Communication is the foundation stone of your company’s success, and no matter which outsourcing model you choose, communication will be the defining success factor of your cooperation with the outsourced team.
But if communication is of such obvious importance, why do many companies fail to build proper communication with their outsourced teams? Very often the outsourcer does not understand the real value of good communication and is not ready to invest in it by allocating a person with profound understanding of the project to coordinate it. Companies view outsourcing mainly as a way to reduce costs. Consequently, the process becomes secondary, while it should be well-managed to bring a good result. Another problem is lack of an effective communication strategy or inability to stick to it.
Here are some of the elements that are crucial to building a successful communication model:
1. Set the tone in the early stages with an open and comprehensive discussion about the project needs, scope, schedule, and objectives. This will help you avoid misunderstanding in the later stages of the project implementation and get the outsourced team fully on board to solve the issues entailed by the project.
2. Be careful when negotiating the budget for the team. As big as your desire to save may be, make sure, the project is worthwhile for the outsourced team, and you will work with a group of motivated and skillful professionals who will not be replaced over time with less experienced (and cheaper) staff.
3. Your outsourced team should be able to receive your communication in a standardized format, which is easy to follow and give feedback to.
4. Schedule your reports and meetings. If metings are regular, it is easier for the team to plan their work better around the events and get used to providing you with their reports and feedbacks on time.
5. Establish channels. Video conferencing and instant messaging as well as email are great means of communication, each for its own purposes. It should be agreed which channels are convenient for the people concerned. This way the sender will take the right decision as to the best way to communicate a message and the recipient will be encouraged to receive it.
6. Including your outsourced team in your task management system is a good idea, especially is your own IT staff is involved in the project too and thorough coordination is required. This way you can track the workload, issues and priorities. It is an especially practical solution if you have chosen to outstaff and manage the team yourself.
7. Even though you are working with an outsourced team, help them get your company’s team spirit and keep them better motivated by building a relationship with them. Especially if you go with outstaffing model and hire people for an on-going or a long-term project, it is essential that you keep them in the loop on your company’s situation and progress. Add them (at least the key people) to your company-wide emails and show how the outsourced team is a part of the company’s long-term strategy. Once you are happy with your outsourced team’s expertise and productivity, be on the lookout for ways to expand their scope of work and responsibility in your company. This way the team will stay motivated to invest time and effort in your projects.
8. Encourage interaction and exchange of messages instead of one-way communication. This way even in between your meetings the outsourced team will be exchanging ideas and staying on the same page.
9. Be proactive and encourage others to do the same. Provide all relevant information before questions or concerns arise and misunderstandings build up.
10. If you work with a team from a different country, or a team that consists of people of different cultures, you need to be aware of the differences and build an inclusive environment for people of diverse backgrounds. In this global world such differences tend to smooth out over time, as more people pick up the Western business culture. But even in the European continent you will come across many different national holidays (e.g. Christian holidays celebrated on different dates depending on whether you are dealing with Catholics or Orthodox Christians), and businesses going to low productivity mode during vacation season (July and August in most European countries), which is less usual for Americans. And our differences are not limited by our ethnic or religious backgrounds: in the modern world businesses grow more inclusive of age, ability, gender or sexual orientation and ability, and you have to be prepared to deal with all the different people that make up your brilliant team of IT specialists.
As an example, our company provided an outsourced team for a company owned by Jewish businessmen in the US. The project started just weeks before the Jewish New Year and Jewish holiday season began and lasted for three weeks. Within this period our team sent reports but received almost no feedback and kept on working according to the project schedule. Three weeks later a lot of feedback came in and some of the features needed to be adjusted, which made us revise the project schedule to fit in all the additional hours to make the changes. You live, you learn. In our new projects we took note of not only national, but also other traditional holidays.
Mind, it is far too convenient to blame communication failure on cultural differences. In reality those are rarely the major reason. It all usually comes down to understanding the true importance of proper communication and providing the resources to steer the ship.