I am an Organizational Development professional based in Bangalore, India. I blog about my learning from my past experience in the corporate world and some reflections coming out of discussions I engage in with some of my friends, colleagues, clients and participants from around the world.
- 5 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Bury Instructor Led Training Yet December 12, 2013
- To Be or Not to Be…Reachable December 9, 2013
- The Single Most Important Thing HR Must Get Right November 21, 2013
- Assertiveness continued – Saying NO October 31, 2013
- Assertiveness Across Cultures October 8, 2013
- @WSOP where can i find streams of past 2017 events and live ME stream? #wsop2017 #WSOPMainEvent @JasonSomerville 5 months ago
- @Stapes @J_Hartigan you guys making à PSC stop in Geneva anytime soon? 6 months ago
- @Clt_VoyagesSncf Y a-t-il un pb avec les site #SNCF? je n'arrive ni a annuler un billet, ni a en reserver un autre.. 6 months ago
What this blog is about
- culture shock
- Deccan Herald
- difficult conversations
- France Inter
- golden rule
- Interpersonal Effectiveness
- Leadership Development
- Learning and Development
- organizational culture
- personal brand
- Saying no
- social media
- Team work
- time management
- training effectiveness
- Virtual Classroom
- Working across cultures
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Leadership development cannot only be done through classroom training. This reality has now been accepted by most Indian organizations when they think about developing their leadership pipeline.
As a result, most organizations are now looking at creating leadership incubators to impart the required leadership and management skills in their high potential employees but also to put them in situation to assess their ability to apply learning and to lead others. We call these leadership incubators or greenhouse programs.
Different organizations have different ways of conducting these incubators but some commonalities are present in most of them. Incubators are usually conducted over a few months and include, in respect with the 70-20-10 guideline, learning modules, on the job coaching and action learning group working on real life business problem statements with a pitch to senior management as a conclusion to the entire leadership development initiative.
Action learning has been on L&D lips for a long time but was, at least or some organizations, limited to peer discussions on personal action plans. This is probably the most important change to leadership development training in the last few years. Today, organizations expect participants to be able to provide solutions to real business problems and are sometimes ready to fund these. Groups of 5 to 10 participants are given a problem statement by senior management and are expected to present their solution to the CxO suite by the end of the incubation period. The advantage for organizations is certain: they can observe the how each participant behaves during the incubation period, how motivated they are by the challenge thrown at them, especially since this needs to be done over their normal workload, and also get cross-functional groups of managers to work and provide solutions to different problems the business is facing at the time.
In order to enable on the job coaching, organizations have started investing in training senior management in coaching skills so that they can effectively support participants that are engaged in leadership incubator programs Often, each action learning group is assigned one senior manager to coach them in their project work and eventually help open doors internally for them to access relevant information and/or people. Building coaching skills in senior managers also enables them to follow up on the use of psychometric tools. Until recently, usage of psychometrics was mostly limited to a self-awareness exercise in the classroom was not really build on after the learning events were completed. Training senior managers in in becoming coaches also allows psychometrics to become the basis for future coaching when learners get back on the floor. This makes these psychometrics a lot more impactful as they become a kind of silver-lining to future development discussions.
Overall, leadership incubators are an effective way to assess how participants apply learning that classroom training alone might not allow, their potential to lead others and provides solutions to real business problems. For participants, it is a more engaging way to develop critical skills that they will need as they grow in the organization but also a sign that their leadership trusts them to solve mission-critical problems.
The sequence of events that usually unfolds is –
We receive the training need from operations
We ask a few basic questions to understand the specific problem
We rush of to design and then deliver the training program
Once the program is done we don’t really know if we were effective since we didn’t know what the actual issue was to begin with.
In other words we end up shooting in the dark.
In order to make sure that we know we have done an effective job every single time we conduct a training program, it is necessary to have a detailed dialogue with the operations team and understand their requirements.
To evaluate Level 3 behaviors, it’s necessary to begin with the end in mind. Probe to find out the one or two key behaviors that the stakeholders would like to see change. For e.g. Critical Behaviors for a presentation skills program may be ‘The participants can manage time during the presentation’ ‘The participants can handle questions while staying within the framework of the topic’
It is important to restrict the number of critical behaviors to a maximum of 3 per program. Too many critical behaviors will dilute the focus and participants will be unable to concentrate.
We should also ensure that there is a support system in place to aid the participants in demonstrating the critical behaviors on an on-going basis. In the presentation skills example, one of the supporting measures would be organizing practice presentations where the participants are observed and given feedback. This post training support should also be a part of training design.
With predefined critical behaviors and a robust support system in place, we as learning partners can ensure that the training we provide is effective and can be evaluated up to Level 3.
Preethi Rao is the training effectiveness specialist for C2C Consulting & Training Pvt Ltd, the only official affiliate of (The One and Only) Kirkpatrick Partners in India, She uses her 15 years of experience in L&D to enable her clients to assess the effectiveness of their training initiatives. You can reach our to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
“How can you assure us that every participant will be engaged in your workshop?” was asking a client recently. “I can’t assure you of that, I am afraid. My role is to create the conditions for each style of learner to feel comfortable in engaging, but at the end of the day it also depends on the willingness of each of them.” was my answer.
Learner engagement is critical to successful training but who is responsible for it? The facilitator, the learner HR, the business? In my opinion, it is everyone’s responsibility.
The facilitator’s responsibility is to ensure that content is relevant to the audience, the facilitation techniques are varied enough to create a certain rhythm to the session, the mix between activities, debriefs, facilitated discussions and content download is balanced in a way that satisfy all learning styles and to create a compelling story that links back to the business environment learners evolve in. This is why conducting a detailed training need analysis, through focus groups with HR and the business is critical. This can help the facilitator in understanding the specific requirements of the business, the level of content required and the outcome expected by the business, as well as gathering enough organization specific examples that can be used in the session.
The learner’s responsibility, apart from showing up, is to figure out why they are attending a training program. Whether they have been nominated by their management or have nominated themselves, each participant needs to know why it is they want to get from the program and how it is going to help them achieve their aspiration, whether professional or not. If nominated by their management, participants can have a quick discussion with their supervisor to better understand how the program fits into his/her own professional development plan and also discuss tangible expected outcomes.
HR, or the L&D Department’s, responsibility is to make sure the right participants are nominated for the right learning event, that each of them know the “why” behind the nomination and to provide with a conducive learning environment. In order for nominations to be relevant, training program nominations must be linked to competency mapping and assessment center results. This ensures that employees are not “shipped” to any blanket skill building program that they might, or might not, really need. Context setting, by email or as an introduction to the program, is also key in framing the program within the larger organizational scenario and allows participant to create a ‘line of sight’ between their developmental aspirations and the requirements of the business. As for the environment, most companies have now understood that putting 25 learners in a board room that can fit 15 people, doesn’t work. a conducive environment is one that limits the amount of potential interruptions, provides enough space for activities and facilitated discussions and is comfortable enough to enable learners to focus.
Operations very often think that training is not their responsibility. They couldn’t be more wrong. Learner engagement starts and finishes on the floor through discussions between potential learners and their supervisors and with on-the-job support to apply learning.. Ideally, learners, when nominated, should approach their management to get clarity on the purpose of the nomination but it is the management’s responsibility to make sure this discussion happens. The role of the manager is also to provide clarity of context and objectives to employees they send for training. This, once again, allows to create the ‘line of sight’ that adults need in order to engage in learning. The other responsibility of the business, is to ensure that they provide the right conditions for learners to feel comfortable in applying whatever they learned in their training program, especially when talking about behavioral training. Training programs are only a short event for learners to take the time to reflect on what, and how, they are doing, and learn new skills. Even if the program includes skill practice sessions, this needs to be sustained when they get back to work. The only people that can create the right conditions for this to happen is the business itself.
According to my experience, if everyone works together to create these conditions, we will all maximize the chance to create an engaging learning environment for a maximum of learners.
The single most difficult thing that most expats living and working in India have shared with me, is the difficulty to adapt to the (in)famous Indian Stretchable Time..and that’s normal.
There are 2 major ways of perceiving time: the linear one and the circular one. According to me, no one is better than the other, they are just very different can sometimes have a hard time collaborating. As you can see in the video, I had to learn this lesson too.
I will not get into the details of the theory in this blog but you can click on the hyperlink for more details. However, some context can help understand where this difference in perception comes from.
In linear cultures, time is a precious commodity with a clear beginning and a definite end. This means that time is finite and has a clear sense of direction. As a rule, these are cultures where time is rare and so there is a premium in being able to do a maximum amount of things in a minimum amount of time. If we look back in Time, this is probably due to the rhythm of seasons in temperate zones where sowing had to be done at a very specific time of the year to make sure farmers could harvest before the winter sets in.
In circular time cultures, and India is an excellent example, time is represented as an infinite cycle with no beginning and no end. As a result, time has no, or very little, intrinsic value. The consequence of this is that instead of focusing on WHAT needs to be done first, people from circular time cultures usually look at WHO they need to execute the task for or with. This is apparently more common in countries close to the equator where farmers could, more or less, sow at any time of the year as the soil never froze.
Another aspect of this difference in time perception is how we look at multitasking. In my decade of working across cultures, I have asked many different professionals how they define professionalism. In India, multitasking comes up almost every time. The Indian workplace, whether corporate or not, puts a huge premium on being able to work on many things at once. To a lot of expats I have met, this seems counter-productive, as they see the ability to prioritize as necessary to break down an important list of tasks. Once again, I am not saying that one way of doing is better than the other, they are just different.
Does this mean, as we often hear, that Indians are always late? No it doesn’t. It just means that most Indians manage their time in a relationship oriented way rather than a task driven one.
So what can expats do to make the most out of this difference? Clarify expectations and build strong relationships
1. Clarifying expectations. This is an old chestnut tree by now but this remains crucial to being able to work effectively with diverse people. the sooner you let others know how you operate and why, the easier it will be for them to adapt to these expectations. This can only help but when dealing with something as ingrained in the culture as time, you will also need to build your half of the bridge between you and others.
2. Build strong relationships. A lot of Indians I have met at work, or elsewhere, work in concentric circles. The closer one is to the center, the more Indians will be dedicated. As an expat, we often start at the outer rim of these concentric circles. People don’t know us personally and our differences are visible, which means that we fall pretty low on the priority list (except when received as a guest, of course). To move inwards, expats need be seen as approachable, flexible in his/her work habits, adaptable to certain Indian ways of working and, sometimes, also take the time to get to know the individuals on a personal level.
When people say that India teaches you patience, they are not joking. Expats’ ability to understand this different perception of time and its consequences are key to sustainable success in India.
It can be tough being a trailing spouse – the term is not mine – in India: not allowed to work, spouse and children gone all day, long distances and traffic jams. culture shock usually hits them in a much stronger way than it does their spouse or children as they, generally, have very little social interaction. Depression is not rare as life as an expat wife can be perceived as a 3 year sentence in a golden cage. Once again, this does not have to be a fatality. I know I am not a trailing spouse myself, but I have interacted with many of them in my different relocation training assignments and the tips below are taken directly from discussions I’ve had with trailing spouses that were getting ready to leave the country.
1. Volunteering. There are thousands of Indian and international NGOs that would be delighted to avail of the professional skills that trailing spouses could bring. Since most expat spouses don’t really need the income but want to feel useful and productive, this is a great option. Teaching, administration, project management and fund-raising are skills that all NGOs need and they would be happy to have people with professional skills on board…especially if they don’t have to pay them (trailing spouses are not allowed to earn any income with their X Visa). This doesn’t only keep spouses busy when their partners are at work and their children to school but it is also a great way to get to know another aspect of Indian society to which most expats never get exposed…and you definitely feel a better person at the end of a day out teaching English to under-privileged kids.
2. Going back to school. This is probably the best, if not the only, time spouses will have to finish their studies or study something new. Taking a 3/4/5 year hiatus from work will usually makes it harder for trailing spouses to find a new job when going back to their home country. Studying can be a good way to improve your profile by learning a new subject or taking the time to write that thesis that they never had time to do before they started to work. Spouses would need a special Student Visa to study in an Indian college or university. This is relatively easy to get if you register with an Indian institution. They can also register with an institution in their home country and do their research and writing from India.
3. Participating in community life. Most neighborhoods in major cities have Resident Welfare Associations who work with the local authorities to enhance the quality of life for their community. Taking part in these is a great way to meet new people but also to get involved in something meaningful.There are also plenty of Cricket Moms (the Indian equivalent of the Soccer Moms) to meet and/or expatriate networking groups
4. Exploring one of the most fascinating culture in the world. India is probably the most culturally diverse country in the world. Traditional dance forms, architecture, singing, cuisine, cinema, performing arts…all of them have unique regional, religious and linguistic flavors which makes sure that a lifetime will never be enough to explore it all.
Following a spouse in his/her expatriation does not have to mean that their partners have to put their lives on hold for so many years. They have an opportunity that the working expats do not have: exploring India, its diversity, its paradoxes, its culture and its people. I sometimes wish i could be an expat husband to do all this…
Welcome to India? Challenges faced by international Learning and Development providers that want to enter the Indian market
India is probably the most dynamic market, with China, for Learning and Development and every single global provider wants a piece of it. What they often fail to realize is that the Indian L&D market is a challenging one to enter from abroad. Yes the numbers are huge, yes the need is there but that doesn’t mean automatic success. The three main challenges that these global service providers need to overcome to ensure success in India are low prices, the time to build business relationships with potential clients, the localization of their content and delivery methods and finding the right trainers
1. Price. Corporate India’s training needs are huge. Many multinationals conduct hundreds of days of training to up-skill their employees and get them ready for more responsibilities or to allow their organization to go up the product or service value chain. This might be seen as a blessing for global providers but because the volumes are huge, salaries still relatively low – for western standards – and there are thousands of freelance trainers on the market, India’s training prices are some of the lowest in the world. On top of that, most project commercials will have to be negotiated with the procurement department whose first criteria is price, not quality. For service providers that are used to billing at western rates in order to cover their overheads, pay their consultants and make their margin, this can be difficult tightrope to walk, not to mention hard sell to justify even a billing of 2000$/day when some consultants sell their services for as low as 200$/day. On a brighter note, this is changing. Buyers, especially HR, are more quality conscious and have a growing influence on procurement too, but it will still take a lot of time for most large companies to move from cost based pricing to a quality based one.
2. Relationship building. This is what allows service providers to also go up the value chain with their clients. Most Indian service providers get a foot in the door by accepting relatively low paying training calendar events and, the good ones, then work their way up through effective client engagement skills. The quality of the engagement with HR and business stakeholders is what makes the difference, but that is almost impossible to do without being on the ground and spending considerable time building a network with local decision makers. Relationship building takes a lot of time but really pays out in the long run and that is a challenge that is extremely difficult to overcome when sitting in Sydney, London or Chicago.
3. Localization. the majority of Indian training buyers are extremely sensitive to the localization, or lack of, of the training content. The idea is the Indian work culture is different from the rest of the world and that requires training content to be customized to engage Indian learners and build skills in a way that they will be able to apply in their environment. This makes”off the shelf” programs, except the most famous ones like Coveys’ 7 Habits, very hard to sell. Especially if their owners are reluctant to adapt their price point (see above point on price). Content is not the only thing that buyers expect to be localized, most of them also want delivery methodology to be adapted to the Indian learners. Indian buyers sometimes assume that ‘western’ training techniques like pure process facilitation or coaching don’t work in India. Personally, I am not convinced that this is always true but it can be one more hurdle for international providers to overcome. This can of course be overcome if they use local resources to do their delivery.
