Get 3 Keys to Unlock Success and Master Multinational Management

By Andy Hilliard

To unlock the potential of offshored software development, leaders must prioritize cultural sensitivity, seamless operations across geographies, and intentional trust-building. Accelerance CEO Andy Hilliard outlines strategies to ensure successful communication, collaboration, and a strong team dynamic to navigate the complexities of multinational teams.

In the relentless pursuit of agility, cost efficiency, and access to top-tier talent, businesses are increasingly turning to offshoring to meet their software development needs. Building a multinational team can provide tremendous potential by removing geographic barriers to the best talent, but also introduces complexity that might not be anticipated. To thrive in this environment, leaders must embrace three keys to success.

1. Embrace Cultural Sensitivity and Bridge the Distance

Cultural differences can easily become communication chasms when teams are dispersed across the globe. The success of your offshored development project hinges on navigating these differences with sensitivity and strategic communication. Before any project kicks off, take the time to make sure your teams are in alignment regarding shared vocabulary, communication styles and expectations around responsiveness, especially if your offshore team is on the other side of the world. Here’s how:

  • Foster Cultural Awareness: Don’t assume that what works in your home country will translate seamlessly. Actively educate your teams—both onshore and offshore—about each other’s cultures. It might be helpful, if you have the bandwidth and resources, to organize virtual “cultural exchange” sessions, celebrate holidays from different regions, and encourage direct interaction between team members to build commonalities.
  • Clarify Communication: Avoid idioms, slang, and overly nuanced language. Too many people think jargon makes them sound more intelligent, but it often causes confusion and division. Strive for clear, direct phrasing. Supplement written communication with video conferencing whenever possible to pick up on visual cues and pre-empt misunderstandings. Establish communication protocols, including preferred channels for different types of interaction (urgent vs. routine, etc.).
  • Combat “Us vs. Them” Mentalities: The second your offshore developers feel like an isolated extension, resentment can fester. Build a cohesive team identity. Use inclusive language (“our team,” “our project”). Emphasize shared goals and celebrate collective milestones. Proactively seek out the valuable perspectives your team offers, precisely because of its diversity.

At the same time, be as transparent as possible with your onsite team about the reasons an offshore team was needed: lack of available local talent, time constraints around making permanent hires, etc. Your onsite team shouldn’t feel insecure about their own jobs simply because an offshore team was added – it only breeds distrust and division.

2. Develop Operational Excellence Across Time Zones and Technologies

With teams scattered across continents, even in close time zones, maintaining smooth workflows and collaboration can seem like a logistical nightmare. However, by employing a few critical strategies, you can keep your project on track.

  • Overlap Work Hours: Don’t expect your offshore team to always adapt to your primary time zone. Plan some overlap into schedules on both sides if at all possible. This window, even an hour or two a day, will serve as prime time for live collaboration, resolving issues swiftly and building rapport.
  • Make Knowledge Sharing a Core Principle: Don’t let knowledge become siloed. Invest in robust knowledge management systems, accessible to everyone on the team. Ideally, your offshore partner will already be familiar with the tools you want to use. Documentation is king – encourage detailed code comments, develop clear design specifications, and record videos of critical meetings.
  • Make Tech Tools Your Friend: Go beyond the basics of communication platforms. Use advanced project management software for granular task tracking, real-time updates, and transparency on progress. Utilize collaboration tools such as shared whiteboards and code repositories that encourage seamless work across locations. Again, your right-fit offshore partner will already be acquainted with the tech stack you prefer for these kinds of tasks and organization.
  • Leverage the Agile Advantage: Agile methodologies were practically designed for distributed teams. Adopt a framework that emphasizes short development sprints, frequent feedback, continuous integration, and a laser focus on delivering working software.

3. Prioritizing Trust and Relationship Building

Offshoring can sometimes feel like managing a team at arm’s length.  Building trust – arguably the most critical component of great teams – requires a deliberate effort.

  • Leadership Visits: Budget and calendar permitting, there’s no substitute for face time. Leaders traveling to offshore locations and vice versa send a powerful signal of investment in the partnership. Take the time to not only work but also to connect on a human level. It’s not always possible, of course – having leadership on video calls can help send that message as well if travel isn’t an option.
  • Accountability on Both Sides: Make sure roles and responsibilities are unambiguous. Set clear expectations and performance metrics, but also create an atmosphere where individuals are comfortable asking for help and escalating issues early. A culture of blame will kill your project faster than any technical roadblock. This should be part of the initial alignment work done before any work commences. Never go into a project with any confusion around who is responsible for what and when done is actually done.
  • Don’t Underestimate the Informal: Beyond work discussions, encourage informal water-cooler-style virtual interactions. Create dedicated chat channels for non-work topics, organize online team games, and leave a bit of space in meetings for casual conversation. That investment of what some may see as “wasted time” will translate to happier team members and better work. Some of the best, most creative ideas can come from informal brainstorming rather than structured meetings.
  • Recognize and Reward: Treat your offshore team members as exactly that: members of your team. Make a point to visibly recognize their contributions so they don’t feel overlooked or second-rate. It may not always be top-of-mind for onshore colleagues, so leaders need to be proactive in highlighting outstanding work and celebrating team victories.

Beyond the Basics

While these three pillars provide a robust foundation for your offshored software development success, a few additional points are worth noting:

  • Security First: Don’t let geographic boundaries introduce vulnerabilities. Work with IT teams to establish robust data security and access control protocols and make sure that your offshore partner follows them as well.
  • Seek Specialists: Consider working with an offshoring partner or consultant if you lack in-house expertise in managing multinational teams. These experts can help you navigate legal considerations, cultural nuances, and talent recruitment. They can also help you find the right-fit partner that will make your offshore projects successful. Don’t think a reference from a trusted colleague or friend is enough. The right partner for one firm may not be the best fit for another. That’s not a reflection on the offshore team’s qualifications or work product, but rather a reflection of the need to invest the time to find the right fit for your particular circumstance and needs.
  • Embrace Learning: Offshoring will force your organization to improve and become more efficient. The more effectively you manage a distributed team, the better equipped you’ll be for the future of work.

About the Author

Andy HilliardAndy Hilliard is the CEO of Accelerance, he leads the globalization and collaboration of software teams with companies seeking talent, innovation, and a globally-distributed extension of their engineering function. Two-time author, Andy recently released his latest book, Synergea: A Blueprint for Building Effective, Globally Distributed Teams in the New Era of Software Development.

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