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Career advice: Running projects across time zones

One of our Premier 100 IT Leaders on the future of IT, steering a co-worker away from talk about politics and more

By William A. Sztabtnik
December 13, 2010 12:09 PM ET
William Sztabtnik
Citigroup's William Sztabtnik

Computerworld - Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader William A. Sztabtnik

Title: Executive vice president

Company: Citigroup Inc.

Sztabtnik is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about communicating across time zones, influencing a new CIO, the future of IT and more. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to

Sztabtnik's responses reflect his own opinions and not those of Citigroup.

I'm overseeing some projects that are being carried out by a team that's scattered across the country, as well as in India. Communication is our big issue. Any advice on how to improve it? Having worked on several projects of a global scope, I can empathize with the hurdles you are currently facing. Keeping a team in sync spanning multiple time zones can be challenging, as the ability to communicate in real time is limited, if not impossible. I believe that basic project management using collaborative tools is essential here and the key to success. Detailed meeting minutes and project plans from all regions need to be kept current and available to the entire team. You might also consider recording conference calls. Meeting minutes ensure that your team is made aware of the results of regional meetings that they may not have been able to attend. You might also consider rotating the times of meetings so that everyone shares the pain of off-hour gatherings. If feasible, a face-to-face meeting at the initiation of the project goes a long way toward establishing the relationships you'll need along the way. Don't let issues linger -- reply to inquiries immediately to lessen the impact of time zones. It may make sense to adjust your work hours a few days a week. In summary it's all about fostering transparency, having no surprises and keeping everyone up to date.

After our much-loved CIO retired, his replacement started making wholesale changes in the way we do things. I'm not one to say, "Let's keep doing things this way because they've always been done this way." But some of his decisions strike me and several colleagues as wacky, if not dangerous. We're not anywhere near the level of being his trusted advisers, so what should we do? Two-way communication is needed here. You may not fully understand what the new CIO is trying to accomplish, or his approach. Try to take advantage of Q&A periods during town halls if you have them, or any other type of communications forum you may have, to ask questions. Work through your management chain to bounce the issue around. See if other senior managers feel the same.

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