go or need any help from you. In such a way, you will ensure you’ve got all you need for your meeting and you will save up your participants’ time. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than waiting for the key note speaker or key decision maker who eventually never shows up. It’s your responsibility to make sure they are there. On time. If they are not, you should know about it and inform other participants. Think ahead, prevent that from happening.
  • Send agenda prior to the meeting. Everyone likes to know what will be discussed and whether they are indeed needed on the call. Nowadays, we are all extremely busy and try to save up time whenever possible. Respect that.
  • Take notes/minutes of the call which you will send after each meeting. People tend to forget what has been discussed/decided. Keep track of all documentation. In case of misunderstanding, you will be fully covered.
  • Always, always, always be polite in your communication. Remember that written word has a huge power. It will never be forgotten. Also, your intentions might not be read the same way you intended. Cultural or emotional aspects may impact the way people receive the message. Always greet the recipients of your messages. Ask how they are doing. These simple words completely change the way your communication is perceived.
  • Bear in mind different time zones and bank holidays in the home countries of your colleagues. It’s crucial you know if the participants are morning or evening persons. Imagine you set up a call at 8am New York time and the manager who is a decision maker hates waking up early. You lost. Forget about the posiitive outcome of your meeting. See my point?

It is important to know some basics before you start leading virtual teams , especially the ones geographically dispersed. A good workshop around cultural differences should be considered, too. If I was to give one piece of advice, I’d tell you to get to know your colleagues better. No, seriously. If you’re friendly and proactive, they will notice your good will and will have a positive attitude towards your person and your meetings. After all, it’s all about leadership, not management. Sometimes you don’t manage directly your teams so your “power” is limited and you have to use some tricks in order to be a smart leader. These good practices presented above should help you as a starting point. The rest is in your hands. Good luck! 🙂

Why networking is so damn important?

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This will be the very first of a series of posts about my favorite topic, which is networking.

We all network. Some do it better, some do it worse. With various results. Almost all of us have Facebook or Twitter account, a significant percentage of all professionals around the world also have a LinkedIn profile. But this is an online universe. Meanwhile in parallel universe…

Exactly. What about the real life networking? Do you actually realize how important networking is for your business or your professional career? Do you benefit out of it?

In order to help you answer all these questions, let me first touch base on the networking itself.

A network, as I see it, is a net of contacts one knows personally or virtually. Obviously, it is more effective and beneficial to network once you know someone from real life, when you can “put the name to the face” as we say it in corporate language.

I had a chance (and a pleasure) to work in a multinational (also virtual) environment for about 6 years so I’ll be sharing with you some examples from my own experience.

There are no doubts that networking is a great opportunity for you and there could be only benefits out of it (provided you do all the right things). Apart from the obvious reason of having multiple connections, a huge net of potential business partners, clients, colleagues or acquaintances, there is one thing you should bear in mind before you even start networking: this may change your life.

I’m not kidding. Let me give you an example.

Say you have been working for some time now in a company / corporation and you wish to advance in your career. You apply for the desired position within that organization but in another department. You have a great CV, some excellent achievements and the interview went extremely well. Now imagine there is also Michael applying for that position. And he has a very similar profile. You are both strong candidates and both look promising. Say Michael met up with a couple of folks from that department sometime back and he offered his help in preparing that difficult report the team were struggling with. He also mentioned several times that he would be interested in working on some projects carried out in their department. The manager of the department really liked Michael’s report and his proactive attitude. Although he likes you as a candidate, he already knows a bit more about Michael and his skills. Who do you think will get the job?

We hear quite often that networking is just about creating connections. Moreover, it is viewed in the negative light. I’m not denying, it might be the case in some circumstances. What you should realize though is the fact that networking is all about creating and maintaining relationships. How to do it professionally? Well, simply wait for my next post about good practices! 🙂

I’m going my way!

It is no secret that I’m planning my own business.

That’s actually one of the main reasons why I left corporation I had worked for during the past six years.

It all started in November 2012 when I accidentally popped into one of those Startup Weekend events. Wow! What an atmosphere! Frankly speaking, I had no further idea about the rules. I just knew the event was dedicated to smart people with brilliant ideas. I didn’t have any idea myself. I just went there to meet interesting people and build up my network. Ok, I mean I previously had had a lot of ideas in my mind but no plans to share them nor talk about them. In addition, usually it turned out my ideas had already been put in place by someone else! It may sound as if I was a genious, right? 😉 Well, I wish! Today more or less everyone has smart ideas. It’s not about having one. It’s actually about making it happen. It’s about creating the reality.

So I was sitting there, listening to all the 15 pitches of young entrepreneurs when I suddenly thought of something. I truly wanted to go out there, on the stage, and share the idea I’d just had. So I did it. I think my pitch wasn’t perfect. I shared what came to my mind and it seemed that the audience liked it 🙂

The weekend was great. I had an awesome team who worked hard on this project with me. I somehow wanted to win. I felt like I was already doing this for real! It was such an incredible feeling. I remember I told the guys I would quit my job if this turned out to work out (a prophecy… yeah, I know ;)). I told them that in secret but it looked like everyone I was meeting on the corridor was well aware of my “plans”. But then again, I didn’t care anymore. It only showed how much I believed in the idea and was committed to it. Right?

Nope, I didn’t officially win, although was very close to it. But you know what? Deep inside, I feel like I won. I won self-confidence. And I finally believed in myself. I received an amazing feedback over just two days which helped me understand what I was really made for. It took me a couple of months to start acting though.

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So here I am now. Four months later. Planning my own business. Believing in it. Looking into the future, full of joy and happiness. Because it’s mine, because I can design it and because I can also learn and grow. More and more. Day by day 🙂 I wish you such a personal development opportunity as well. There is nothing better than a deep dive into something big. If you want to achieve great things, think BIG.

“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs