Circles Nomadic International Business Psychology

Time Zone rotation in global team meetings, Fredrik Fogelberg

Posted on May 8th, 2019

In a recent newsletter we listed a number of best practices for virtual teams: 

  • Team charter
  • Agenda
  • Time zone rotation
  • Trust
  • Relationships
  • Participation / engagement
  • Language difficulties
  • Offline discussions

For now, let’s look at Time zone rotation.

Yesterday, I was in a virtual classroom workshop with participants from 2 continents: Asia, Europe and north America.

The Japanese participants had to spend their evening attending, up to 11 PM and those who joined from California had to get up at 5 AM in order to attend.

For the Europeans, the session started comfortably after lunchtime.

How is the time slot set?

The dominant group tends to get the best time slot, usually within normal working hours.

From a group dynamic perspective, the dominant subgroup is often either:

-       Those based in the headquarters

-       The most senior in the hierarchy

-       Or the majority

This is usually an unconscious process: no one deliberately wants to annoy their remote team mates by forcing them to join a virtual meeting at midnight, when they should be in bed.

But it has a detrimental impact on team identity and performance. Why?

A high performing remote or global team is built on equality in membership: all team members are seen as important contributors to the task and the success of the team. Therefore, fairness rules and the team manager’s job is to watch out for an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic where ‘some animals are more equal than others’ (Orwell).

For the time-zone challenge, this means that the burden and discomfort of having to join a meeting outside of normal working hours should be rotated.

Here are a few rules of thumb when scheduling a meeting across time zones: 

  1. Ask yourself: is a meeting (synchronous communication) really necessary? Or can we handle the matter at hand through a-synchronous communication?
  2. Does everyone need to attend this meeting or can a select few take care of it?
  3. Is it possible to schedule it at a reasonable hour for all participants?
  4. If not, use a system of rotation: those who had the worst timeslot last time should now benefit from a ‘normal’ hour for the meeting. Keep track of the rotation from meeting to meeting.

Tools

There are (free) tools that help you to plan meetings across time zones. This one for instance shows the colours green, yellow and red to indicate the level of (inconvenience): https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/ 

The importance of sleep

You need to have a very important reason to keep a team member from sleeping in order to attend a meeting. Although being at work in the night may look like high commitment, it isn’t a good idea.

Science tells us that the importance of sleep is highly underestimated. Sleeping has a direct impact not just on physical health, but also on mental health, mood, problem solving ability and overall performance. The quickest way for professionals and leaders to increase their output is to allow themselves an extra half hour sleep each night.

Holidays and daylight saving

Also, it is important to be aware of national and religious holidays in your participants’ locations and cultures.

Practically every week there is a national holiday or school vacation somewhere in the world. With all good intentions, it does not look good if you schedule a meeting on a Friday with Arab colleagues, on Midsummer eve with Finns, on Thanksgiving with north Americans or on King’s day with the Dutch.

Out of politeness, they may not even tell you about your mistake, but it reflects badly on your reputation as a global team manager.

Particularly tricky is the short window in spring and fall when many countries move to and from daylight saving time but not at the same moment. Professional meetings start and end on time, and at the same time. Automated calendars, such as Outlook, handle this challenge for you.

Hello Goodbye

One more thing to make you look professional is to be aware of the time zone differences when you host the meeting. Greeting a Japanese team member at 8 PM with ‘good morning’ does not display you as a savvy international manager.

Keep a note next to your computer with the different time zones and adapt your language when referring to time, for example, ‘this meeting ends on the next hour’ instead of ‘this meeting ends at 10.00’.

Most virtual teams are cross cultural by nature. Nomadic IBP can help support your organisation in leveraging this diversity.

Why cross cultural management training?

Leveraging cross cultural diversity is essential for any organisation that operates internationally. The challenge is to make the diversity work in favour of the team and its task and not against it. Nomadic IBP has provided cross cultural management and cross cultural communication training to its clients internationally since 1996.

Read more about Nomadic IBP and our cross cultural programmes in the virtual classroom.

Image source: www.freepik.com

 

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