Working with overseas teams is more common now than ever before.
Fifteen years ago, when I first started working with offshore contractors, it was considered exotic. But today--especially in the tech industry--managing satellite teams in countries around the world is a relatively common challenge faced by business owners.
Failure in managing an overseas employee or team can lead to unending frustration, early mornings, late nights and those dreaded ALL CAPS EMAILS!!!
On the flip side, success can lead to completed projects, the pride of accomplishment and friends around the world.
There's a right and a wrong way to go about it. I learned those lessons the hard way.
I have now been managing our office in Ukraine--which later moved to Russia--for 12 years. It has grown to 75 people and is one of the areas of my business where I take the most pride. But it wasn't always easy.
Here are my biggest and most hard-won dos and don'ts for managing overseas teams:
Do invest in face-time (the real thing, not the app)
Establishing a relationship and building trust takes time. Your best shortcut is spending time with your overseas employees in person.
Find a way to visit your team as often as you can. Have face-to-face meetings with people, and stay to socialize afterwards.
Even better--stay the weekend. Laughing or having a drink with people from other cultures humanizes you to each other, and that's very hard to do over Slack or video conference.
Trust me when I tell you that the expense of an overseas trip is made up three times or more in the progress you accomplish and the increased output you'll see for months after your visit.
Do over-communicate--even if it's uncomfortable
Never assume that something is understood.
When you're working with an overseas team, get comfortable with re-communicating ideas three or four times--both verbally and in writing--then doing it again, both verbally and in writing.
Speak slowly, bullet your written communication instead of using paragraphs, and don't use big words.
Remember that non-native English-speakers, even when fluent, are still translating in their heads. Some may hesitate to say, "I didn't understand you," because they're afraid the boss will take it as a sign of weakness or lack of ability.
Follow up every oral communication with a written summary, and share minutes or Power Point slides after each meeting.
Don't treat your overseas employees like second-class citizens
Just because your team is overseas doesn't mean they should be treated differently in your organization.
Don't assume that they want to work late every night to accommodate your time schedule or that it's no problem for them to work weekends. International employees really appreciate it when both sides work around time zone constraints.
On the flip side, don't give your overseas team a pass when they miss deadlines or deliver lackluster work. Consequences and accountability should also be equal.
Do master the basics when running meetings online
When running meetings with overseas teams using Skype or video conference, make sure that you have mastered the basics, which are worth restating:
- Always prepare and share an agenda for every meeting in advance.
- Make sure that you are looking into the camera when you're speaking during video conference, and looking at the screen when they are speaking. It feels more like an in person meeting that way.
- When conferencing with an overseas team, especially if that team includes non-native English speakers, reduce the scope of what you're trying to achieve in the meeting by 20-50 percent.
Effectively managing an overseas team does require some forethought and attention to detail. But you're not just protecting your investment--you're taking care of your people, and a good manager always feels great about that.