Managing the relationship
Managing relationships is never easy, but managing them across oceans, time zones and with language and cultural barriers . . . Well, let’s just admit that it is challenging. Yet managing a supplier/partner relationship is as important to success as any technical skill. More projects are derailed due to communication failures than any other single reason.
So what is the secret to good supplier partnerships? Excellent teamwork. This means that all members of the team, wherever they work, are engaged and responsible for building a strong team environment. No one person can do it all, but smart managers learn how to create a culture for growing vigorous teams.
Team building in the 21st century
Most work today, and especially software development, takes place in a constantly changing environment. New and disruptive technologies make last year’s products and processes obsolete. Work teams are organized with people who offer various skill sets and then disbanded as projects are completed or team members are needed elsewhere. This dynamic environment calls for people who are good at “teaming.” That is, establishing relationships quickly, and learning while executing.
I can hear you saying, “Not everyone is good at those things! In fact, many people are not.” But these are learnable things. The holy grail of good teamwork is trust and there are ways to build it from the ground up.
Building blocks for teamwork and trust
Most people have experienced work in a toxic environment, and the reasons often come down to the opposite of teamwork. In these scenarios, cultures tend to be hierarchical with workflow directed from the top and filtering down to the workers. Because workers have little or no input they do not take a personal stake in the work and shirk responsibility versus embracing it. Rather than accountability, you get a culture of covering up mistakes and then finger-pointing and blame. Dysfunction is the obvious result. It is easy to see how this can occur across oceans and cultural differences.
But it is avoidable if you go into an outsourcing relationship with awareness and a plan. The building blocks of teamwork reverse dysfunction to generate accountability and ultimately, trust.
- Eliminate hierarchical thinking that discourages disagreement with “the boss.”
- Encourage constructive criticism and input from all team members.
- Stimulate thoughtful risk-taking by accepting mistakes as part of the process to find solutions.
- Reward accountability that includes corrective action.
- Rally team to support all members.
- Celebrate individual accomplishments in the context of contributions to the team.
- Engender trust and teamwork.
Successful relationships that maximize teamwork do not happen overnight. Be patient at the start of an outsourcing relationship and communicate, communicate, communicate. Be hyper aware of the culture you are creating in the first six months, and take corrective action if you see something going awry. With time, your partner should come to trust and communicate with you equally well.
Rob has worked in the consulting industry since 1992. At Coherent he is responsible for the operational management of the company. His prior experiences include management consulting, technical architecture, and program/project management. Rob holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a BA in Economics from the University of Notre Dame