Working in a distributed team re-enforces the importance of cross-cultural communication. I remember an argument on how to do a calculation with a colleague. I said it should be 3 times 2, they said 3 by 2. This we went on this for a while until another team member said: “hey you know you are saying the same thing, right?”

Cross-cultural communication is about learning the lingo from each region your team is in. Don’t expect other team members to learn the nuances from the English-speaking region. Take the time to understand how the other side speaks English.

English add complexity to those with a different mother tongue. They will translate to their mother tongue then back to English for understanding. You lose a lot during that period. Slowing down your speaking never killed anyone.

Many times, we will go over requirements on screens over sketchy networks. When a feature developed looks nothing like what you had discussed. The finger pointing results in “they never do anything right”. Usually aimed at the non-English speaking region.

The thing with communication though, is you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Even if it means saying the same thing over and over again. In a team where you rely on each other to get things done, it is easy to blame someone for not understanding. Forgetting you may have used words that were complex or examples that did not make sense to the other person.

I have found checking in on development progress at least once a day to be useful. If you wait till the end of the week there will be too much to be angry about.

When you have team discussions always remember to be inclusive. Ask the quiet ones what they think. Get those over the screen nodders involved. Create an environment that allows everyone in the team to contribute to the solution. Not only the people who speak up the most.

Do not assume anything, whether spoken or written. Make sure you clarify it.

To set a distributed team up for success, ensure the team members:

  • Ask questions
  • In doubt always clarify
  • Minimise using complex words and local lingo (unless they teach each other what the lingo means)
  • Check in at least once a day
  • Repeat agreed upon points or actions at the end of each discussion.
  • If someone hasn’t participated in a discussion, ask for their opinion
  • Celebrate small wins
  • Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!