Some factors can integrate a geographically distributed team, and some can do the opposite just as well.
One of the factors that integrate a team is providing cultural intelligence to the team. The one that I would recommend if you held a gun to my head and asked me to give you just one piece of advice to improve global teams is (drum roll, please) reciprocal visits.
And that’s where accountants acquire a dislike towards my person. Well, at least one of the reasons. That I know of, anyhow, let’s focus on that one for now.
To explain how here’s the best explanation I’ve found. It is by Richard Brenner, from his book 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams:
The accounting system has line items for travel, but not for rework or delay. That’s how it fools us into thinking that avoiding travel is a wise way to conserve resources. Actually, avoiding travel is often the least responsible course. Because travel expense is always cheaper than rework or delay, use travel to bring together people who have important work to do.
Apologies to all accountants for that, but it is very much true; maybe we just hadn’t been very articulate at explaining why travel is essential.
Now, how much traveling is the right amount? It depends on many factors, so let’s say: as much as the team can afford in terms of time and money. Now, that can go to extremes. I’ve met banks from England that don’t limit their budget to see their Poland counterparts. On the other hand, once a year can also work. It also depends on the role of the people traveling or national politics; for example, some visas can be hard to get. The point here is, start with something the organization is comfortable with –just don’t say zero, please–, in terms of frequency and budget.
Oh! I should mention something important: These visits should be done onsite, to an actual workplace, not offsite, in some resort mid-way. The reasoning behind this is that site visits help people gain knowledge about each other and a better understanding of their environment, their point of view of the world, the work they are doing, and the team itself.
Want to know about the other factors? We’ll get to that sometime soon.