Ways to build a truly global culture and make globally distributed teams more cohesive, productive and unified. Learnings gained the hard way from over 15 years of building and managing international projects, teams and products.
Product Development is a global endeavour,
You have two choices:
1. embrace global and continuous improvement
2. ﬁddle while rome burns
areas of struggle
• it s diﬃcult to create one view
• the issues are not static or clear
• some will lack the skills/experience to
engage with the problem
• tried and true local approaches don t solve the problems
• acknowledging up front the extra cost and eﬀort that
running distributed projects entails - (e.g. 30 to 40%
increase in Project Management eﬀorts)
barriers to overcome
• watch out for tribal or assumed knowledge.
‒ long tenures
‒ arcane rules/regulations
‒ subjective results/goals
• transparency is uncomfortable/distrusted
• hard won knowledge is not easily
areas distributed teams encounter
problems or miss opportunities
• Communication • Under-estimation
• Mis-diagnosis and bias • Acceptance of status quo
• Cultural disconnects • Sloganism - a catch
• Skills and tools phrase won t do it by itself
start with people
• become speciﬁc in fostering a
global match ﬁtness in staﬀ
• build up CI - Cultural
Intelligence, as a company and
• enhance hiring methods to
uncover and hire the globally
adept in all areas of the
• explore and encourage pragmatic/innovative tools that
foster and enable collaboration and knowledge sharing
• create a multi level global training curriculum for all
staﬀ - mandatory modules for supervisory and above.
• look at 3rd parties for training resources - stay with
• www.eworldwise.com, www.twmworld.com
light up the shadows
• all teams need to:
‒ make meeting times equitable
‒ share the pain and the successes
‒ realise that information does not ﬂow by itself.
‒ vital information must be shared actively.
‒ identify corridor conversations that should be shared
‒ Over communicate and get validation on all key
‒ take the extra eﬀort to ﬁnd out who owns the issue
at the other end
rethink ways of working
• avoid reliance on a few
• create regular weekly goals and ensure they are
communicated them to everyone
• create a projectboard that all can see (online and
physical) of this weeks main issues. Update it constantly.
• adopt modern, lightweight, and inexpensive
collaboration tools like Atlassian s Conﬂuence and JIRA
and aggressively drive adoption and usage
try new ways of working
• Teams should trial standup meetings
• daily 10/15 min meetings rather than rely on 2
hour+ review meetings every week or two
‒ no one sits down and brevity is encouraged
‒ each person brieﬂy states their goals and
blockers (if any) for today
‒ an owner is assigned to any blockers discovered
‒ team high 5 s any successes
‒ projectboard s are updated
reﬁne ways of working
• single points of truth and ownership
for all issues.
‒ one person for each project/issue.
‒ name and contacts of owner are
communicated to all
‒ publish an online list of projects and current
owners and give someone ownership for
keeping it up to date.
re-engineer your DNA
• overtly deﬁne 2nd level team roles in all projects.
‒ Leader ‒ Tech Admin
‒ Scribe ‒ Knowledge Mgr
‒ Facilitator ‒ Domain Experts
• recognise and reward networking activities
• deﬁne/actively manage a balance between growth of
islands of competence vs global expertise growth
formalise culture change
create a playbook for meetings and
ensure all have and know it.
• no meetings without a published agenda
• if you can t make a meeting on time let the others know
• friendly timing of meetings for all participants
• remove dead meetings
• time zone tools readily available - meeting planner
phrases to ban
• Avoid the following in speaking
• It goes without saying....
• Everybody already knows that.....
• The rest is obvious....
get face to face
• At least one oﬀshore team member
does a 30 day+ attachment with
their HQ counterparts each year.
• All leaders with oﬀshore teams
must visit at least once every 2 years
• bring whole team together for kick
oﬀ events/workshops for large
make global the norm
• cultural understanding
presentations for all teams.
Indian culture for US, Chinese
culture for Indian etc
• simple recognition of
signiﬁcant cultural celebrations
across the organisation -
Thanksgiving, Diwali, Chinese
• Identify your most common Boundary Objects -
‒ Common terms/situations/behaviours which are
viewed diﬀerently in diﬀerent cultures.
• They are close enough to appear the same but diﬀerent
enough to cause confusion.
• These are common pain points in distributed teams. To
identify, look back on major problems and look for
know the diﬀerences
• sometimes it s how you ask the
• if I ask is xxxx over there? and I point in a
speciﬁc direction. then I have expressed a viewpoint
• some cultures will avoid challenging that viewpoint vs.
giving the correct answer to avoid making me look bad
• better to ask where would i ﬁnd xxxx? with no pointing -
everyone is free to answer with the best response.
• the same is true with business questions
• people don t magically drop cultural habits they learnt in
childhood just because they join a new company
hiring - qualities to look for
• you have to be extra proactive to work
in a distributed company
• you need to hire people in all oﬃces
who are more than just technically
capable, they need be natural
connectors and communicators.
• they need to show proof of staying in
touch with information/trends/prof
groups by their own initiative/drive
hiring - questions
• What is the most interesting
approach/trend you have seen
in the last 12 months? Why?
Where? How did you learn
• What methods do you use to
stay in touch with technical and
• How do you solve problems
where there is no existing data?