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Getting Past the Global: A Chat about Virtual Teams with Arnaud Boue

Collaborative communication is a challenge we all face, especially when we need to communicate globally.  Many of us  know all about the difficulties of working across borders and time zones: with the best will in the world, it can sometimes be a recipe for confusion, exclusion and missed opportunities.

With this in mind, I decided to ask one of Cisco’s virtual collaboration veterans for his take on how to work as a global team, and get it right.

Arnaud Boue is a Cisco Finance Business Manager.  In 2010 he was invited to work on the design of a WW team looking at how to deliver world-class Business Intelligence Services.

His initial approach was, as he puts it, “fairly standard”. He’s the first to admit that things started going awry straight away: “It’s all too common to fall into the trap of miscommunicating common goals, especially when you are working with a multi-national team.  If you don’t ensure that everyone is properly briefed, people usually start to work regionally, not globally.”

Another insight: while WebEx and other collaborative tools are indispensable, it’s easy to mis-use them.  As Arnaud found out with, his team mates, when you schedule meetings across three time zones, someone will always be penalized and end up working under par. For some it may be late at night, for others 5am.  Pretty quickly, team spirit began to fizzle out and conflicts set in.

But with experience comes insight. So when he got the call to lead another global project last year, the group decided on a different tactic.  Using what could be called a “relay system,” delegates from each geo would meet across time zones that made sense, and carry decisions forward to the next segment of the team.

This didn’t only pay off logistically, it also meant that colleagues began to rely on each other more – building real collaboration through mutual support. As he says: “Sharing and creating touch bases made us more inter-connected and inter-dependent so that the sharing of goals was an organic and natural process. I think it also made us more focused – the knowledge that we represented our team at each touch point.”

For me, one of the really interesting takeaways from our talk is what Arnaud calls the “five people rule.” He believes that a “critical mass” is reached by having a maximum of five participants in any meeting. More than five, and someone will inevitably be left out.  Inviting colleagues to brief each other and take it in turns to represent their team seems to be a more effective way of communicating – and a means of ensuring that everyone has their say.

I think Arnaud raised a number of really important issues that connect collaboration, inclusion and diversity with productivity by breaking with traditional working models. His modus operandi puts colleagues on more of an equal footing, shares responsibility around and builds mutual dependence – and real team spirit.  Collaboration tools have a huge role to play in this. And Arnaud believes that though we have come far, we still have a long way to go in reality exploiting the full benefits of tools like video  to bridge distances when we work globally. The key, he says, is to think about how we can use these tools to really collaborate, not make the mistake of believing that we are collaborating because we have these tools.

What do you think?

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