Managing Without Walls: Maximize Success with Virtual, Global, and Cross-cultural Teams

Managing Without Walls: Maximize Success with Virtual, Global, and Cross-cultural Teams

by Colleen Garton, Kevin Wegryn

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As companies worldwide are moving more and more toward a virtual business model, this handbook offers insight for team members who collaborate on projects from geographically diverse locations. Included in this comprehensive reference guide is an explanation of virtual management and advice on how to coach and develop team members with…  See more details below


As companies worldwide are moving more and more toward a virtual business model, this handbook offers insight for team members who collaborate on projects from geographically diverse locations. Included in this comprehensive reference guide is an explanation of virtual management and advice on how to coach and develop team members with success from far-off office locations. This practical discussion provides the teaching skills needed to help the current manager understand the complexity of the job and to be effective in this new and changing role. Sample evaluations prepare the prospective virtual managers to adequately assess and gauge the success and progress of a far-flung team.

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MC iTechnology Manager
I really loved this book! If you manage remote or satellite teams, this book is a must-read.
From the Publisher

"Overall, I haven't read another book that addresses the ins and outs of managing virtual teams in such nitty-gritty detail."  —

"I really loved this book! If you manage remote or satellite teams, this book is a must read."  —MC iTechnology Manager

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Managing Without Walls

By Colleen Garton, Kevin Wegryn

MC Press Onlince, LLC

Copyright © 2006 MC Press Online, LP
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58347-600-0


Virtual Management

Virtual management is a growing phenomenon in today's business world. It is becoming more and more unusual to find an organization that does not have some "virtual" aspect to it. In fact, sales teams have been virtual for decades. They just didn't have such a fancy title! Traditionally, sales organizations have been scattered around the country or the globe, with salespeople spending a considerable amount of time either driving or flying around their assigned region. With the advent of newer and more mobile technology, virtual management is a growing trend in service as well as sales organizations.

The Need for Virtual Management

The need for virtual management and geographically dispersed teams continues to increase for many reasons, including these:

* Financial considerations

* Geographical diversity

* Faster time to market

* Pressures of the global marketplace and economy

From a financial perspective, it makes sound business sense for many companies to take a decentralized approach to their organizational structures. Outsourcing saves U.S. companies millions of dollars per year. The costs to hire in the United States are much higher than in countries such as India and China. The costs of healthcare and workers' compensation in the United States have also continued to increase, at a time when many companies are under pressure from shareholders to cut costs and increase the bottom line. Outsourcing to reduce short-term workforce costs may affect the U.S. economy in the longer term, but for now, it is a very attractive option for many companies.

Moving to a model where more employees work at home can reduce facility costs significantly. The costs of leasing and maintaining corporate office space can be very high. Additional costs like onsite gyms, cafeterias, kitchens, and parking increase the overhead even more. Removing the need for employee relocation packages can also save many thousands of dollars. A company with a network of employees across the country or the globe can quickly and inexpensively get employees to a particular geographical region, as needed.

A workforce that is geographically diverse can be a huge business benefit in less tangible ways, too. Companies tend to like working with other companies that have local representatives. A U.S.-based company with employees in Brazil, Japan, and Italy who are natives of those countries or speak the local language fluently has a strong competitive edge in those countries over solely U.S.-based competitors. Moving into new and emerging markets is also much easier when a company has someone local who understands the political, financial, and corporate landscape.

Needing everything faster used to be something unique to the United States. With globalization, however, worldwide fast food and drive-throughs have whetted the appetite for faster, cheaper, and better everything, no matter where in the world the customer is located. In today's fast-moving and ever-changing business environment, companies are increasingly demanding more speed without affecting quality or price. This demand requires that highly skilled and effective teams be created quickly without regard to time zones or locations. The ability to work together just as effectively while geographically distant as when local makes this possible. If a company had to relocate an entire team to one location, find accommodations, and pay expenses, it would be very difficult to move quickly, and almost impossible to do so without passing the costs on to the customer.

Globalization has increased the need for virtual management. Working in an international market space is easier than it has ever been before. However, along with this ease of conducting business internationally comes the challenges of working with cross-cultural teams and the need to understand and overcome cultural and language differences.

From a high-level management perspective, global business and virtual management are the answers to many business problems. A company can increase its geographic footprint and more effectively do business in multiple countries. At the mid-management level, however, these business advantages are not as clear. In some instances, they are positively hazy. On a day-to-day basis, for managers dealing with employees or associates in remote locations, who have different cultural backgrounds, work ethics, and languages, the virtual solution can create more problems than it solves.

