Anyone who has worked on a team project knows how it feels when your team is collaborating well (or poorly). But what does good collaboration mean? And, more importantly, how do we achieve it?

Slack made the first attempt at defining collaboration in their 2019 survey. They asked 7,000 knowledge workers in 17 countries what makes for good collaboration? Unsurprisingly, being able to communicate with colleagues easily made the top of the list.

But, that’s just the tip of the collaboration iceberg—especially once your team starts spanning across languages, cultures, and time zones.

As the Global Head of Americas RFP, Content Strategy, & Global Databases at Invesco—a global organization with 8,000 employees in 25 regional offices—I’ve learned that fostering a collaborative environment comes down to three main things: flexibility, communication, and technology.

Keep an open mind and be flexible

When you manage a global team, flexibility is the name of the game. Sometimes this means hopping on a call at 5:30 am, because that’s just the best time for everyone else on the team.

Other times, flexibility means adjusting your schedule. Some members on our New York team changed their schedule to 6:00 am to 2:00 pm, so they can work more closely with their UK counterparts.

If you’re leading a cross-cultural team, flexibility means being aware of cultural differences.

Shortly after starting at Invesco, I realized that many of my international colleagues didn’t feel comfortable asking questions or speaking up in meetings. Some felt asking a question was an insult to my inability to clearly explain projects. For others, asking questions just fell outside their cultural norms.

So how do you avoid miscommunication when your colleagues don’t feel comfortable asking questions? You keep an open mind. And be flexible.

First, I took the initiative in asking questions. In doing so, I could both repeat all the key points—making sure we were aligned—and also create a space where questions were “okay.”

Next, I started to send a written summary after each meeting. I have a tendency to speak English rapid-fire, and my global colleagues often didn’t feel comfortable asking me to slow down and repeat myself. The written summary made sure everyone was on the same page; once we had something physical to reference, everyone was confident in their roles, responsibilities, and goals. As a bonus, the written summaries keep us all accountable and projects on track — definitely a win/win. 

Build connections with team members

According to research by Gallup, extremely connected teams demonstrate a 21 percent increase in profitability. A close-knit team that values cooperation and creative problem-solving is key for making collaboration a success. This process starts with establishing connections between team members.

Since positive teams are more productive teams, stay on the lookout for ways to bring your international team closer together. For this, technology is your friend.

Arrange 15-minute video check-ins with your colleagues. Host agenda-free virtual happy hours and coffee chats. Set up open video conference meetings, where anyone can hop on for a chat.

When you’re working on a project with a set group of people, make sure to hold regular meetings for collaborators to touch base. During these meetings, leave time to talk about what’s happening at home. Talk about other projects people are working on.

Yes, meetings should keep team members aligned and projects on track. But they should also be a chance for team members to get to know each other as people. This is especially important when you’re working on an international team and may never meet your colleagues face-to-face.

If you want to get to know the person behind the email address, you need to make the effort. And that effort will bring your team closer together—and set them up for success.

Find the technology that works for your team

RFP managers are all too familiar with deadlines. And there is nothing worse than when you're working on a deadline and can't find the information you need.

That's why storing all your content in a central location is critical.

We keep all our response content in RFPIO, a response management platform. And we make sure that any content stored in RFPIO is 100 percent accurate. Before anything is added to the library, it’s moderated for accuracy and consistency. We also conduct periodic content audits to make sure everything stays up to date.

Now, when our team is responding to an RFP, they don’t need to wait for SMEs from different time zones to verify answers. They know they can trust the content in the library.

We also use RFPIO to organize content based on region. The way we respond to a question in Japan may be different from how we would respond to a question in the United States. Our regional team localizes content, and then we tag that content according to region in RFPIO. Now our regional teams can quickly find the region-specific answers they need.

When used properly, technology gives your global team a place to work together and find the answers they need. Pair that with open communication and flexibility, and you’re well on your way to fostering a truly collaborative environment—where your team can do their best work.

About the author

Collen leads Americas RFP, Content Strategy and Global Databases for Invesco Investment Management, covering both the institutional and retail channels. Prior to joining Invesco, she was Head of RFP at Voya Investment Management. Previously, she was a Vice President of Product Marketing for JPMorgan, Global Fixed Income where she launched JPM Asset Management’s first external blog. In addition, Colleen has also served in marketing communication roles at Cammack Investment Consulting, BlackRock, Merrill Lynch Investment Management and Merrill Lynch Retirement. She began her career with the online brokerage firm, Datek Online, in content development and product management. Colleen holds a BSc in Interpersonal Communications from Ohio University and a MA in Communication Studies from Kent State University.