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Creating culture with remote teams

“What are ways you are building a ‘lean culture’ with remote team members?”

I posted this question on Twitter and a LinkedIn group because during the 25 years of my professional career, I’ve seen working from home (telecommuting as we used to call it) go from a special once-per-week privilege to a common status of working from home multiple times a week.  A growing number of workers are also now considered full-time remote. Some factors contributing to this change:

1)The technology for connecting employees to the company network is ubiquitous.

2) Companies realized they can recruit workers regardless of location and expand their talent pool.

3) Commute time is a factor affecting employment decisions.

Weaving together disparate blocks is like building culture with remote workers

In our knowledge economy and bit-driven world, location is irrelevant for completing work and contributing to mission of the team for many of us. But how do we create and maintain a group/company culture when workers are not co-located? How do we build a new culture when we see each other through conference calls?  My group is in the early stages of a ‘lean’ culture transformation and geographically dispersed. So I’ve been wrestling with this question and concept.

I read some online posts about others’ experience with building a culture and it’s quickly apparent the answer depends on the environment, value, and people in the company. There is no magic elixir or secret equation. Each company has a set of beliefs they strive to follow and a set of tools they use to connect their daily operations fit their desired company culture. It’s apparent, culture isn’t based on tools, ping pong tables, free lunches, etc. Culture is built from a shared set of beliefs and practices for how to deliver products and services to a customer.

In my own journey to answer this question, I’m focusing on a few fundamental building blocks to promote and build ‘lean’ into our team culture:

Explain the why.

When people understand the root of ‘lean’ is to add value for the customer, it’s easier to gain momentum as compared with getting momentum from cost reduction and cycle improvement tasks. Reducing costs is important, but will come as the result of adding value to products and services the customer wants. Lean doesn’t come by osmosis. There should be training involved to reinforce the daily operations of the team.

Build leaders that focus on creating flow and reducing waste.

It’s unusual for anything to survive in a company setting if there is no support from executive management. For ‘lean’ to survive, the team needs to see more than verbal affirmations from executives. They should see a leader who engages with local and remote workers in the tasks they are assigned (Go to the gemba). They should see a leader that actively promotes and discusses the benefits of completing recurring root-cause-analysis events for problem solving. They should see a leader that examines metrics and assigns actions to improve performance through counter measures.

Attribute action and results to the mission of the organization/group.

The mission of the organization states why it exists. The mission is a connecting statement between organizational actions and providing value to the customer. To develop culture with remote employees, they should understand how their daily activities map to the mission. Strong leaders frequently remind employees of the mission so it becomes a source of motivation and a common bond.

Promote team over individual efforts.

This last building block requires additional focus from remote employees or it can become a stumbling block to results. Include the voice of remote team members by making sure there is adequate participation and polling for their input. It’s through actions like these, the bond between remote workers will develop as strong as two co-located workers. It promotes helping co-workers when they have a question or need some extra man-power. It promotes the cultural feeling that we succeed together and we fail together. It promotes clearer understanding of team roles and boundaries.

Lastly, I realize I must have patience because this isn’t a sprint. Culture is built over time and through actions. Culture isn’t built on hanging platitudes, rah-rah speeches, and lofty goals. Rather it’s built-on working together, investing in each other, coaching, gemba walks, and shared experiences.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/oFffVN – Porch Weave by Kay Hayden on Creative Commons