SPLIT: Building and Engaging Global IT teams

Blog

September 01, 2017

SPLIT: Building and Engaging Global IT teams

By Simeon Wasonga

Senior IT Manager Jhpiego Kenya

Jhpiego Global IT Director Michele Lugiai contributed to the writing of this blog.

Providing valued and mission-supportive IT services depends on having a great team. But how do you build and manage a successful internationally dispersed team that is excited, motivated, and collaborative, as well as intellectually engaged? Through the adoption of the SPLIT framework (Structures, Processes, Language, Identity and Technology), Jhpiego built a global team that excels in collaboration and service. Here’s how we did it.

Our Story

Five years ago, Jhpiego leadership saw the need to develop a new global IT department, to enable the organization to adapt to the changing demands of a fast-growing INGO. Working across 40 countries, in the Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, IT staff were distributed globally across different time zones, and not every country office had dedicated IT staff.

Over the years, the country office IT teams had evolved to be dynamic, smart, and innovative to support the organization’s mission. However, there was a unique challenge of the country IT teams working in isolation without much collaboration and interaction with the head office in the U.S. There was no common or shared vision.

The Challenge

The challenge we faced was building team relations when we didn’t sit in the same office space. This was aggravated by the team placement across different time zones. When one team slept, the other was awake working. We didn’t speak the same language and there were a lot of fluency gaps. This, coupled with the cultural differences, stacked the odds against us.

Our Approach

We adapted the SPLIT framework (Structures, Processes, Language, Identity and Technology) to define processes, procedures, activities, and norms that would enable us to come together as a fully engaged global IT team. (The SPLIT framework is credited to Prof. Tsedal Neeley, associate professor at Harvard Business School.)

Structures

We looked at what we had in place that was working well. Our strengths included high-caliber staff, good support from country office management, and a shared common purpose to support project staff who were working on a mission to reach the goals of the organization.

To strengthen our structures, we started involving the country office teams in developing processes and procedures. Also, we established regular communication channels on global direction and standards. We improved on our collaboration approaches and tools. The field teams were involved in the decision-making process and participated in seeking solutions to issues and challenges that affected them. It also became clearer what the goals of the organization were and how each and everyone’s work contributed to the realization of these goals. Inclusion and participation replaced isolation.

Processes

To keep the global team engaged, we started having regular virtual meetings and conversations among teams across the globe to collaborate on the project. Participation in the global projects have kept the IT staff engaged and helped build team leaders on the global level.

We established IT partnerships, and one-on-one pairings where a senior IT staff is partnered with new staff to enable quick onboarding into the organizational culture and quick learning of the infrastructure. We also have in place country-to-country learning that has helped build leaders within teams.

IT staff are occasionally assigned support roles outside their home country, which provides the opportunity for team members to meet each other in person to experience and learn in a different environment. This has greatly promoted team collaboration.

We also celebrate accomplishments and achievements within the team. This can be when someone in the team successfully completes a course, task, or project. This keeps the team feeling good about the achievements and has helped foster camaraderie and empathy.

Language

Our IT team is drawn from English-, French-, and Portuguese-speaking countries. Even though English is the predominant language, we do not all necessarily speak the same language. To address the language barriers and fluency gaps, we have rules of engagement during global meetings where every team member is encouraged to participate and contribute to the conversation. Every opinion is valuable. We have established common understanding of some words and phrases that may be misconstrued.

We have multilingual members in the team, who offer translation for members who may need help. This ensures participation from all member of the team despite any lack of mastery of English.

Identity

How do we understand our colleagues and where they are coming from in conversations?

We have learned that we are all different and see things differently based on our experience, culture, and level of expertise. Being different doesn’t mean one is wrong. We value and respect difference in opinion. We constantly learn from each other on diversity issues and cultural practices.

Technology

We have invested in diverse tools for engagement and communication, and choose which ones to use based on the environment and circumstances. The use of these tools evolves along with how we communicate with each other. We use Skype, Skype for Business for online meetings and chats, Adobe Connect and GoToMeetings for webinars, Yammer for social engagement and information sharing, Slack for technical collaboration, and WhatsApp for informal chats.

Conclusion

Developing a highly engaged and involved global IT Team is a continuous and evolving process. We keep learning about the ways we communicate, collaborate, and engage as a team. Success is not guaranteed overnight, and deliberate effort and ongoing investment need to be made. The goals and objectives for the global team need to be aligned with the overall organization goals to ensure leadership support and endorsement.

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