4. Consultants. A simple look at LinkedIn and you will find tens of Indian trainer groups. Unlike China, India has tens of thousands of trainers that can deliver on every topic possible. The problem is finding the right ones. Training is still often seen as an amateur sport: “If you speak good English you can be a trainer”. Once again, this is changing fast as buyers are getting more quality conscious and independents consultants are realizing that training and facilitating are professions that require specific skills and not just the ability to speak in public. However, it remains a real challenge finding good trainers/facilitators/coaches. Recruitment has always been about finding a needle in a hay stack, the thing with India is that the hay stack is larger than anywhere else. The good news is that there are also probably more needles to find than anywhere else. However, it is difficult for providers that are not on the ground to invest the time required to source potential candidates, assess them, co-facilitate with them before trusting consultants to represent their brand.
Despite the challenges, a lot of the international players like DDI, Vantage Partners, Korn Ferry, Dale Carnegie, De Baak, LIW, TMAWorld and others are present , and successful for some of them, in India but all of them had to revise their business models to succeed. Whether it is lowering their price points, licensing their content to local players to create brand awareness, create delivery partnerships or joint ventures with local providers or even creating a new brand specifically for India. There are plenty of ways for global L&D service providers to succeed, if they take the time to understand the unique requirements of the Indian market and if they are ready to be flexible with their business model.
When I first started coaching, mostly European and American, expats, my biggest surprise was the common challenge that they had in making friends with Indians. This was a surprise to me as I had never met this particular challenge. After thinking about it, I realized why so many of them were facing what I never had to.
What I had forgotten is that, most expats come at a stage in their life where they are already settled. They have a family, a set of friends, a settled job…and that makes it harder for them to meet new people. I was lucky enough to land in Bangalore when I was a 23 year old student. In order to make friends, I went to what seemed, and proved to be, the best bar in town, sat at the counter and started chatting with the guys next to me. Easy to do when you are a 23 year old student but much more difficult when you are a 45 year old senior executive that works late hours and has a family to go back to at the end of the day.
I realized is that most interactions that expats have with Indians are work related. They work with Indian colleagues and employ Indian domestic help like maids and drivers. Because of the inherent hierarchical aspect of these relationships, it makes it difficult for them to enter a more informal, genuine relationship. However, this is not a fatality. Here’s a few things that I suggest for those who would like to make Indian friends,
1. Avoid the ‘expat enclaves’. Major Indian cities all have very high-end gated communities where most expats live. Most people say that these enclaves are “not really India”. I disagree with that statement. They are very much an integral part of the country’s landscape as more and more Indians aspire to living in them, but there are just not representative of what Indian city life looks like. These enclaves are copied on American gated suburban communities and have all the amenities for their tenants not to have to go outside at all. There are clear advantages to living in these communities as their are often free from a lot of the hassles from living in the city: permanent power supply, a fully equipped clubhouse, relative silence, danger free roads, proximity to the international schools…and other expats. I understand, and appreciate, why most expats feel more comfortable living in these communities, but the reverse side of the coin is that this gives them very little opportunity to take part in every day Indian social life. Living in town usually doesn’t have all these advantages but it allows a family to experiment every day life in an India city: making friends at the local park with your children’s friends parents, be invited for Biryiani on Eid by your Muslim neighbors, attend sports/dance/yoga classes with people from your neighborhood, etc.
2. Join a local association. Whatever your hobbies are, you can find local groups in major Indian cities. These are a great way to meet people that you know will share some common interest with you. Whether the Hash House Harrier, the local toastmaster’s club, the biking club, the golf club, the poker club, the rock climbing club, even your local resident welfare association. Joining these local clubs allow expats to meet Indians that they do not work with and does away with the hierarchical aspect of the relationship. Moreover, these local clubs are usually extremely happy to accept foreign members.
