Keys to Creating Successful Global Teams

Technology is necessary but not sufficient to create a successful global team

In early September, Knowledge@Wharton published an article called 'Locals,' 'Cosmopolitans' and Other Keys to Creating Successful Global Teams that anyone using SharePoint for team collaboration, especially global teams, should carefully review. Although the advice is geared towards global teams, any team will benefit from the useful suggestions summarized in the article.

Here are a few of the suggestions that will be most useful to anyone managing a team (whether or not you are using SharePoint for collaboration):

"Try to meet at least once face-to-face."  I have always coached people who are starting communities of practice to try, if at all possible, to engineer a face-to-face meeting at least once.  I agree with the advice provided in the article, especially when there are cultural and geographic differences among team members.

"Choose team members carefully." When you are collaborating globally or just online, you will need to pay attention to softer skills such as interpersonal communications.  Good writing skills don't hurt either.

"Keep the team small if possible." The article recommends teams of no more than five to seven people.  I have a client who once told me that teams who achieve the best outcomes are never bigger than three people.  I've worked on plenty of teams that are much larger than seven, but they all included sub-teams of much smaller groups.   I always recommend that portal governance bodies include no more than eight people.  It's just hard to get anything accomplished when the team is too large.

"Be explicit upfront about how the team will operate, making no assumptions that some things should be obvious or understood."  This may be most important for global teams, but not being explicit can derail any team where the members do not meet regularly face to face.  In the context of your SharePoint site, be explicit about how the team will use the technology - what types of tasks go on the task list, when to use e-mail and who should be on the distribution list.

"Be conscious of time. That means not only time zones but expectations of how long tasks should take, how long meetings should be and when they are expected to start and finish."   If you have team members in multiple time zones, be sure to vary the times that you meet so that everyone has a turn at a meeting that starts early in the morning or late at night.

"Don't overload team members." The article mentions research that points out that a team's effectiveness is reduced if people have too much work.  Is that just stating the obvious?  I think it is just as important to ensure that the workload is balanced, especially if every member of the team is full time or allocated for the same amount of part time hours.  Keeping a good task list online really helps monitor who is doing what and who is pulling their weight.  Task lists are one of the most effective features of SharePoint and they are really easy to use even if people are less comfortable with technology.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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