How to make international teams feel close
November 20, 2018 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Have you worked within an international team in a business sense? Did you feel emotionally close and friendly with them? Tell me how you made that happen.

I work within a team that currently sits across Europe and North America. This question isn't about business-centric collaboration - we actually do that quite well and have tools to assist in that.

My question is about how to feel emotionally closer/more friendly with them. Have you successfully done this? They are all lovely people but we will not be meeting up in a big group at any known point, and I would love to propose some way for us to become more familiar and friendly.
posted by rachaelfaith to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I work for a large, Borg-like consulting firm with employees all over the globe. My own team covers 3 continents and has members from at least 5 different countries. One thing that we did weekly when we first got together was have a 'virtual lunch hour'.
Everyone gets an invite to a conference call, we all grab something to snack on, and then we dial in, and talk about anything and everything, just as if we were all sitting around the table in the cafeteria. Some folks talked a lot, some were quiet in the beginning, but we had one leader who would kind of make sure that everyone was involved or at least recognized and drawn in.
Works brilliantly.
Gradually, as the team got to know each other better, and the work load increased, we did away with the lunch hour, but will occasionally schedule one and get together for old times sake.
Good luck!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:11 AM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I work within a team that currently sits across Europe and North America.


We have video conference calls every morning our time to touch base and work through projects together as needed. These are via dedicated hardware/TVs so the connection is easy and reliable, though there's a slight language barrier at times, in that calls are conducted in English and sometimes the European team struggles. The team in the States is working on language training but it's simply not part of American culture in the same way English (and Hollywood) is present overseas.

We also have a European manager physically here in the States, and one of the American team members just accepted a lateral move to Europe, so there's some cultural cross-pollination going on. We also have various non-entry-level members of the teams visit their counterparts throughout the year (that is, some people from Europe might come to the US for a week, and then 6 months later a few from the US will go visit the team in Europe). The team as a whole has never met up as a group but I think over time most members have now met most of the others in person.

It's not perfect, but at least it's not a bunch of faceless email inboxes that we work with. I think for us the most difficult part is the language and culture issues but I can't tell if those apply to you.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:26 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I once worked for a small startup that had a team in India run by a friend of one of the cofounders. Eventually, communications stopped going through our bosses and a couple of the team members there and I here were able to cultivate peer relationships, which was much, much better than dealing with their snobby boss (he really was a dismissive entrepreneur type). There was one in particular who seemed to be the fixer for the bugs I found, and since they were in India there were many instances of "sorry to call so early/late" which introduced enough informality that eventually we could be like "hey what's up dood." Aside from the boss I don't think I even knew what they looked like until I left that job and connected with them on LinkedIn.

That said, I blanch at anything that could be construed as "team building" and I don't think it's necessary for coworkers to feel emotionally closer to each other for a business to thrive, so try to account for these people as well (without penalizing them).
posted by rhizome at 11:27 AM on November 20, 2018

Our daily standup conference call between London and US has a fair amount of banter, as does the shared chat room. Still not completely smooth, time zone and cultural differences but not being too strict about meeting or agile formalities keeps it friendly and with positive vibes. It's just webex at our desks but the tech is painless enough so not much more of a barrier to a quick call than in person chat.
posted by JonB at 11:30 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a sister team in London; we have a weekly all-team meeting and an annual gathering, alternating the country every year. That week-long gathering is maybe 60% business and 40% hanging out (dinners / other activities - all optional, but I like them).

I also have a call every three weeks with the manager in London and a weekly call with my team counterpart in London, and that's enough to keep the emotional "we are friends" connection going for me.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:55 AM on November 20, 2018

I don't think it's necessary for coworkers to feel emotionally closer to each other for a business to thrive, so try to account for these people as well (without penalizing them).

This. It’s called a professional relationship and you say the collaboration works well. So if it ain‘t broke don’t fix it. You‘ll always have people working more or less closely together and geography is only a small aspect. I currently work on 5 different projects with people in 5 offices in my country, 4 offices in a neighbouring country and several in other countries, we cover three continents. It works well, especially since everywhere has good connectivity now. Being forced into lunch socials on Skype would be my personal idea of hell.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Interestingly enough, I am one of those people that sours at 'team building' exercises so this definitely is not intended in that way. Out of the group, I am probably the most introverted.

And I don't want it to be required, either. Was just brainstorming things to pitch at the group and see if anyone else was on board with the idea.

Thank you, though, for keeping us introverts etc heard and accounted for!
posted by rachaelfaith at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I worked on a large software project split between London and California. Inbetween version 1.0 and 2.0 we all met up in California, ostensibly for meetings about v 2.0, but the major benefit was a vast improvement in relations between the two groups ever after. Realizing that there is a real person on the other end of all communication made things much better,
posted by w0mbat at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I work within a team that currently sits across Europe and North America.
I have a similar situation with employees spread across the US and a contractor team in Eastern Europe. We integrate the EU team into our regular workflow as much as possible given the time zone difference. We schedule our daily standup video meeting so everyone can attend and see each other (first thing US morning, last thing EU evening). We're also all active on the company-wide casual Slack channel and use that to share some family news and pictures, info about holidays in each country, etc. I wouldn't say we are emotionally close but we have enough regular contact, both structured and unstructured, to have a friendly relationship.
posted by 4rtemis at 12:23 PM on November 20, 2018

I've always worked on multi-country/region teams, and honestly the thing that I've found works best to spur communication is pairing folks across regions to work together on short projects; it helps that usually we needed to implement things cross region anyways. We also actively IM with one another both about projects and life.

My current company rolled out Skype/video chat to everyone, but honestly it's not really adopted by everyone; some teams use it all the time, but I forget I have it half the time.
posted by larthegreat at 12:47 PM on November 20, 2018

One international team I worked on got into a habit of posting on slack a photo of the view from wherever we say down to work (eg view from office window, view from couch, view from library, picture of steaming coffee on the desk, etc). It was nice and made us feel closer.

Sometimes we'd also post pictures of our lunch. (Which often led to recipes)
posted by lollusc at 4:02 PM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Seconding Slack or Discord. If you have intentional off-topic, pets, food or article channels then people who wish to socialize will do so at their own pace.
posted by storytam at 8:17 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks to those that responded and again for the caution against anything seemingly mandatory. With the group's agreement that this is voluntary, some of us have started to post personal/family photos here and there, and we had a Secret Santa gift-giving a week ago. We're planning to do a drop-in virtual lunch soon, too.
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:37 PM on December 23, 2018

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