As our world is becoming increasingly globalized, you might find yourself leading or being part of a distributed team. Whether the team members are located in different parts of the same country or across various continents and timezones, the level of diversity this provides can be highly beneficial, if managed well. 

To build a strong team, you need to build rapport and trust between the members so that morale and effectiveness is high. A diverse group managed with Cultural Intelligence will bring new levels of creativity and innovation. 

Building this trust and rapport across distances can be challenging since our brain has evolved to develop relationships with in-person interaction. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this, and I’ll share five simple ways for strong team-building with distributed teams.

Weekly Video Calls

Since our brains have evolved to build emotional ties and relationships with in-person interaction and not by reading characters on a screen, it’s important to provide the next best thing: Video calls. 

When communicating, most of what we convey is non-verbal: a lot of it is in our tone of voice and our body language. All this is lost when writing, even with emojis.  A distributed team invariably involves cultural differences too. These variations can lead to misunderstandings in the best of circumstances. Removing visual and auditory clues makes it harder to notice and manage these cultural differences. 

So make sure all team members have access to fast and reliable internet connections so that video calls are clear. 

Set up a weekly check-in with each team member, as you would do if you were in the same office. 

Also conduct group calls with the entire team. Encourage your team members to use video calls when discussing matters that are solved more efficiently with a short video call than an interminable email thread.

Start Calls with a Check In

Part of what helps create bonds between colleagues is to relate to them on a human level. 

One way is to start each weekly call with a check-in. Ask each team member to share something that happened where they live, and that affected them. It could be holidays, celebrations but also current events and national challenges. 

This sharing helps the rest of the team put this person in context globally. They may see something in the news, perhaps an earthquake, that affected a colleague. This practice will also help develop your team’s global consciousness.

Another part of the check-in can be sharing something that makes each person excited or something that they are looking forward to this week. It sets a positive tone to the call and allows the team members to understand their colleagues better. In some cases, one team member may be surprised that their colleague doesn’t fit a stereotype for their culture or that they share a common interest. Colleagues who live thousands of miles apart may find they have a lot more in common than they realized. 

This approach helps team members relate to each other on a human level by building rapport and trust. As a result, colleagues will see each other not just based on their nationality or their role in the organization but as a 3-dimensional human-being.

Create the Right Culture

These practices are not sufficient if a team and organization don’t have the right fundamental culture. As Peter Drucker said, Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.

The goal here is to have an inclusive culture where everyone can bring their whole self. Such cultures allow enough leeway for more than one way of seeing or doing things. Depending on the situation, this can involve the creation of a third culture, which includes the best of the various cultures represented among the team members. 

Let’s take communication, for example. If a team is composed of direct and indirect communicators, it’s a good idea to develop a new set of rules for communicating or a third culture.

This communication method or communication culture should be co-created with the entire team so that everyone feels ownership, and everyone understands why this is important.

Having two indirect communicators from different countries doesn’t mean they will understand each other. They will both try to read between the lines, but they will look for different messages and interpret them incorrectly since they will be following different cultural norms.

Another critical aspect of team communication is giving and asking for feedback. Not everyone is comfortable with the American ways of asking people to provide their thoughts and feedback openly. One way to make the process inclusive is to offer various methods to give input – written, spoken, anonymous.

These are two aspects of an organization’s culture that important to determine early on.

Meet in person once a year

Travel may be expensive, but flying in everyone for an in-person retreat at least once a year can provide an overwhelmingly positive ROI. 

Again, make sure you are inclusive when it comes to the choice of activities. Your idea of a good time may be to drink a lot of beer, but not everyone may feel comfortable with it. It’s possible that not everyone will be satisfied but it’s important to demonstrate an attempt at being inclusive because it will go a long. 

Activities should be structured so that everyone is comfortable, and the team members get many opportunities to get to know each other outside of a purely work context.

Given that remote teams don’t get the same opportunity for regular and casual interactions as remote teams, it’s essential to maximize the bonding opportunity here. 

The location can be varied each year to visit the home country of different team members. It’s a good idea to hire a cultural coach or trainer to structure the activities and guide the participants’ reflection so they get the maximum benefit from this experience, not just of bonding with their fellow team members but understanding the various cultures they are working with. 

A good way to organize these trips is to include both team building and cultural activities. The host should gently guide the conversation and create a space where the team members can learn about their own cultural identity and get a deep understanding of the differences and similarities between theirs and that of their  colleagues. This personal growth is the foundation to develop their Cultural Intelligence and an ability to relate and work effectively across cultures.

Conclusion

Regardless of the advances in technology, it’s still humans working with other humans. Building rapport, trust, and strong team culture can make or break a company or a project.

With the simple tips I’ve shared, you can ensure that you have not only a healthy and robust team but that you also take advantage of the diversity that comes with distributed teams, especially when it comes to better creativity, innovation and effectiveness. 

With the simple tips I’ve shared, you can ensure that you have not only a healthy and robust team but that you also take advantage of the diversity that comes with distributed teams. Including, the well documented added benefit of enhanced creativity, innovation and effectiveness.

If you have any questions about these steps or how to implement them for your side, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

What are ways you strengthen your remote team? Share in the comments below.

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