Nurturing Cross-geographical Teams

Outsourcing has been a Godsend to most companies looking to expand operations at minimal costs. Startups have taken advantage of globalization by outsourcing back-office processes to BPOs, freeing time to focus more on the important tasks at hand, i.e., fundraising, product development, etc. However, one must admit that working with cross-geographical teams could prove to be challenging.

In the 7 years that I've managed a Philippine call center, I've witnessed barriers that led to project failures and frustration among team members and clients alike. From mere observation, the following have been common denominators as to why virtual teams across different cultures meet challenges in the workplace:

  1. Culture Clash - Filipinos, for instance, are very warm, shy, and sensitive to others' feelings. Americans, on the other hand, are open, frank, and have a no-nonsense approach to management. I find it very common for agents to feel bad when they receive feedback from a client. We're so used to getting sugar-coated feedback that we oftentimes can't take blunt criticism. Most Filipino managers soften the blow to avoid hurting their staff. This doesn't work when you collaborate with teams of different cultures and backgrounds. A way to change this is to nurture a learning environment that encourages employees to take calculated decisions and learn from mistakes. Encourage learning by giving constructive feedback. It doesn't have to hurt if you focus on the problem at hand and make the agent understand what needs to be corrected. Instead of tip-toeing around the issue, discuss it point blank and move on from there.
  2. Communication Gaps - As cliche as it may sound, things do get lost in translation. Filipinos might be awesome at English compared to other non-English speaking countries; however, we still get confused in the middle of instructions and emails. That's where the team leader comes in. Most employees in upper management have already been accustomed to dealing with clients and agents alike. The best approach for the foreign client is to communicate with the team lead, so he/she could relay the instruction or feedback to the staff.
  3. Lack of Team Building - Connecting with a virtual team can be challenging considering the distance. However, when clients treat their Filipino agents like their own, the pride that blossoms inside a staff speaks volumes in their work and dedication. I often notice that agents work better when they feel that their work is getting recognition and appreciation from their client. This appreciation is oftentimes translated when a client visits the office and spends time with the team outside of work. Once a sense of camaraderie is formed, you'll earn yourself an agent who will be loyal to you and your account.
Team Rocket with Chris enjoying their boodle fight dinner at Captain Ribbers.

Team Rocket with Chris enjoying their boodle fight dinner at Captain Ribbers.

The above-mentioned points are probably already known to most experienced managers, as these factors are universal in managing any team both onshore and offshore. Nonetheless, if you're just starting to form your virtual team, it would be helpful to pay close attention to these factors. After all, caring about how you can effectively manage a team that's virtually millions of miles away from you speaks about how you take care of your business as a whole.