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Communication Tips For IT Managers

When IT offshoring projects run into integration difficulties, managers and team members often point to "communication problems" as the root cause. This trend was evident in a GOX survey conducted with 225 companies. Unlike 2 decades ago, when many managers had teams based in the same location, the 21st century organisation provides team leaders with a new host of challenges and opportunities. With that in mind, this article looks at how IT managers can embrace this new operating model. There are many techniques and strategies that meet the challenges associated with virtual teams.

As an experienced IT professional working at either a mid-size or large company, you may well be working with or managing an outsourced team. Whether it is locally with EDS, CSC or somewhere off-shore with Wipro or TCS, you may experience some of these common challenges.

Communication: The most common challenge boils down to difficulties in how and when to communicate. As the famous news reporter Edward R. Murrow said, "The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it". In other words, just because we can send out hundreds of communications in a day via email it still does not prevent us from failing on a regular basis. If you are an IT manager facing communication challenges, we recommend that you:
- Hold regular, recurrent scheduled team communications
- Maintain strong, clear, central documentation for plans, communications, goals, performance expectations, and team structure
- Provide complete information to all team members to keep them involved
- Coach your team on the style of communication you'd like to receive
- Use a communication plan that shows the who, what, why, where, and when of team communications
- Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much, keep the messages short and precise, as Woodrow Wilson said "If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now."
- Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while. (Kin Hubard)

As commented by Karine Shomer on Sourcingmag.com, "You have a cross-cultural communication gap if you're running into differences in approaches and expectations in communication that are not acknowledged, understood or bridged. Are there differences around directness and candor as opposed to diplomacy and face-saving? Is there a preference for explicit communication that spells things out or implicit communication that leaves much to inference? Do "yes", "no" and "maybe" and silence have different meanings? Are there differences in expectations around push-back and challenging the statements made by other people or in the degree to which questions will be asked if something has not been understood? This cross cultural dimension of communication is the one most frequently underestimated in business undertakings, even though the potential for miscommunication in any particular interaction is magnified every time differences in culture are involved. I've been consistently struck by how most companies (both onshore outsourcing buyers and offshore service providers) expend considerable resources on all other aspects of the relationship and training of their project teams, but don't see bridging the cross-cultural communication differences as a discrete success factor in its own right."

It is evident that communication and an understanding of other cultures is pivotal in success when offshoring IT. You must work to develop clear communication styles and processes. Some effective strategies include:
- Verifying that your offshore partner's people understand and can work with your culture and its communication style.
- Ensuring that your team members participate in cross-cultural training with special focus on differences in communication styles.
- Assessing communication skills as part of your hiring process, and provide ongoing training and coaching in leadership communication & bridging the cultural gaps.
- Training IT managers to spot and remedy communcation challenges quickly, before problems escalate.

Remote teams are a key component of today's global workplace, but the focus remains on people, process & execution. There are many strategies & tactics. Select the few that will make the greatest impact, and use them consistently.

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