Thursday, November 16, 2006

Offshoring Requires Better Collaboration


In my previous article titled “Challenges in Offshoring to India”, I had discussed about the five major challenges in setting up a captive development centre in India, The main challenges are:

  1. Office Infrastructure Challenges
  2. Recruitment Challenges
  3. Employee Training & Skill enhancement Challenges
  4. Team Coordination Challenges
  5. Maintaining Service Level Agreement

Of these five challenges – the last two challenges are the toughest. Maintaining team coordination goes hand in hand with guaranteeing SLA. Over coming these two challenges involves improving inter company collaboration: formal collaboration between departments; formal collaboration between individuals; and Informal communication between members.

Challenge of Internal Collaboration

Most big companies – even MNCs find it more difficult to collaborate internally. Company executives often talk about improving “networks”, but in reality these companies often tend to run up against a wall: The natural tendency or the human nature to ignore what other colleagues in other business units (often out-of-sight) are doing. This “out-of-sight & out-of-mind” tendency of people makes collaboration between disparate teams difficult – almost impossible. Different departments tend to act in silos and tend to operate under a formal structure.

Company management first has to identify different departments within the organization. (There will always be more departments in reality than that declared on the paper) Next step is to develop a formal structure: A formal organizational hierarchies, leadership roles & titles, and communication networks. The logic of a formal structure is largely based on the predictability of how an organization should work. But in reality, organizations do not work that way.

The truth is that companies can create an environment for collaboration, but the actual collaboration happens between people. People must connect with other people – for collaboration to work. For this collaboration between people to happen, people need to understand the work cultures of their colleagues, understand the relationships, know the network, and must be emotionally motivated to work together.

The next impediment to collaboration is the lack of communication tools. Even in the era of Internet, companies are reluctant to allow their employees to use Internet – due to security threats. On the contrary – companies tend to restrict the use Internet – and Internet based tools. Most companies rely on Email, Telephone and Intranet for inter-department communications. Organizations often fail to take full advantage of all the communication tools available to them.

( Shortly I will post an article on use of different technology and tools to improve communication and project collaboration. Also see: Managing Virtual Teams - Use of Collaboration Tools )

People Need to Meet Face-to-Face

Technology has facilitated all sorts of communication. But it is not a substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Meeting people is essential for building relationships. Raj Subramanian, senior VP for International Marketing at FedEx Canada says “I made a commitment to meet every single employee across the country at least once a year”. Such commitment is essential for one to build a network with other departments.

Project team members also must meet face-to-face at the beginning of the project. Even though the team members are diverse and scattered all over, they need to meet face-to-face during the team forming stage.

Meeting face-to-face is expensive when parts of the team are scattered all over the world. Companies often tend to avoid/minimize face-to-face meetings – but this has a serious impact on the team productivity. As an alternative, teams should have video conference meetings on regular basic. Seeing a face & associating a face with the voice and email is essential in building rapport between diverse team members.

Meeting face-to-face helps build confidence and trust between team members. This also helps break down departmental barriers and improve communication between members of the team. Having a team outing or a day out-of-office is a good way to build a team camaraderie.

Collaborate with an Objective

Having the right team, having all the communication technologies and having all the formal networks are useful but it is not enough. The collaboration is primarily driven by the need to achieve something. It is the goal that provides the coherence to the organization. The objective of the collaborative efforts must be clearly established and understood by all. Members must have a holistic view of the objectives and that will then drive the activities. It is this focus by the members that makes any collaboration successful.

Cross-cultural teams or departments often find it difficult to converge and agree on the objective. Multi-cultural teams tend to take a longer time to reach consensus. Management team driving this collaboration must account for this longer time frame to converge on the objective.

Closing Thoughts


Successful collaboration needs the right environment, communication technologies, and a focus towards the goal. Inter company collaboration is a constant challenge – that needs constant attention from all the stakeholders. Setting single, achievable goals, building formal & informal networks and enabling employees to create informal networks are a must for successful collaboration.

Also See:

  1. Collaborate to Innovate
  2. Challenges in Offshoring to India
  3. Challenges of Multi-Cultural Teams
  4. Managing Virtual Teams - Use of Collaboration Tools
  5. Virtual Scale - Alliances for Leverage
  6. Global R&D Network
  7. Global Dimension of Project Management
  8. E-Dimensions of Project Management
  9. Managing Outsourced Projects
  10. Global Product Development Teams

1 comment:

Roman Rytov said...

Great post, Arun. When a company finds a cheaper supplier (as in the case of IT outsourcing is) it has to realize the risks it acquires the cheap replacement along with. Communications between the teams are the biggest challenge on the way to off-shoring.