This post is an extract from an article I wrote entitled Communicating Globally published in the British Computer Society 2015 e-magazine Digital Leaders. This article deals with strategies and tips to enable teams and managers to work effectively together across the globe. While the article refers to global communications they are also relevant for any teams that don’t have the luxury of co-location and also building relationships with external suppliers. In the coming weeks I will publish further extracts that you will hopefully find useful.
I have found the most effective medium for carrying out complex global communications is Video Conferencing. We should consider the importance of this and how this medium needs to be used carefully. Traditional teams that are based in a single location sit in the same office have the advantage of developing good interpersonal communication. This helps understanding amongst the individuals which supports the team development. If we are speaking to someone in the traditional office setting, we are able to read nonverbal cues how the message is being received. However, in global teams, using only telephone conferences the majority of this is lost. Quite often on global voice conference calls there are the proverbial tumble weed moments where you don’t know if anyone has heard your message or even if they are still there.
Using Video Conferencing for global meetings means that you can see who is on the meeting and whether they are being attentive or distracted. It is also possible to see the body language of participants in response to your message.
That said, it is important to highlight that Video Conferencing can be a double-edged sword. As well as being able to see the participants they can also see you! So if dealing with a challenging team member, everyone can observe your responses as well. A critical point here is that Video Conferencing needs to be utilised in the same as if it was a direct face-to-face meeting. Not only body language but your attire and surroundings are also visible.
A little preparation and prior planning will stand you in good stead using the following strategies. Ensure you are dressed appropriately to support your professional image. Check the image and focus of your camera prior to the meeting and make sure your head and shoulders are clearly visible. It is really distracting talking to the top of somebodies head. Check that the back ground is appropriate and not distracting.
Being on a Video Conference is not unlike being a news presenter. To improve your performance on video watch how news presenters operate and communicate. How they look at the camera the majority of the time so it looks like you are being engaged at a personal level. It is difficult to gauge everybody’s responses but looking at the camera rather than the screen for key messages is a good start. At all times present an attentive demeanor and emphasize that you are listening and attending. Remember to encourage and agree the dialogue using minimal encourages i.e. nodding, OK, etc., It is difficult on a Video Conference to keep interrupting with appreciative statements which increases the importance and effectiveness of positive body language. There are several books available on TV presentation skills that can provide further hints and guidance.
It is also useful to use Video to improve communication and relationships with global team members. Arrange regular one to one video conferences with key team members. Use these slots as a completely or partially informal chat. This can help you get to know your team and colleagues better. To build rapport, it is useful to put an item of interest in the background to prompt discussion and initial engagement. It is impossible to get to know everyone personally but taking the effort for key personnel will deliver much benefit. Encouraging others to do this distributes the benefit of improving communication and understanding globally.