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6 ways to maximise your leadership skills when managing offshore teams

Author: Clive Barrow, Published: 04 March 2018

Over the last few decades we have seen a large increase in offshoring, particularly within China and India where the cost of labour is low.

Having worked in Asia for many years, I have seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges that organisations face when they offshore their business. This blog explores some of the key challenges leaders face when they are working within an onshore/offshore environment, and offers thoughts and advice on how best to tackle them effectively.

Early communication
The words outsourcing and offshoring provoke many different reactions.  Some view offshoring a positive element of globalisation and a way to make businesses more cost effective, others worry about the potential change it may bring to their job roles. In our experience, companies that communicate the new direction and clarify the reasons and implications behind this, build a higher level of understanding and engagement with employees.

Constant communication and one to one meetings with key team members to share relevant information reassure where appropriate and also gain involvement on certain projects can make all the difference between an engaged and disengaged workforce.

Recognise cultural differences
Culture is often cited as one of the main challenges when offshoring. Whilst we live in a global world, it’s vital that different cultures and backgrounds are not overlooked; even subtle cultural differences can make a huge impact if not understood correctly. There is so much out there to read on cultural differences and a good start to basic good manners and to start to build relationships can be found on ediplomat here

Clear communication is key. The challenges come when communicating in a clear way across various different languages and cultures, and often miscommunication can result. We often find that miscommunication arises when Western managers haven’t effectively read between the lines of the subtle and indirect use of language in Asian cultures.

We have found that businesses that manage cultural differences well are those who conduct workshops both offshore and onshore so everyone is aware of each other’s cultural practices. Also, some companies deploy a local person to sit within the onshore office and help with relationships on both sides. Ultimately, regular communication, when managed in an engaging way, is the only way to bridge cultures and build relationships.

Differing management style
Traditionally, the typical management style of Western countries suits a flatter structure with usually a similar level of respect whatever the title or level within the business – but this is less likely to apply in India and China, where workers tend to hold senior employees and their managers in high regards, and are used to being micro-managed. In India a sense of belonging is important, and simple things like remembering employees’ birthdays makes all the difference in building trust and goodwill.

Getting the best out of your team will probably involve using different management techniques, which in turn should drive engagement and productivity.

Clarity on goals

We’ve found that employees both onshore and offshore, particularly during periods of change, need focus and clarity over what their personal and businesses goals are, and in turn how they as an individual can work towards these goals. As a leader, it is important to be constantly aligned to the bigger business picture both long and short term, and onshore and offshore, and communicate these goals in an effective way to help drive engagement and productivity in this area.
Regardless of where your team are situated, a good leader will know their individual team members future dreams and career aspirations, and have regular meetings so that the team member knows how best to work towards them.

Face to face meetings

It’s easy to email, less easy to have a face to face meeting with your offshore team, but the latter is the best way to build relationships that lead to higher engagement and productivity. Spending large amounts of time in the air may not be the best use of your time though, so remember it is not the quantity of time you spend with your offshore team, but the quality of your time that matters. Make sure that when you are with your team you are 100% committed to supporting the leaders within the organisation, and the challenges that they face.

Work closely with the team and build trust to ensure you get a true picture of the offshored business and see how it really operates. Skyping and regular conversations are invaluable. If your team feel you are making the effort to get to know them as individuals and as an organisation, they are more likely to share valuable information and go the extra mile.

Remember important dates

It is critical to remember the importance religion plays amongst many communities alongside the need to celebrate several important dates and festivals such as Chinese New Year and Diwali. As a leader you need to plan these important dates into the business cycle and plan accordingly, so that your organisation operates efficiently whilst your team has time with their friends and families.

One final bit of advice is to never stop learning and embracing the cultural differences! Managing remote and culturally diverse teams is a huge challenge, but with that challenge comes satisfaction and learning opportunities for not only yourself but the individual team members that you manage.