How can innovation be implemented in globally distributed teams?

ARYZE interviewed Thomas Weis about how to drive innovation across globally distributed teams. We talked about what a leader needs to know and agree on if he wants to lead teams that are located in different parts of the world, and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

Thomas Weis worked at SAP for ten years as a Principal Business Consultant and recently joined Bold Brains as Chief Experience Officer. At the Innovation Roundtable 2019, he gave a presentation on working with internationally dispersed colleagues.

How can leaders of teams encourage the involvement of members in team decisions about innovation?

“First of all, I think innovation is a result and not a process. Therefore you can’t make decisions about “innovation”. What leaders can do is encourage team members to participate or propose decisions to do things differently, then they are done today. Validate and test the ideas and some of them might result in innovation. Leaders can simply do this by providing a vision, but not the exact way how to get there (this wouldn’t be innovation anyway). Especially new tools on the market come along with a lot of potential to do things differently and enrich today’s way of doing things, with new opportunities.”

Why does a leader need to manage collaborative leadership with a globally distributed team?

“Leading by example and make people follow you. Therefore “manage” is the old-worlds term. You can manage operational, existing and well-known stuff. As a leader, you need to be the one doing it and invite your team to join in, step by step.”

How can multinational companies optimize collaboration between intercultural teams to strengthen global innovation and management capabilities?

“Leading by example would be a good start. Often the top leaders are not the one who adapt the latest technologies early. In addition, start lighthouse projects as positive examples and put them into the spotlight. The way of how we work together is changing dramatically and humans, by their nature, are afraid of the unknown. Hence, you have to show them how the “New” could look like and give them time to adapt.”

Which tools and technologies can be used to support communication between internationally distributed employees to promote successful collaboration for innovation?

“I will answer this from a corporate perspective and put in my own beliefs a bit. It starts with the question: How do we increase the chance to create something innovative? I think transparency and continuity are very important, meaning that we have everyone in the team enabled to read every communication and contribute to it. Another thing is that we don’t forget what we already talked about and learned. Based on these principals, I prefer to have tools like Slack and Teams. These tools really change the paradigm of communication inside teams and corporations. We have to get away from intransparent 1:1 email communication and change towards openness and transparency. This way we get across country borders and office locations, even timezones don’t matter much anymore.”

How can we engage members of globally distributed teams in effective collaboration using advanced meeting tools for better innovation progress?

“One important rule here is: “Video on” as a standard habit, to give the minimal feeling of a face to face conversation. Second, be clear about the purpose of the meeting, so people know if they can contribute and it makes sense for them to participate. This is something I learned, in the digital world, you have to be much more focused and prepared. It must be accepted that people decline if they don’t see the added value by participating. These rules should apply basically to any kind of meeting, collaboration, but is very often violated. The tools we have already, Zoom or MS Teams Meetings, or many other tools. What we don’t have yet, is the changed habit of how to run meetings efficiently.”

What are the benefits in terms of innovation for globally distributed teams?

“You can work with the best people fitting to the topic, independent of where they are located. Especially in recruiting this is a big value add, as you can hire globally the best and not what is available in your region. Another thing is, people can work from where they want to work and be more balanced, as they are happy. Happy people will do a better job.”

What are the disadvantages in terms of innovation for globally distributed teams?

“For sure good old simple social interaction. Simple face to face chat at the coffee machine, or wherever. These things are valuable, too.”

What are your five best advices for startups to implement innovation in globally distributed teams?
  1. Digital First – try to keep things digital, whatever it is.
  2. Transparency – don’t create sub-groups or hidden information.
  3. Continuity – keep going until you know for sure it has come to an end (in whatever it resulted).
  4. Learn & Adapt – don’t carve things into stone, use the flexibility you have (compared to corporates).
  5. Don’t ride dead horses – if you discovered it is not working out, stop it and start something different.

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