Out of sight out of mind

A common workplace challenge is when most leaders are based out of one location – corporate or head office. This is further complicated when there is a global corporate office and then there is a country head-office. Teams located elsewhere often feel left out of action and decision making. Many times they even suffer delayed promotions, less exciting work and in extreme cases they end up being executioners even when at senior and supposedly strategic levels. There are things organizations are already doing to manage this challenge and there is a lot that can be done.
The organizations need to restructure to capitalize effectively on all the capabilities and not ignore teams they don’t see on daily basis.

Some of the things organizations are doing to overcome this challenge.  

1.      Leaders travel often – This has lots of benefits. Collect air-miles, have lavish dinners and on more serious note, spend time with team and network with clients or potential clients. Also keeps leaders updated on local market and trends. The biggest drawback is they get a skewed view of the team because they have to depend on what people say and can’t observe things themselves.

 

2.      Regular team calls – This is such a eyewash in most cases, it is disappointing. There are effective team calls but they are rare. The challenge is when most of the team is co-located and others are away. Everyone is in a room and a few people on phone are completely left out. In one of my research, a leader pointed out that leaders need to create common platform. For example, get everyone on conference from their desk and not have some people in a room and others on call.

 

3.      Distributed responsibility and empowerment – This is what makes distances work. The challenge here is incorrect understanding of empowerment. Distributing responsibility should include encouraging distant teams to take lead on some projects/ activities and not just tell them what to do from a distance.

 

What more can be done  

The short answer is to have strong leaders. There is a lot that organizations and leaders can do to create a truly inclusive culture.
 

1.      Decentralize and distribute leaders: This is around restructuring organization and I strongly feel is the way to go ahead. Get rid of the concept of corporate office or head office. This also means evenly distribute leaders across locations. The challenge then will be that teams in business units with their leader co-located might get benefited. This can be countered through effective communication leaders can establish with their teams, by efficient performance evaluation system and by ensuring strong advocates at local level within the team or with the talent/HR team. This will at the least get rid of a particular office feeling silo-d. It is normal to have a mix of happy and unhappy teams. In distanced office, people influence each other fairly easily into being unhappy with lack of leader availability.

 

2.      Revert to old structure of co-located teams: Many organizations I have seen (including the large supposed to be awesome places to work) have great policies and practices on paper but are not able to implement them. They may have regular team meetings but what happens in the meeting may be a disaster. If you can’t deal with it, it is better to stick to old structures of maintaining a single office and small sales offices to manage clients. It is worse to have internal conflicts and an office full of dissatisfied teams or worse still high attrition rates.

 

3.      Distributed decision making: The concept of distributed responsibility needs to go a step ahead to distributed decision making. Distributed decision making requires empowerment and trust. I will define empowerment in my next post because it is another misinterpreted concept requiring dedicated post. Distributed decision making can be achieved by providing a framework and allowing teams to use their discretion for decision making and execution. This should be enhanced by providing a forum to share success stories.

 

4.      Optimal utilization of performance management systems: There is a reason many people do not have faith in performance management systems. The system is manipulated by leaders so often that teams don’t know what to trust. Performance systems need to be strongly supported by talent/HR teams for them to be truly effective and fairly unbiased.

 

5.      Knowledge sharing: This is required even when the teams are co-located. Knowledge sharing opportunities enable learning from others and showcase what people are doing. This should be taken seriously. When leaders involve themselves in these activities, they bring in seriousness to it. They also need to be an observer and allow teams to interact with each other. This provides them with a good understanding of strengths of their team members and keeps them updated on how the team members are evolving their capabilities.

 

 

 
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