Three Ways to Create Better Collaboration for Global Teams

In the year 2000, when I was working at a start-up here in Silicon Valley, there were 15 of us, all co-located in the same space. And we were from all over the world. In those days, everyone had to move to the same geography in order to work together. Sometimes that made it difficult to hire the best people – if a candidate couldn’t or wouldn’t move, we had to pass and hire the next best person.

Today, in 2016, the world is much different. I manage a team of thousands of people, stretching across the globe. No one is required to move to Silicon Valley to work for Cisco. And so far, it’s been an amazing experience. I get to work with some of the brightest minds and coolest people – we can hire the best because we don’t care where they work, we just care about getting the work done.

But one thing global managers like me have to worry about is finding a way to bring all of these talented folks together to do just that: get work done!

Luckily, creating a setting where people can work together across time zones and get work done is not rocket science. It’s pretty easy, when you focus on three simple principles that I use to help my global teams collaborate.

Principle 1: Create a shared vision.
When teams are dispersed, it can be hard to keep everyone in sync. Silos can form. Miscommunication can stall projects. And people can feel disconnected.

To bring your teams together, be sure to clearly communicate your vision and goals for the organization and your expectations as a leader.

What do you stand for? What big problems are you working together to solve? What do you expect from the team? These may seem basic, but the answers will keep everyone focused on the same goals. A shared purpose will motivate your team to keep things moving forward and give them common ground for collaboration.

Principle 2: Build trust; build relationships
Think about this. Do you trust your team members to pull their weight? Can you share a smile or a laugh with them before a meeting? Do you know they’ll go the extra mile to get stuff done?

Great teamwork depends on a culture of trust and camaraderie. Remote teams don’t have the luxury of catching up over a cup of coffee, so you have to create opportunities for your team to get to know each other and put faces with the names on their email lists.

For my team, using Cisco WebEx and video together is the answer to building strong relationships. Whether joining a WebEx from one of our campuses, a home office or a coffee shop, everyone shares video. You will be amazed at how this can shift the dynamics of a meeting and open up conversations. Simply put, people get more done when they see each other… and they learn to trust each other more.

If your team is shy about using video, set the example by using it yourself for every single meeting (even if you’re having a bad hair day). Others will quickly follow suit.

Principle 3: Use the right tools
There’s no doubt that powerful asynchronous tools like email help you collaborate through time zones. But you also need real time (synchronous) tools for critical meetings and conversations: the best kind of collaboration allows work to flow in real-time. Obviously with global teams, we can’t sit across the table from one another and constantly share ideas and updates. But Cisco Spark allows my teams to collaborate on the spot and not miss a beat, even when we are thousands of miles apart.

In Cisco Spark rooms, we share documents, have one-on-one chats or use video calls to host spur-of-moment brainstorms. It’s a single tool that has everything anyone needs to get up to speed and contribute to the conversation. With Cisco Spark, decisions are made, projects are finished and we are able to rest a bit easier.

Ten years ago, I was managing teams without any of the awesome collaboration tools we have today. Obviously, we were able to survive. But, we were all spending way too much time dealing with communication problems. Not to mention that travel budgets were astronomical.

Today, we work with these three principles – steps that apply to every team, whether you work for an enterprise company like Cisco, a mid-sized brand expanding to new markets or a smaller company ready to tap the best global talent.

These three principles help keep collaboration flowing from every corner of the globe.

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