14.3.08

Best Practice - All work and no play...

The mantra of every growth company I've worked at or consulted for seems to have been:

We work hard, we play hard.

You could be cynical and say this is just an unsubtle way for management to extract unpaid overtime from eager young employees. But I really think people like to work in this mode. I know I do. When I was running QA teams, the vital last few weeks of a big release, when I was "on stage" and everyone was putting in huge hours on a tight deadline was the best time of a project. No doubt it was also the worst, most stressful, but I clearly liked it or I wouldn't have kept doing it. It reminded me of finals-week in college. Everyone is stressed out. There's lots on the line. But everyone is in it together.

And at the end, what happens? At least in my experience, when it's all over, everyone goes out together and blows off steam. In software companies, that usually means a release party. The company gets T-Shirts printed. They rent out a bar, or a theater. The executives all stand up and thank everyone for the hard work. And all the smart hard-working people drink lots of beer, eat lots of appetizers, and blow off a lot of steam. And the next week, they start the whole process all over, on a new release or a new project.

This is a time-honored tradition in software companies. Most managers get it, and they get why it's important.

Some of the best managers I've known have taken it a step further -- when their teams are in the crunch-time of a project, these managers start providing little perks... Everyone staying late to work on the project? Alright, say these managers. I'll go pick up Chinese food for everyone.

These little perks, and the big release party at the end, are much appreciated by all but the most cynical staff.

So, how does this apply to Global Teams?

The answer should be obvious -- One global team. If you're working with a team of offshore contractors, you need to make them part of your team to achieve success.

So when you bring Chinese food in for your staff in Boston, you should call your lead in Chennai and ask her to provide dinner to anyone who's working late on that part of the team.

When you give away t-shirts to all your staff in Schenectady NY, you should also send t-shirts to your staff in Mumbai India.

And when you have a huge release party and thank everyone for all their hard work in Austen TX, you should figure out a way to do the same thing for your staff in St. Petersburg Russia.

My global management adaptation of that old work hard play hard chestnut I referenced above is:

We work hard together, we play hard together.

This goes a long way toward maintaining esprit de corps, and keeping your team focused about what's common about their various elements and locales, instead of shining light on what's different.

The actionable advice for managers here is:
  • When your team is working hard, support and encourage all parts equally. Don't forget to offer small perks to the remote members of your global team.
  • When you give away gifts (t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.) to your team as a reward for great work, do so for the remote members of your global team as well.
  • And when you have a release party, or celebrate a major milestone with your local team, don't forget about the remote team members who contributed to the project. Find a way to celebrate with them as well. Try to do it in such a way that you personally kick off the festivities, over a conference call or video conference. If not, send a note and ask the local leadership or management to read it on your behalf.
Do this, and the global part of your team won't feel like second class citizens. Do it very publicly, and your local team members will start to recognize that the remote team is a vital part of any project or release.

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