How to build a strong culture among distributed teams
Company culture is something that is easily overlooked with distributed teams, especially as a company scales. I used to be able to walk into any of our offices and know everyone. Now it’s easy to walk into one of our offices and not recognise the majority of our team.
If culture fragments, team cohesion – and eventually collaboration – disintegrates. People lose their sense of a single vision: of a communal purpose that gets everyone out of bed in the morning and working as a team. Our vision has always been that education can change the world, and that’s at the centre of our corporate culture.
Having built our company from the get-go to include far-flung team members, we have been mindful of building a strong culture throughout, from startup to scale-up. This means whether our people are in our offices in Australia or around the world, or not in an office at all, there is no reason for them not to be fully engaged and feel part of the whole.
Get buy-in from the top down
Getting buy-in from everyone is critical. That includes individuals, managers, team leads and senior leaders; who all need to lead by example. If everyone isn’t willing to be an active participant in communicating and developing the culture, it’s going to disintegrate very quickly.
Communicate your vision
This follows on from getting management buy-in. Getting senior leaders to regularly visit different offices in person and articulate GO1’s vision is critical for us. Executives and leaders have got to show that it’s important, and get personally involved.
Invest in professional development
Developing your staff should be a key part of your culture, no matter who or where they are. Professional development is integral to the success of any company, creating a more positive work culture and better business results overall. Even as a training company, we weren’t great at this when we started.
But now, every one of our staff should have a professional development plan that is visited regular with their manager.
A sense of inclusion is critical to maintain a shared corporate culture. Remember that others are working with you outside the walls of your office. Not everyone is within your little bubble, and they can miss out on critical work and team elements if you don’t actively work to involve them and support them.
Having different world clocks in different offices can help: even if you don’t look at the actual time, it reminds you that there are people across all those time zones.
Meet in person
Many studies show the importance of face-to-face meetings, versus just videoconferencing or email and instant messaging. We regularly fly team members from all of our offices to our Brisbane head office, where they can meet the team and the founders, and see how people work. The human element is an integral part of shared culture.
Hire with culture in mind
Whenever we hire, we look for people who we think will be good candidates according to our company values, not just because of their skill set. We then have a review period when we assess whether people are a good cultural fit or not, and make any adjustments we need to.
Hiring in increments allows us to make sure that we’ve got the right people joining our team, and that we’re not keeping people around who might have a negative impact on the rest of the team. The best people will easily integrate with our culture and get behind what we’re trying to achieve for our journey.
Making sure that we’re managing our business in the right way is critical, and this includes preserving our culture, key values and vision. We want to maintain the same culture as when we started with a small office of people, through to being a global company.
We are a very diverse company, which means we have people from many different countries, backgrounds and languages in our different offices. Getting our team to adapt to the way we work and the traditions that we have within GO1 is important for everyone, and for ensuring that we have a successful future.
Scott Cooper is VP of Marketing at GO1.com, an online training platform for businesses to train staff, and the author of A Guide to Better eLearning. The Brisbane startup has offices in the US, South Africa, Vietnam, the UK and Malaysia.