Part 2: The challenges of managing global projects remotely

Language & time zones

In my initial article on this topic, I discussed how to approach the challenges related to distance managing global projects remotely. This article will cover how to handle the challenges language and time zones pose when managing global projects remotely.

Language & time zones

When project teams are located in different parts of the world, new challenges arise when team members live in different parts of the world and speak different languages.

Although it is the practice at my company that meetings be conducted in the native language of the facilitator (usually English), team members may speak with heavy accents based on where they live and therefore it may be difficult to understand them. This is not only a challenge with international team members because there are accents and dialects in the US that are not universally understood.

When there is a team member in one of my meetings that is difficult to understand, even after I have politely asked them if they could speak a bit more slowly, I will call or email that person after the meeting and ask them to send me notes summarizing the points they made or the questions they asked. I can then include them in the meeting minutes and urge other participants to review the minutes and raise any questions or concerns they might have. I have been in meetings where people were repeatedly asked to repeat themselves or Instant Message the information to the facilitator, but I believe those methods of handling the issue are counterproductive. I am trying to create an environment where everyone feels free to speak up and share an idea or opinion even when it is different from mine or other members of the team. That can only occur when team members learn that they will not be embarrassed or spoken harshly to in the process.

Ending your agenda five minutes earlier is another good technique for ensuring that anyone who has something they would like to ask or something they want to say has the opportunity. Then, before the meeting is adjourned, go “around the table” (virtually) and ask each individual if they have anything they would like to say or ask. This may seem a bit awkward at first, and you have to know exactly who is there, but after a couple of meetings, this will become second nature and people will feel more and more free to participate. After my first couple of meetings doing this, I finally added an item to the bottom of my agenda called “Roundtable,” and everyone knew they would have an opportunity to speak.

Have you ever been invited to a meeting at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday or 7 am on a Monday? I’m sure everyone has at one time or another, and it is reasonable to assume that you were not terribly excited at the prospect. Something that many project managers forget to take into account is the different time zones that project team members live in. Perhaps it is easier to remember that parts of India are 11 ½ hours later than your local time zone, and therefore you try to schedule meetings with those members early in the morning Monday through Thursday, but how about the team member in Arizona, who is three hours behind his East Coast colleagues during the summer months?

This is one of the most difficult aspects of running a project with team members spread out over such a large area. The larger the team, the more difficult it becomes to find a time at which all 36 members are available. Nonetheless, if you are going to be successful, you need to negotiate meetings in such a way that people will actually want to attend them. After a few months, the team will come together, learn more about each other, and a level of trust will have been established. Having a standing meeting at the same time every week is an excellent way to manage this.

There are several things I do to foster this environment:

  • Every meeting I schedule has an agenda
  • Schedule meetings at least 24 hours in advance (usually 48 hours)
  • Avoid early Monday morning and late afternoon Friday meetings in all time zones my team members reside in
  • Give people an out if they have nothing to contribute.

When 85% of my meetings look like that, the team knows that there must be a special circumstance if I schedule at an inconvenient time. In those rare cases, the meeting invitation will explain the circumstance.

It is also very important to be flexible. If there is a meeting scheduled for a national holiday in the country a number of your team members reside in, consider moving the meeting to accommodate. That will not always be feasible but consider it anyway. If you are going to be on vacation and need someone to cover your meeting, choose one of the other members of the team. That way the facilitator knows what is going on because they have participated in previous meetings, and you don’t need to try to bring someone new up to speed.

Have any comments or questions, or things you would like to see in future articles? Please share your comment below, and I will answer questions and include new topics in future articles.

 

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