Business Management

Ken Scott (Europe) - How Dispersed Project Teams can Collaborate Across Europe

When other CEO's hear what I do, they tend to ask the same question: "How on earth can I get my people to manage projects without it being a drama or a disaster?" But you know, project management gets a bad press - especially when the headlines are about some multi-million pound government project deadline slipping or budget increasing. We need to remember that project management isn't a panacea for every facet of business life. So when costs increase because of totally unforeseen circumstances or the brief changes because of external factors, that isn't necessarily project failure. It's just life.

However, some companies are guilty of adopting best practices* in name only - and then wondering why their project teams can't deliver. They employ a project manager and think that's it. They are wrong. Training in a recognised best practice is hugely beneficial, particularly if it is tailored to the organisation's structure, culture and terminology. That helps everyone in the project team understand "how we manage projects here". Ultimately, projects are delivered by people. How your people implement that best practice, how they interact with each other, how their skills complement each other to provide the right mix, is absolutely critical.

And while collaboration is key to successful projects, it can be difficult to engender across departmental, functional or geographic silos that encourage internal politics. In my experience, the organisations that get the best out of cross-border teams are the ones that ensure the whole team shares a common methodology, tools, language and understanding of the team's objective. If there are cultural issues preventing team members from collaborating, they deal with it. Mentoring is a great way of overcoming such problems. And extra attention needs to be paid to building relationships and generating team spirit across borders.

Language can be a barrier to collaboration, but until conference calls, documents and web conferencing conversations can be translated accurately in real time, project teams need to agree on the common language they will use. UK employees can be at an advantage in that English tends to be the global language of business. However, where team members need to improve their language skills in order to keep up to speed, the organisation must provide that support.

Clear, frequent communication is particularly essential for building bridges in dispersed teams and I see technology playing an increasingly important role. More and more teams are using videoconferencing to achieve the personal "team meeting" experience. Shared folders, team intranet sites, wikis and bulletin boards on corporate networks ensure that the whole team "owns" the information and can access the latest updates. I also see social networks as effecting a helpful cultural change across Europe. In fact, innovative organisations are using enterprise social networking tools to stimulate rapid communication and discussion on progress across borders.
But collaboration is as much about how the team is managed from the outside as how the individuals communicate inside the team.

In my experience, employees collaborate optimally when there is transparency, organisation and good people management to give them a solid foundation. For example, you can communicate why this project is so important and publicly recognise the progress the project team is making. If project successes - and yes they do exist - are visibly celebrated, that encourages project teams to pull together to make projects work. When employees collaborate effectively they are huge assets to the organisation. They accelerate performance improvements and reduce duplication of effort. So it is worth making the extra effort to ensure European teams have the right tools, knowledge and attitudes to collaborate effectively.

*Best Practice guidelines as outlined by The Office of Government Commerce (OGC)


Ken Scott is CEO at the ILX Group plc. Ken won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year London & South region 2009 award. For more information on ILX, visit their website.



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