My friend told me a story recently…
From “me” to “we”
His son, a 13 year old boy, is involved in sailing as a sport. For the majority of his youth, he used to sail alone. There came a time, where the class he was in couldn’t contain him any longer and he faced a decision — to join a team or drop sailing altogether. He went for the former. Instead of being captain and crew member in one, he got himself a partner. Soon afterwards problems appeared — it seemed his new crew member wasn’t equally involved and results began to suffer. My friend’s son made attempts to distance himself from decreasing results – he did what he could himself, and the other guy… not as much. Needless to say, turning his back on the problem, didn’t make the problem disappear. At one moment, his father had a talk with him:
“Listen, I understand you are doing your best, and it’s frustrating to see results diminish, but separating yourself from your crew won’t get you anywhere. You are your crew, the world perceives you as one. The sooner you start working as a team, embracing both the good and the not-so-good, the sooner results will follow.”
We find ourselves in increasingly multicultural work environments. It’s good when there is a mix in the physical sense, where people benefit from the variety of perspectives in person. This makes it easier to learn about each other, not to mention — from each other.
With new communication tools, there is a temptation to look for ‘the best of both worlds’ by setting up remote teams scattered among countries or continents. While this allows companies to pursue cheaper work offshore or embrace the follow-the-sun principle, this approach allows for less space to create mutual understanding and build trust based on everyday situations. There is no physical connection.
When discussing multinational remote teams the expression “necessary evil” seems to hang in the air. One country requests work to be done, the other is supposed to provide results — when you spice such expectations with cultural differences, and stress, remote teams of this kind become everything but effective. But that’s not the main problem.
Stuck with each other
I love the notion of being stuck with each other. It’s a starting point, a fixed setting. This means there is no other choice, but to learn how to build using the available means. If you lock two enemies in one room, given space and time, they might just start learning — one about the other, and based on even the smallest resemblance of trust… they might start cooperating. Of course, it would be best if these weren’t enemies, as attitude plays a role. But this is an extreme situation chosen to make a point.
In practice, trust is the key ingredient. It’s difficult to build trust without a physical connection. How to make it happen? Here are several strategies:
- Shared values — to have a common goal above all differences
- Shared cellebrations — to show there are reasons to be happy together
- Physical bridges — to respect face time for building trust by meeting in person or at least seeing each other as often as possible