3. If possible, put your children in a local school. I know this is very difficult when children are already a certain age and that they need consistency in curriculum if they want to be able to join their home schooling system when they get back to their home country. However, it should be a lot easier for younger children. there are a lot of very good kindergarten and primary schools in India. Putting younger children in local schools allows them to experience a social environment that they might not find in international schools, probably learn some elements of the local language (even in English medium schools) and give expat parents an opportunity to meet the children’s friends parents too.
Living in an ‘expat bubble’ in India does not have to be a fatality, if you don’t want to. I realize that the suggestions I make above might not be easy to implement for everyone. These are just things that I can think about, I am sure there are plenty more. Feel free to add any of your suggestions in the comments below.
I am a firm believer that activities alone are not enough for most training participants to extract meaningful learning that they can then apply to the real world. In my view, activities are are just an excuse for a good debriefing discussion, not the other way around. This is why when our clients ask us whether their participants will play games, my answer is always “No, but they will participate in experiential activities from which they will be able to extract learning.”
Phase 1: How Do You Feel?
This phase gives the participants an opportunity to get strong feelings and emotion off their chest. It makes it easier for them to be more objective during the later phases.
Begin this phase with a broad question that invites the participants to get in touch with their feelings about the activity and its outcomes. Encourage them to share these feelings, listening actively to one another in a nonjudgmental fashion.
Phase 2: What Happened?
In this phase, collect data about what happened during the activity. Encourage the participants to compare and contrast their recollections and to draw general conclusions during the next phase.
Begin this phase with a broad question that asks the participants to recall important events from the training activity. Create and post a chronological list of events. Ask questions about specific events.
Phase 3: What Did You Learn?
In this phase, encourage the participants to generate and test different hypotheses. Ask the participants to come up with principles based on the activity and discuss them.
Begin this phase by presenting a principle and asking the participants for data that supports or rejects it. Then invite the participants to offer other principles based on their experiences.
Phase 4: How Does This Relate To The Real World?
In this phase, discuss the relevance of the activity to the participants’ real-world experiences.
Begin with a broad question about the relationship between the experiential learning activity and events in the workplace. Suggest that the activity is a metaphor and ask participants to offer real-world analogies.
Phase 5: What If?
In this phase, encourage the participants to apply their insights to new contexts. Use alternative scenarios to speculate on how people’s behaviors would change.
Begin this phase with a change scenario and ask the participants to speculate on how it would have affected the process and the outcomes of the activity. Then invite the participants to offer their own scenarios and discuss them.
Phase 6: What Next?
In this phase, ask the participants to undertake action planning. Ask them to apply their insights from the experiential activity to the real world.
Begin this phase by asking the participants to suggest strategies for use in future rounds of the activity. Then ask the participants how they will change their real-world behavior as a result of the insights gained from the activity.
Honestly, anyone with decent presentation skills and a bit of common sense can conduct a training program, and give participants a good time but that has never made it a relevant learning experience. Professional trainers focus on the discussions that they facilitate for learners to extract their own learning, and that is a skill that needs to be developed over time.
As globalization increases and technology improves, team work is becoming more virtual by the day. Creating high performance teams in the same office is already a challenge but creating high performance virtual teams is just that much tougher. However, isolation, confusion and fragmentation are not a fatality. Each of these 3 challenges can be overcome. Below are 7 tips to promote engagement and limit isolation in virtual teams.
- Treat your virtual team like a sports team: name, motto, visual identity, branded merchandising. This can only help in creating a sense of belongingness (not sure about this word but my colleague Shilpa, our very own grammar nazi, approved it).
- Get people to know more about each other: joint festival celebrations with pictures and rewards, SharePoint/wiki with a profile (both professional and personal) of each team member with job description or RACI, psychometric profiles if they exist and people are willing to share them. You can also create a team specific group on a social media platform and share regular official and mundane status updates to know what people are up to. I remember working with a team that was operating between California, Bangalore and Shanghai. In order to plan their project, they’d created a list of public holidays in each of the 3 geographies. After a few months they’d started a decoration competition for the most typical festival in each of these: Thanksgiving, Diwali and Chinese New Year. What they’ decided was that everyone, wherever in the world would decorate their workstation around the theme of the festival, they would take pictures of each of them, post them on SharePoint and have everyone vote for their favourite one. This simple activity allowed the different components of the team to learn about some aspect of each other’s culture and created a fun activity in which everyone was involved.
