Time zone teams: making global collaboration work

25 October 2016

Paril Popat

Paril Popat

Consultant

My world is getting smaller and smaller, not because I drank a magic potion like Alice in Wonderland when she disappears down the rabbit hole, but because I've experienced truly world-wide collaboration on a recent project. Seeing teams across multiple time frames successfully work together suddenly makes you realise the world isn't such a big place after all. Here's how we made it work and the extra value it delivered.

The stars align

There are a couple of key factors that now allow us to work to this model, from the sales end of an opportunity right through to the final part of delivery. Firstly, having the might of Mindtree behind Bluefin provides us with a huge pool of experts to draw on across the globe. Secondly, the digital age in which we now operate allows us to communicate, share and connect seamlessly between offices, countries and continents. Let's look at these in more detail...

The right people

One of the key drivers for us using an international team is to ensure we have the best people working in the right areas, utilising their skills where they are the most suited (regardless of where they're located). For example, on the opportunity I was working this was how our team was shaped:

  • Sales: This was driven by our Head of Sales from our US team, with a track record of building long term relationships and progressing opportunities in a timely manner.
  • Opportunity owner: That was me (UK based), I had experience in similar projects and bids so could support the sales person, ensuring we were representing what we could / should do, and what were the right options for the client.
  • SMEs: We pulled in many of these at the appropriate time and based on the appropriate skills: financial knowledge (UK), database and technology (UK/US), data quality (US), project management (US).
  • Marketing: Our marketing team, operating over three regions, all pitched in to help pull together collateral.
  • Senior sponsorship: US General Manager helped with stakeholder management with the client (and secretly worked through some of the technical challenges, his pet passion) and our Chief Executive (based in the UK) supported the team with any internal (Bluefin) requirements.

The right technology 

You'd have to question our abilities, given that we are a technology-focused consultancy, if we didn't utilise this area to help us build a global team, right? Here's what we used:

  • Dropbox for our document share: This removed the need to email documents backwards and forwards between the team. This also ensured that people in different regions were always working with the correct version. 
  • Join.me for meetings: Surprisingly simple to use and easy to join from wherever and on whatever device.
  • Slack: This tool really brought the team together and is now being used by the whole project delivery team (Bluefin and the client) as the collaborative tool of choice.
  • Old fashioned phone calls: Sometimes it is just easier to pick up the phone and talk to someone!

Team Cohesion

Even with the right people and the right tools, you still need to build a cohesive team, particularly when people haven't met in person or are talking for the first time. At Bluefin, we have a values-driven culture (team work, wellbeing, integrity, customer focus and excellence), which means my colleagues have similar approaches to working and that definitely makes it easier to bond. Throw in the occasional social gathering, when geographies permitted, and having some time to discuss non-work related topics on Slack meant we all had other common touchpoints. An important factor in cohesion was the fact that we all had a common goal to achieve: giving our client the best possible solution and winning a new and exciting project for Bluefin.

Time zone teams

I really don't believe this to be a new concept but my recent experiences have got me wanting to use this approach on an increasing number of bids/projects.

We used the time zones as an advantage rather than a problem by following the sun: people were working across multiple time zones to expedite work through short time frames. Granted, we had to be careful with meetings as they needed to suit two or three different time zones, however this led us to keep specific times of the day free to virtually meet. In some cases, this actually meant there was more structure to the day rather a calendar of meetings dotted all over the place.

We now have a global team with consultants from multiple geographies delivering the project. They all travel to work onsite when required but the global aspect has meant that we can bring in the right expertise for the right problem, enabling our team to expand and contract as required.

Everyone is a winner

Most of our customers run international operations so being able make consultants available to them in their respective regions helps to manage these business users' expectations. Ultimately, I've discovered that bringing people together with different perspectives on approaching and solving problems with experiences gained across multiple continents and on multiple projects presents the best outcomes for both our clients and for project teams alike.