Even in teams that are located in the same geographic region, at least one team member often works remotely. This person might work remotely because he or she did not want to relocate; because there was no requirement to work locally with the team to be able to do the job; or because the hiring company felt there was some benefit to having the employee located in the specific region in which he or she lives. Relocation packages can be prohibitively expensive, so the ability to hire the best people without having to relocate them is a huge financial benefit. In addition, the ability to hire employees without having to supply office space to them is a great way to decrease overhead costs and improve the bottom line. The cost of office space, electricity, equipment, parking spaces, restrooms, kitchens, cleaning, etc. can add up to a hefty expense.

While the trend toward virtual teams is destined to continue for the foreseeable future, there is currently a distinct lack of virtual management expertise across all industries. Managers who learn virtual management skills will help their companies avoid a rocky road.

The Differences between Virtual and Traditional Organizations

A virtual, or remote, company is any company that has at least one team member working remotely. Team members might be working as close as in the same city, or as distant as across oceans and time zones. A traditional company is one in which all team members work in a single office location.

The Traditional Organization

There are, of course, many different types of traditional companies and teams. They operate in different ways, with different management structures and organizational hierarchies. The traditional company might be a large national organization with thousands of employees, or a small start-up with less than ten employees. The company might consist of team members from one cultural background or from many. Some traditional companies might be comprised of primarily native English speakers, while others might be dominated by foreign nationals who are non-native English speakers.

While recognizing that these are huge differences, and that culturally these organizations might differ greatly in their levels of diversity, for the purpose of this book, they are all categorized as traditional companies. The commonality among traditional companies is that employees conduct their work collectively at the same location each day. Team members are working together in the same office, warehouse, or factory. Employees see each other on a daily basis. They can easily communicate using face-to-face conversation. The employees might choose to communicate via phone or email on a regular basis, but the option to "stop by" and talk to someone in person is always there.

A traditional company does not necessarily have all of its employees working in the same building. Many companies have compounds or business parks, where the employees are located in various buildings. There might be up to a mile between buildings, but this does not constitute a virtual or remote company. The buildings are close enough for the employees to work together when necessary, and employees can walk between the buildings to facilitate face-to-face communication. Figure 1.1, for example, shows a traditional company where there are four major buildings: an executive office suite, two administrative office buildings, and a warehouse.

Determining where a traditional company ends and a virtual company begins is not an exact science. Suppose a company has outgrown its office space and leases an additional office building five miles away. This could be considered a virtual company if the employees needed to communicate across locations on a daily basis, requiring team members to communicate and collaborate on projects virtually. However, when companies add buildings in the same local area but not close enough to walk between, they usually locate departments according to function, so that minimal face-to-face interaction is required between the employees at different locations. When this is the case, the company would generally not be considered a virtual company.

It has been a common practice for many years for companies to locate certain groups, such as accounting and other administrative departments, in different locations from the main office. These companies are not considered virtual, since regular participation in interdepartmental meetings is not critical to the success of most projects.

A traditional company typically has a hierarchal structure with a middle management layer separating individual contributors from senior management. Each employee works in the same location as his or her manager, as shown in Figure 1.2.

The Virtual Company

A virtual company has at least one worker not in the same physical location each day as coworkers on the same team or project. In many teams today, team members are never physically in the same room or office location. The physical distance between team members creates a team dynamic and personality that is very different from that found on a traditional team. This is why applying a traditional management approach to a virtual team does not work.

Your team will not thrive in a virtual environment if the team's structure and process has been designed as if it were a traditional team. If you want to learn how to salsa dance, you would not ask a ballet dancer to teach you. All that time spent stretching at the bar might be good for your flexibility, but it is not going to be much use to you out on the dance floor!

There are several different types of virtual companies and teams. These range from companies that have just one employee working from home a mile away from the company's office to companies that have entire divisions of workers working 5,000 miles away from the corporate office.

Here are some examples of the different flavors of virtual companies:

* Some Remote Team Members — The company has one or more local employees who consistently work from a remote location.

* Split Team — The company has two or more main office locations, where employees work out of whichever office is closer to them.

* Satellite Team Members — The company has a main corporate office, with numerous satellite employees around the country or the globe who work from home offices.

* 100% Virtual Team — The company does not maintain an office. All employees work remotely from home offices.

* Outsourced Team — The company has a main corporate office, with some functions outsourced to other companies.

Some Remote Team Members

At first sight, managing a virtual team in which most of the employees work at the same location and only one or two work remotely might not seem like much of a challenge. However, this is not necessarily as straightforward as it might appear. If you are used to managing a local team, you might find the task of managing some remote team members a lot more demanding and time consuming than you anticipated.

