How we facilitated online collaboration in a multi-national team
In my central function I communicate with a team of roughly 20 people spread across different time zones. It has been a challenge ever since to get them all on the same page. This is what makes it work for us:
- Make better use of the tools you have at hand to engage the team. I used to complain a lot about the communication technology we had available. Necessity is the mother of invention. Today we mainly use our internal social media platform and our telephone conferencing/online collaboration system to meet live four times a year and communicate asynchronously. Some concrete examples on engage the team are
- Deciding on telco topics: Participants have the opportunity to design a part of every session by voting on topics in advance
- Warm-up activities: A hands-raise and a chat answer to a small-talk question in our online meeting tool
- Meaningful polls: asking questions via the embedded polling tool (e.g. Which information are you looking for on our internal social media page?)
- Interactive minutes: after presentations, each participant is asked to write a summarising sentence (“What should your colleagues take away from this presentation?”) and submit them in the chatbox. The collected sentences will be published as part of the official minutes afterwards for everyone to read.
- Stick to your own rules. Because now we would have common telcos for all participants we decided to repeat housekeeping roles at the beginning of each session: (1) Mute the telephone (incl. instructions how to do this) and (2) Raise your questions either by raising your hand or writing them in the chat box (also to make it easier for introvert colleagues to contribute). In the beginning, it was new to all of us, but after a while everybody would get used to the rules and appreciate them. It’s essential to make sure, participants get the chance to ask their question. If you do not now the answer during the telco, there is always the possibility to send it out afterwards. Just make sure you follow-up on this.
- It’s team effort. Team effort stands for getting everyone engaged. Due to the time differences, our quarterly telephone conferences were usually done in regional splits (so two different groups per telco, which decreased interaction between the regions). This would limit cross-regional communication. Now, we would have two regional-split telcos and two common telcos at 1pm CET. Even though this still does not serve everyone, the feedback so far has been very good. We offer comprehensive minutes for each telco and follow-up with the ones not being able to participate. Also, increasing activity on the internal social media platform increases cross-regional collaboration.
- Train for the knowledge gaps. Getting used to new technology takes time. We realised that some of our colleagues did not feel competent enough in some technologies we use (internal social media, online collaboration platform). This was one of the things we had polled for before using the tools extensively (Do you feel well prepared if we should decide to switch to these tools?). So throughout the year, we are offering two additional optional online session lasting 30 minutes. During 10 minutes we explain how we use the tools for our purpose and why. In the coming 20 minutes all participants can work with the tools themselves and we will provide them with a task to work on and are available for questions. One example was the suggestion and voting of telco topics. In our learning session we explained the functionality and prepared the tool so participants could already vote on topics or suggest new ones.