Overcoming the Challenges of Communication, Culture, And Trust Between Onshore and Offshore Development Teams

At Axis, we run our projects with our clients utilizing a combination of onshore and offshore resources.  For over a decade we’ve been doing it and we have learned some valuable lessons to establish better synergy within our widespread workforce. This article showcases the inherent challenges of working with the offshore team, both socially and culturally, and how we’ve streamlined communication, set realistic expectations of the group, and the overall delivery of our projects.

You’ll find some useful tips here to maximize productivity, communicate more efficiently, address the control hierarchy, align realistic goals, motivate the team and improve the general working relationships between not only our employees but the clients we support.

Maximizing Offshore Productivity

The Challenge

Onshore: Onshore team members working closely with businesses are in a better situation to respond to user needs and changes in the business environment. Colocation further helps this where changing business needs facilitate interaction and quick feedback loop. You know how your users respond to situations and work environments.

Offshore: Teams not in touch with the changing conditions are more intent on following processes and procedures to ensure that things are addressed efficiently.

The Solution

You can be very successful with your offshore team when you present them with a problem that has a clear structure to the solution. Because of the inherent nature of working behind the scenes and not being able to sense the actual pulse, offshore teams are extremely productive when the direction is clear. It does not mean that everything needs documentation, but if the direction is clear, then teams perform optimally and deliver value overnight.

Tasks involving strategy, R&D, investigation, troubleshooting, and brainstorming have fewer chances of getting done quickly than tasks that require planning and execution.

Offshore-onshore team relationship usually goes through a gestation period where the teams associated with each other over a longer duration thus maturing the relationship and the expectations from the relationship.

Communication

The Challenge

Onshore: Co-located teams benefit from open communication that can afford to be direct, candid and can relatively easily solve communication gaps. It is easier to get answers from co-workers face to face rather than communicating over email. More importantly, onshore and onsite team members have the advantage of being privy to hallway and coffee machine conversations, which help them further attune to the changing business environment.

Offshore: Non-collocated teams often find it hard to say “no” or raise problematic issues successfully with their onshore counterparts. Cultural or social unknowns/barriers often impede such communication.

The Solution

Clear communication guidelines help establish the path for effective communication.  Having an offshore ambassador on your team can help smoothen the communication until a solid relationship has developed.

Due to time zone differences, timeliness of communication is paramount

Time zone constraints on offshore communication have its limitations in conversing effectively – regarding both quality and quantity. Because of less quantity, quality of communication becomes imperative.

Email communication needs to be addressed anticipating the questions the audience might have and tackling those ahead of time.

How To Align Goals With The Offshore Team?

The Challenge

Onshore: Onshore team members have the advantage of sensing the urgency from being in the heart of the business environment. They can respond, react and change strategy on the fly due to proximity to the business

Offshore: Sense of urgency loses steam with the offshore team for many reasons including time and distance, they face challenges perceiving a sense of urgency. Urgency also needs to be followed up and check-ins must be made to be sure teams are progressing on the right track and there is enough time for course correction.

The Solution

Provide them with a clear vision of your business objectives and what you want to achieve. Project requirements change from time to time, but the goals remain the same. Provide visual aids to enhance quick absorption of targets and objectives like flowcharts, diagrams, timelines and communicate this frequently.

How Maximize Team Motivation

The Challenge

Offshore teams have the difficult task of making their presence felt without physically being there. Making an impact and influencing a person is not easy. This makes the task of motivating the offshore team even harder.

The Solution

Clearly delineate the authority of the offshore team members. Lack of power sometimes signifies no authority and may lead to absence of motivation and leadership

Provide offshore teams visibility into your team processes and a collective working agreement. Perception of inclusion automatically drives motivation and team spirit. Communicate what is good and why. We all need a pat on the back from time to time. Recognize offshore success to the onshore team, everyone should know when a coworker is outstanding no matter their physical location in the organization.

Also, communicate what is working well and why, but do it constructively. We all need pointers to perform better. It is better to do this privately than embarrass an employee in front of his teammates.

How To Set The Right Control Hierarchy

Control and Communicate the Hierarchy

Every manager has a style of working. Managers at different levels have different information and involvement requirements. For an offshore team, it is tough to imagine their lead’s control hierarchy.

Solution

Set up clear guidelines as to when to pull in the manager and when it is ok for you to let them make informed decisions.  When letting people make decisions, set up suitable decision-making protocols. Define the appropriate level of abstraction: Explicitly document or explain parameters of decision making and the perimeter or the limit of independent decision-making,

Describe the existing hierarchical structure so that the team understands what is in your control and what is not.

Conclusion

An offshore team relationship is like a long-distance relationship. Communication is the key to its success. Understanding different cultural nuances, body language, and emotional responses are difficult on the phone, via a video call, or through email.

Building trust is a personal experience between colleagues. However, if the team is only about business, team bonding, trust, and transparency will have challenges developing.

Know that there will always be individual culture-specific reservations about counterparts opening up entirely. If dealing with a team member in India, or any other foreign culture, it may be difficult to open up until a comfortable rapport has truly established.

The team needs to know that you are ok with them disagreeing with you and that it would not affect their work or career prospects. This needs to be communicated explicitly and demonstrated effectively.

Just like any relationship, it takes time, effort and has to work from both sides. However, in the long run, friendships, trust, and productivity benefits will grow, it just needs a little more tender loving care.

Axis Technical