Recently Tom was interviewed by Andy Kaufman to discuss the importance of cultural intelligence. Tom and Andy discuss various scenarios from project managing global virtual teams in the U.S. and Germany to planning a visit to China and strategies for facilitating successful virtual meetings.
A recent project has prompted me to focus this month on the efficiencies of teleconferences. Lack of agendas, side conversations, audible background noises, late attendees, accent and language difficulties; alongside poorly facilitated calls that seem to go in circles are just some of the everyday teleconference challenges.
Although teleconferences are not a new phenomenon somehow we tolerate the inefficiencies and frustrations that they entail. Why is this? Over time we become unconscious and unmindful of the bad habits and irritations that ‘creep in’. We often accept them as ‘normal’ and for the most part we ‘switch off’ and allow apathy and stagnation to set in, without us possibly even realising it.
For many global project teams teleconferences are the most common meeting format. They are a critical mode of communication where key decisions are made and everyday production, innovative and creative ideas are thrashed out. Something worth reminding ourselves of is that the success of teleconferences directly impact overall project outcomes, timelines and ultimately budgets.
Here are some simple reminders of things to be aware of when facilitating and participating in culturally dispersed teleconferences:
Ensure that the agenda has been circulated at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. It is particularly useful for those in other locations whose native language is not the language that the meeting is being conducted in. This provides all participants an opportunity to plan what they will say or questions that they want to propose.
Be mindful. When most of the participants are in the same room it can be difficult for the remote participants to engage in the conversation. They are not privy to the same group/room dynamic.
Remember that in some cultures people wait to be invited to speak rather than speak up whenever they have something to contribute. Be specific and invite people to speak at various intervals.
Ensure everyone identifies who they are before they begin speaking. Don’t assume that everyone knows each other. It is not uncommon for offshore project teams to have new staff joining the team at different times. Maintain the practice of introductions at all meetings.
Use diagrams and visual aids where possible. They can be of great benefit as an alternative mode of demonstration and explanation, especially for offshore teams.
If you are having difficulty understanding language, accents, dialects or tone, speak up. Let people know. Chances are that they are having difficulty understanding you also.
Don’t confuse silence with agreement. Take the time to ask each person one by one to give their opinion or share their concerns before making a consensus decision.