Developing International Skills In Virtual Teams

In an earlier article I discussed the different levels of support and training offered by organisations to their people when deploying them onto international projects, either as expat’s, or as home office based personnel working with international offices.

In my experience and observation, many organisations will give their personnel some level of induction and training into the situation they will be working as part of the set up of the project. The level and content of this will vary between company’s and even between projects. Some will have a minimal level of training, others more extensive and of course, sadly, some, either out of a lack of appreciation or lack of resources, will do nothing for their people and leave them to work it out for themselves.

Developing Personnel During A Deployment

The one stage, however, where many companies don’t have anything available for developing personnel is the provision of ongoing support to their personnel while they deployed onto their projects. I believe that much of this idea, that ongoing development and support is not needed, comes from the concept, derived from a more ‘technical’ training environment, that all training is essentially of a ‘fit and forget’ nature. That once an individual has attended the training course, they have the skills for the rest of their life and will not then need any further development or support; this is indeed a reasonable observation with many technical or so called “hard” skills, but is rarely the case with the humanistic, “soft” skills. To support this view I would point to the growing numbers of executive coaches offering their services to the more enlightened company’s, something many company’s would not need if they offered this internally.

So, what can organisations do to support their personnel on these international projects? I would propose a number of relatively simple and low cost techniques;

  • Identify and engage with internal communications coaches, personnel who have been in similar situations before, whether in the same countries or not is a secondary issue, and link these experienced staff up with the new and less experienced ones, provide them with facilites to meet from time to time in a low pressure environment and compare experiences.
  • Provide on line materials that personnel can access to help them with issues that arrise, these will never be fully comprehensive but will deal with the majority of issues.
  • Provide a forum (on line or simply a list of contacts) where individuals can discuss their issues, this forum could be moderated by seasoned professionals who can step in with advice as needed.
  • Offer frequent refresher courses and additional training for personnel when things change within the project.
  • Actively recruit additional personnel where needed with established international project experience and once recruited, listen to their experience.
  • Put an observer into some meetings and have them provide feedback to the meeting participants after the meeting conculdes, this does need care in selecting the right observer and having them give the feedback in a constructive and impartial manner, but it can be a powerful way for people to learn.
  • Engage a professional trainer and coach who can provide both pre deployment development and ongoing development for personnel.

All of these options could be executed with minimal cost to the project and the organisation and any cost incurred would, in my opinion, be recovered very quickly during the remaining life of the project. Although the ROI recovery of such effort can be hard to quantify, since it will avoid issues rather than remedy arising problems, there should never the less be a general perception of improvement that would attest to the value being derived.

Originally published at Ulfire.

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