You and your team might not have many virtual management tools at your disposal. It is unlikely that your local team members will be using virtual management software and tools to communicate with each other when most of them are located on the same floor. This leaves the remote workers in a very isolated working environment. Because these people are not around the office very much, they might be forgotten. As the manager, you need to make sure that all team members know they work on a virtual team, and that they use the tools and processes necessary to make the virtual team successful.

If one member of a family is deaf, the other family members learn how to communicate using sign language. The family would not refuse to learn sign language and allow the deaf family member to feel isolated and ignored. In the same way, a team that includes a remote worker needs to use the necessary tools to ensure that all team members are able to communicate with each other. The local team members might not use those tools very often to communicate with each other, but they should be encouraged to use them to communicate with the remote workers.

Split Team

Some virtual companies have two or more main office locations, where employees work out of the office that is local to them. One distinct advantage here is that most non-management employees will have a local manager. It is much easier to manage and to be managed when the direct-line employees are in the same location. However, supervisors or managers often report to a remote manager.

Figure 1.3 shows an example split-team company with headquarters in the United States and six regional offices in China, Ireland, India, Brazil, Hong Kong, and England. Each location has its own management hierarchy, with only the most senior managers reporting directly to an executive in the U.S. office.

These types of companies might have projects that require cross -location and cross-team communication and participation. Virtual management skills and knowledge are key to the success of those projects. It is very easy for an "us and them" mentality to develop in a setting such as this. Without close attention and a high level of good-quality virtual management, teamwork can soon deteriorate into a negative and competitive environment, with the different teams being reluctant to work together or help each other out. Eventually, finger-pointing and apportioning blame become more important than meeting the objectives of the project. The situation can get so bad that one team intentionally sabotages the other. This situation might sound far-fetched, but it can occur even in traditional companies where the teams are located in adjacent hallways!

If you start bad-mouthing other teams, hinting that they might not be competent or are intentionally unhelpful, the rest of your team will adopt this negative attitude. We have personally heard a manager say these words to her team, "X team will not do what we need them to because they do not like us." What kind of effect do you think this statement has on a team? It hardly inspires confidence in the other team or promotes good teamwork. It also makes the manager look rather helpless and incompetent.

Satellite Team Members

Some virtual companies have a main corporate office with numerous satellite employees around the country or the globe who work from home offices. This is a very typical setup for global sales organizations, and it is fast becoming common in other types of organizations. Some technology companies are moving to this distributed virtual team environment, as are consulting organizations in various industries.

In a satellite-office situation, the manager might be located in the corporate office and might perhaps have an administrative assistant or receptionist working onsite. Alternatively, the manager might work virtually from the rest of the team. In either case, many of the team members will be working remotely from each other and from the manager. In a satellite-team setup, the corporate office maintains some kind of virtual private network (VPN) to enable the team members to communicate securely with each other and to access a centralized server and network system. This requires that each employee must set up and maintain his or her own virtual office. Each team member needs a more in-depth knowledge of computers and networks than would be required for someone working in a local, corporate environment.

If there is a corporate office and centralized network, there is likely to be a technical support or help desk organization for employees, so they should be able to get some technical help with their equipment if there are problems. However, some of the team members might be using nonstandard equipment, so it might not always be possible for a centralized help desl to successfully troubleshoot a problem.

The satellite-team organizational structure has some significant advantages from a business perspective. It reduces facilities overhead, in addition to allowing employees to live wherever they like (though there might be some geographical restrictions, such as limited to North America). In this way, virtual teams can be created based on the skill Sets required and the geographical location of the team members.

The exact geographical location of your team members might not have a huge affect on the effectiveness of your team. From a virtual team perspective, a team member located 1,000 miles away is not much different from a team member located 4,000 miles away. From a corporate perspective, the geographical location of each team member can have a more significant impact on the company's ability to conduct business in different parts of the world. If the team members are located in different geographical regions, the company can maintain global coverage while reducing costs for such things as travel for onsite meetings with customers. Also, salaries are cheaper in some regions than others. These cost efficiencies lead to more competitively priced products and services


Excerpted from Managing Without Walls by Colleen Garton, Kevin Wegryn. Copyright © 2006 MC Press Online, LP. Excerpted by permission of MC Press Onlince, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Colleen Garton is the product management program director for global fraud solutions at Fair Isaac Corporation. She lives in San Diego. Kevin Wegryn is the project management practice lead and subject matter expert for Agilysys Professional Services Group. He lives in Cranford, New Jersey.

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