Working with international teams

I thought it might be good to share some of the things I’ve learned from my five years working in international teams. This is purely based on my experience, so feel free to share any differing opinions.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that multi-country collaboration can work! I’ve worked in teams and had many meetings with one person in Brazil, France, Spain, and the UK. The most challenging part is the very few hours of shared time together (if across multiple timezones) so make the most of those hours together. I’ll be focusing on video-calls as I found these essential for international working.

Videocall setup tips:

  • Make sure the camera can see everyone (a lot of communication is nonverbal).
  • Power imbalances make communication hard, so try to switch “hosting”.
  • Everyone being in the same social situation helps eg evenly sized groups or all individually dialling in (yes, even if in the same office go to different spaces).
  • Having a constant Hangout/Skype on can help, depending on the amount of collaboration required. If you don’t need to collaborate, I find it distracting.
  • Arrive on time LIKE IT IS A NORMAL MEETING.

Improving videocall quality:

  • Background noise adds up and interrupts others: put yourself on mute if not talking.
  • Using headphones stops Skype’s auto-cut-out and allows you both to speak and listen at the same time.
  • Plug in the ethernet (not just wifi).

Building team connections in other ways:

  • It is very much worth (early on in the relationship) visiting each other’s locations for at least 2 weeks. 2 weeks because it gives a weekend to relax and understand the culture better, as well as to know the people you will be working with.
  • Go to the pub, sportsbar, or culture-appropriate-alternative together.
  • Don’t forget you can do 1:1’s and other small meetings over videocalls too. I’d recommend building these confidential meetings into your rituals where possible, as it helps build trust. Also 1 to 1 video calls are actually pretty good.
  • If you’re coding, agree your coding standards together. Lots of collaborative software exists (Slack, Jira, Trello, Google, Github,…). I can’t advise what will be best for you: simply explore and see what works best for your needs.

So those are my tips. As ever I’d suggest Inspect and Adapt! For example in retrospectives it might be helpful to add in an activity to talk about how you collaborate and any experiments you might like to try.


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