Experienced rainmakers know that managing any large team is complicated, but when members are distributed across offices – especially international ones — significant coordination costs arise: projects delayed due to incompatible schedules; cultural or linguistic misunderstandings on cross-border work; technology failures causing missed deadlines. International matters are particularly challenging because each partner may be working with different assumptions and ways of engaging the client.
A French lawyer working on an international, Paris-headquartered client felt pressure by his co-account leaders in the US and Asia to drive for faster growth. He countered, “I understand that I need to be very active, but in the French culture one cannot be quite so aggressive as elsewhere. For Paris clients, you need to be pushy without seeming to be pushy. It’s a delicate equilibrium that outsiders don’t grasp.”
One of the things that makes working at a distance so complicated is that it affects both the way we feel and think – and any viable solutions have to address both. A colleague from INSEAD, Prof. Mark Mortensen, is an expert in making virtual collaboration smoother, and we’ve teamed up to publish forthcoming a piece in Harvard Business Review (I’ll tweet the link and post it here when available).
Here are some of the highlights:
- Focus on commonalities, especially your shared goal of exceptional client service, in order to overcome the “us and them” thinking that is typical of distributed teams.
- Arrange regular touchpoints – ideally by video, but phone is still much better than email for sharing task-related information. If you only do this on an “as needed” basis, it’ll probably fall through the cracks because we often don’t recognize when distant colleagues need our knowledge. Beyond the obvious benefit of coordinating the actual work, regular communications help keep team members engaged and accountable to the client team.
- Take time to share the personal updates, even though it feels like a luxury. The resulting trust and familiarity are vital when a true crisis erupts.
What are your best and worst experiences of working in distributed client service teams? What actions have worked especially well (or poorly!) to motivate and align members? How do you sustain the momentum? Do you use any of those techniques with clients? What technology or platforms best support collaboration among far-flung team members?
As ever in this Idea Space, please leave your comments below. If you have a sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share, then please email me directly on email@example.com . And please check out prior topics in the Archive section at right.