If you’re a large organization with multiple teams spread across the globe, your leadership and management skills are always tested beyond their limits. From time issues to coordination issues, support issues to meeting conflicts - the problems are endless. Add to this mix the need for performance reviews, growth reviews, HR issues or organizational structures and you have a recipe for disaster.
Now the point is if managing teams in multiple locations to serve multiple purposes is so exhausting and failing, then how come some companies are doing it so well? How is it possible for companies in the US to have off-shore offices in the Indian subcontinent or in other Asian regions and still be able to operate smoothly? The answer to these questions lies in the years of effort, strategic planning, and organizational structure development that ensures maximum productivity regardless of location constraints.
That is not to say, however, that these organizations do not face the regular challenges of managing off-site teams. Some of the common challenges these companies face are:
- Constraints in keeping up with meeting schedules and timelines. Teams with differing time zones may have to spend time beyond regular hours (a common problem between teams in US and Asia) to cope up with meeting demands.
- Difficulties in giving fair performance reviews and growth opportunities because management may not in touch directly with performing members.
- Problems in collaboration of products that cannot be sent digitally.
- Lack of team coordination, especially when teams differ in culture, time zones, and mutual knowledge of each other.
- Limited supervision as there is no way to maintain office decorum or discipline, nor a way to determine the performance of team members.
- Complete dependency on reports generated by people who are not directly supervised.
With all of these challenges, running a multiple location team is chaotic and a recipe for disaster. However, if you understand the benefits of off-site locations (low costs, targeted skills set, wider market scope) and want to give it a try despite the challenges, then there are essential strategies to put in place.
Make Efficient Use of Technology
If today we have the ability to work with multiple teams in multiple locations then it’s all thanks to technology. Without the internet, all of this would not be a possibility. So, make the most efficient use of technology. Know that the more effective your technological systems, the better you will be at managing your team and reducing the problems of management, coordination, and collaboration. This means that you should be able to have reliable connectivity, LANs and WANs set up in place. Along with this, you also need a robust phone system that can take up on-call collaboration, teleconferencing, and web conferencing.
While setting up a strong network system, don’t forget about security systems and data sharing systems. How does the company plan to send data from one location to another? Not everything can be done via email so it’s necessary to employ cloud technology so that data access can be easy for all parties concerned. Email systems, chat systems (Skype for business), project management systems (JIRA, SharePoint, etc.) should be deployed to ensure everyone stays on the same page. For performance reviews and growth, you can have custom designed HR systems in place. At the end of the day, your hardware units, networking system, security system, communication system, and software system should all be set up well so you could avoid unnecessary hindrances to productivity.
Set Up an Organizational Structure and Culture
If you want your employees to belong to the organization, then you need to set up an organizational structure and culture. Have a theme that is duplicated across all office location. Minor things like welcome gifts, office stationery, and similar items should be the same across all offices. This even goes to the overall office theme design. The more your offices look and feel similar, the more employees will feel connected and at ease. If you want your team members to coordinate with each other without feeling culturally alien, then you need to set up a place for them to feel connected.
You can start by connecting your employees over an in-house social network that can easily be developed from platforms designed for collaboration. You can also create an in-house social network if you have the resources and the expertise to get it done. A social network will help your employees stay connected despite the distance.
Set Up a Hierarchical Structure
Even though you have offices in multiple locations, you need to have that specific location’s hierarchical structure. If you have senior management, mid-level management, and line managers in each of your office location, you will have employees who take the job seriously. On the other hand, if you have a structure that is haphazard with no management level and only resources with line managers, you will have a hard time managing productivity and retaining employees. Each of your office location should feel like an organization in itself and should not be dependent on the parent office.
Your head office should consist of the executive team that would include the CEO, the CFO, the Directors, etc. These people are your think tanks and it is necessary for them to be in one location so you may make essential decisions without any limitations. Planning an organizational structure is essential to having a smooth operating experience beyond your current location.
Visit Your Locations and Be Present
The biggest mistake you can make is to be out of sight, out of mind. People working at different locations are always eager to meet the boss or the leader of the team. It is necessary for your team members to know that you care and that you know the contributions they are making to the company. If you can’t visit your locations once or twice a month, then you can do that after every three months and in the case of countries across the continent, then twice a year is a great deal. Reach out and be involved with your team members. Have one on one meetings and get to know the people who work for you.
Keep an open door policy if you want to know what’s happening in your organization. You can use systems like BoxWire for your employees to reach you while still being anonymous. Pop in unannounced, bring in challenges, and try to remove the complacency that settles in with employees working without a direct boss.
Create Processes and Encourage Project Management
If you don’t have structured processes for executing tasks, then you’re at risk of creating chaos. Because you are not physically present, everything needs to be done via a communicative process. Implement project management systems on cloud platforms where teams can be connected, progress can be shared, and tasks can be executed easily.
When you establish processes, you remove dependency so your team members know their tasks, their deadlines, and the management expectations. Instead of sending emails over tasks, create tickets on a system like ATLASSIAN. Have your departmental team members communicate over these systems and follow standard processes of development. Everything an organization does moves through a process - be it selling to a customer, designing a product, developing a product, quality assuring a product or releasing a product. There is a specific procedure to follow through every stage of work, which leads to a resultant success or failure of the project. It’s a good way to record who missed a deadline, what problems were faced in a task and what new innovations were introduced to solve the problem. The more efficient your process, the more efficient your team members.
Managing multiple teams is a huge responsibility and has high risks of failure if it is not thoroughly planned and managed. You can eliminate challenges if you have a strong organizational development blueprint that should clearly define the minutest detail about your company, its resources and how you plan to manage them. If you don’t have this strong plan, you will end up spending more time fixing things than getting things done. And remember, you don’t have to do it all. Call in experts, let people with specific skills set do specific jobs. Get an HR expert to plan an HR strategy, a business developer to plan business development and so on. Expanding your team is great, but don’t do it at the cost of losing your peace of mind.