- When possible, use HD video conferencing technology like TelePresence (TP) or Halo. These are technologies where you see and hear everyone in the room at same time- full size and high definition. Much more effective than traditional video conferencing technology where the camera focuses on the person speaking but we don’t see anyone else, or they are all crowded in the frame. TP is the richest medium for virtual communication: it is like a face to face meeting without the possibility of physical contact. This also means that we can use TP for more informal meetings. A few years ago, I was working with a virtual R&D team that was working for between the West Coast of the U.S and India. The team was plagued by a lack of cohesion between the American engineers and the Indian ones that were working in silos, with a feeling of rivalry and distrust. One of the initiatives we took was to get them to share a meal despite the 12.5 hour time difference. The time difference actually made it easier. We asked the Americans to stay a bit later and bring a pot luck of food from home and we asked the Indians to the same thing, except it was breakfast for them. It did not start well. Silence. Complete silence for 5 minutes…and then something happened. An American engineer stood up, leaned forward eyes opened wide and asked in awe: ”Are you eating spicy food for breakfast?” To this question the Indian engineers laughed and answered that indeed they usually eat spicy food for breakfast. They started showing them, telling them about the different kinds of spiciness, etc. Feeling more comfortable, the Indians then asked the Americans what they were eating and told them that they thought that people in the US only ate pizza and burgers and it was a surprise to them to see them eating salads, Mexican, Chinese, vegetarian and even Indian food. After 10 minutes everyone was happily chatting about cuisine and food habits around the world and the weird experiences they all had. We had 30 minutes scheduled and we had to drag them out of the room for the next meeting to start. They have had the informal meetings once a quarter ever since. For these informal video conference meetings it is important to choose non-controversial topics. Food works well, as every culture has its cuisine(s), it is a good insight in a culture, and most people enjoy eating. The biggest problem is to convince the people who manage the TP rooms to let employees bring food and drinks in these rooms that can cost millions of dollars.
- Make sure everyone gets to celebrate team successes equally. When a project is finished successfully, managers often take their team out for lunch or some other activity to show their gratitude to the team. Just make sure you reward the entire team, whether there are co-located or remote. If the team goes out for dinner, make sure a share of the budget is kept for the remote team members so they can go and celebrate too. Of course it would be better for all of them to go out for dinner together but that is rarely possible. What we can do to reinforce the feeling of belongingness (are you sure, Shilpa? It just doesn’t sound right…) is get everyone to go out on the same day, share pictures the next day and quickly acknowledge the event in the next team meeting (“Hey guys, the pictures of your dinner looked great!. How was the food?”)
- Engage remote team members by making them responsible for certain team activities. This is particularly important when remote workers are working alone. Isolation is stronger in people working from home than remote sub-teams. They are especially isolated if they work only with colleagues that are co-located. One way to overcome this isolation of remote workers is to involve them in team activities: organizing and facilitating the weekly team, presenting in important meetings, organizing the next offsite, etc.
- Share the load of the time zone difference. Nobody likes taking conference calls at stupid o’clock. Make sure that you share the load of weird call timings. This is especially true for team that are separated by more than 9 time zones or for the ones with people spread across multiple locations. This creates a sense of fairness in the team.
- If possible, try and get the entire team to spend a weekend together. Nothing can replace a weekend of fun and informal interaction to create that feeling that we belong to the same team.
If you have other tips to create a sense of identity in virtual teams, feel free to add them in the comments below.
Post Scriptum: One of the best, and funniest, books I have read on managing virtual teams is “Where in the World Is My Team?” by Terry Brake.