In February of 2016, I started a new experience in my life. I was cast as the leader of a team (a team of two, at the time, including myself, though having grown a lot more since then…) that would work with a US company.
Almost two years have passed since and now it’s time for a new challenge. It’s also time to reevaluate the time and experiences taken from it.
First things first. For the first few months, I will try to minimize any disruption as best as I can. In the beginning, I’m all about understanding everything that’s in and around the company. How they work, who the people are, and how they get along together. Understanding how they think helps me to adjust my discourse to something that would be more familiar to them, more inline with what they’ve come to expect so far.
I’m always careful with my first interactions. I have seen many times in my life people coming along and, in attempting to be helpful, start right away trying to fix any issues that may come their way. In my view, this approach, while sometimes needed, is rarely successful. People will usually see it as a source of disruption. You won’t have a full understanding of the problems or how they came about, and how they have tried to solve them in the past.
So I start by listening. I listen to interactions, I try to understand inside jokes, understand what worries they might have ( big or small ) on a personal and professional level. I usually try to avoid making any major decisions without understand all of the problematic.
Before this, I only had the experience of working with people that mostly were beside me or at least within the same city. When presented with this challenge I immediately identified two important issues — Not sharing the same space and different timezones. I started to read a lot about remote working, and even though most of it referred to individuals rather than a team setting, the underlying principles still apply, so I could already see some issues that we were bound to face.
So how do you connect and work with people taking into account these possible issues? You communicate! You over communicate! You spend a lot of time talking to be on the same page.
Communication will also help when different cultures are in play. I spend some time understanding not only how they are as individuals, but also the cultural traces in their personalities. And whatever I didn’t understand I would ask. An expression, a feeling, some sarcastic remark, or jokes that I didn’t get… I much prefer to ask than sit there guessing.
I found a great team with awesome individuals on the client side. When we came onboard, with us being an offshore team, it is easy to start setting up a divide between people. Us and them. Them and us. Fortunately, the client is amazing and they had the same way of thinking as I did!
They gave us company emails. We had access to the same communications channels as them. We got access to staging and production servers. We got t-shirts! They treated us, and expected from us, the same as any person in their company.
No one gains from one side being treated differently. For me, the only way for this to work as best as possible is through letting the offshore team be completely integrated with the process/spirit of the client. Of course, there’s a large component of trust involved, but with this kind of attitude, they’ll gain people eager to help since they share the client goals and view them as their own.
It is important to note that this is something that needs to be addressed on both sides and is a never ending story, a continuous and ongoing effort. It can happen naturally, but you also have to create and nurture an environment where people can continue to grow and feel valued.
Sometimes you will make mistakes… I believe it’s not a matter of if but when. You will have an unexpected behaviour, or you will introduce a bug in the system. At some point in time, you will do something that’s not in the greater plan of things.
What are the next steps? Tell the truth! Admit your mistake.
Maybe they will understand, maybe they won’t. One thing is for sure though, you will grow and strengthen the bonds that everyone shares. I see no harm in making mistakes, the problem is when people don’t admit to them.
From the first day, I try to remove any dependency on us that the client might have. If I see something that might create a dependency I try to plan how to remove it. Are we the only ones with knowledge on some part of the platform? Let’s pass that knowledge on to someone on the client’s side. For some clients we’re the only source of technology on their team. When that happens we have to be extra careful and try to complement that with a better knowledge base on the tech side of things.
I do the same on a team level ( I’ve written about that subject in a different blog post ), so I apply the same principle. “Isn’t it great for business if I create dependency?” — I hear you ask. Of course it is, but that isn’t the way we work. We want people to work with us because we are great at what we do; not because they are shackled to us due to an over-reliance on what we know.
This was a great experience! The things I’ve learned from working with a different country and timezone; for a different culture, with different views, is something that has helped me to grow immensely! Sharing knowledge and views and understanding the culture was an awesome experience.
If you have any comments or feedback on this subject, I’d love to hear from you!
Nowadays I work at Runtime Revolution. One of our focus is helping startups get to the next level.