Robots using tin telephone cans

7 Tips for Managing Remote Teams – from Dominique Grelet, Group VP AI at Atos

Dominique Grelet works in the forefront of technology.  He is also gaining expertise in working with a decentralized, remote team.  Each of his team members is based in a different city or even country (think time zones).  “They are too far away to smell!”

D Grelet Group VP AtosTwo years ago, Dominique Grelet was promoted from his position as CEO of blueKiwi, a start-up software vendor, to Group VP at Atos where he created and leads the Center of Excellence in Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Internet of Things.

Grelet shares what he learned from this total corporate DNA shift: from an entrepreneurial venture to a global organization of more than 100K employees, from a product business to disseminating expertise, and from leading a local team to managing a decentralized one.

Tip 1 – Be prepared for a remote work

The workforce of the future will include network groups within large organizations.

Denise Dampierre (DD): What does your team do and how does that relate to remote work?

Dominique Grelet (DG):  In a sense we are frontiersmen pioneering the Big Data expanse, leading the way for Atos in conquering client territories in Big Data, Data Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence.

Our mission is to succeed in the initial exploration and customer acquisition and then to transfer to local teams the product development and customer satisfaction expertise we created. Our reach is global. As such our team of 15 Big Data experts are located throughout Europe, the US, and even India.

The future of the workplace. That is at stake here.

Centers of Excellence, such as ours, beg questions around the massification of organizations, for Atos and for other organizations worldwide and across different sectors.    With size, companies build power, expertise, negotiating strength, and the ability to reduce costs.

At the same time, there is a limit to this massification.

  • How can we structure the large groups so that they are more nimble and able to deliver beyond results and margins?
  • How can we create organizations within these large groups where people have a sense of belonging?
  • How can we encourage bonding and closer interaction between people who work together?

The future of the workplace. That is at stake here.

Tip 2 – Connect the remote teams to the corporate purpose

DD:  How do you create a sense of belonging with a remote team?

DG:   In these network organizations you realize that some people have been working together for years on the phone, but they have never met.

I create opportunities for us to know each other.  The team itself only meets together once a year for a two-day workshop to start the year off right.  Yet every month, I invite one or more of my team members to present their projects to my own hierarchy.   These guys are motivated by learning, growing, and being recognized as key contributors in the organization.  Sponsoring them within the company enables them to see themselves as part of something bigger and as contributors to the rest of the organization.

Tips 3 – Be purposeful in meeting regularly one-on-one

DD: How do you define “team”, especially when they are remote?

DG: Obviously there are different dimensions to a team including the common purpose (see above) and the person to whom you report and more.

Every week I connect one-on-one with each team member, either over the phone or in person.

When I managed local teams, we did not structure one-on-ones as intentionally.  We crossed each other in the hallways and found ways for a quick exchange.  With distance, we have the obligation to structure.

Regular, planned one-on-one meetings is a practice I will retain when leading local teams again.

Regular, planned one-on-one meetings is a practice I will retain when leading local teams again.

Tips 4 – Schedule availability time

DD: How to you encourage distant team members to work with each other?

DG: It is part of my mission to get these experts to collaborate.   As explorers in uncharted territory, the recipes do not yet exist.  We need the best of everyone together to create them.  I try to make sure we build on each other’s’ strengths.

How?  I make sure people talk to each other.  It’s basic stuff.

That’s why I intentionally make myself available.

I heard the story of when Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were planning to meet.  Bill Gates proposed a date three month hence because his schedule was so packed.  Warren Buffet responded that he could meet anytime.

I intentionally make myself available.  I choose not to attend all the meetings so that I am available for discussion.

I make sure to have free time to answer a request coming from my team.  I see in my organization some people having their day fully packed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with 30-minute calls.  I choose not to attend some meetings so that I am available for discussion.

DD: Is your team aware of your purposeful availability?

DG: I am not sure!  I had not thought about it that way.  Still, I schedule buffer into my calendar.

Tips 5 – Encourage local face-to-face networks

DD: You have found ways to generate qualitative exchanges during various kinds of meetings.  How do you foster helpful informal communication? 

DG: People need networks. I see this all the time in the building where I have my office:  networks outside of the direct team start to form.

If people do not have the personal interaction with their team, they will create it with someone else.  We have “coffee-machine” time with locals which is as it should be since our job is to disseminate knowledge.

If people do not have the personal interaction with their team, they will create it with someone else.

There are pluses and minuses.  We have a global mission with the mandate to seek input from diverse sources.  The person in Washington, DC is plugged into one set of customer needs and his interactions with people within the organization.  The people in the UK or France will have a different focus.  Our team has sensors everywhere.

As a group, we don’t have a “gossip time” or a structured, unstructured time.

Tip 6 – Build micro-teams

DD: As you mentioned, remote teams will probably again surface in your future.  What might you do differently?

DG: A next time, I would develop local hubs, a series of sub-teams.  It provides a means to interact with peers and a sense of home where one can trust and support each other.

Clustering mitigates the effect of dispersion and enablies us to benefit from enriching the wider group.

This would enable a movement back and forth:  going out into the global corporation, returning to regroup and share before heading back out. Clustering mitigates the effect of dispersion and enablies us to benefit from enriching the wider group.

Tip 7 – Choose leaders with technical and team-building skills

DD: Considering your preparation for managing a remote team, what would you share with someone embarking on such a role?

DG: I had no formal preparation for managing remote teams and did not even realize at first that I would not see my team every day.  It came with several months of working with them and realizing that I probably don’t see the often enough

Transmitting remote team management skills had not been part of my thinking, but now that you mention it, this could impact our decision!

I learned by talking to peers.  This is also not the first time working with remote teams; it is the first time with such dispersion.

When I discover a remote team need, I make up the solution as we go.

We do have a process for transmitting missions from one person to another within the group and for identifying potential successors.  Transmitting remote team management skills had not been part of my thinking, but now that you mention it, this could impact our decision!

Thank You

With humility Dominque Grelet reminds us

  • Even in the latest technology, work progresses through people
  • We all need a sense of belonging, especially when forging forth into something new
  • Team building does not happen; it is nurtured

It was a delight to learn from Dominique Grelet as we both have a passion to nurture teams and constructive communication.

What is your remote team experience?  How do Grelet’s comments apply to your situation?  Please share in the comments.

Fanny Smith Ski Cross Olympics 2018

Time Optimization Tips from the Olympics

Time management matters when nanoseconds make the cut for an Olympic medal.

That’s the case with champion women’s skicross Fanny Smith, from Villars-sur-Ollon, who won the bronze medal in the Olympics at PyeongChang.  Our children learned to ski in Villars and I too felt that thrill of the locals when she earned her medal.

Fanny Smith Bronze Olympics 2018

On our local slopes we don’t see these; they are prevelant at the Olympics.  The blue lines on the slopes.

 

Optimize Time with Success Lines

These markers help racers and coaches trace the optimal path to follow.  It’s literally their time-optimization guide.  Stay within the lines to go faster.

How do you track the optimal path and reach your goals fast?  For your life?  For your work? For your relationships?

Time management is an issue for many of us.  Few of us can afford hours retracing our steps.  And yet many of us do so with relationships.  Building positive rapport between people takes time…and it takes even longer to clean up after the s*@! hits the fan. 

Too far off these blue lines and the skiers crash and forfeit the race.

If you find yourself impatient or frustrated or repeating yourself, it’s time to consider.  Might something be out-of-focus: either your goal or the path to get there?

Save Time & Fix your objective

I begin many workshops with an activity* to bring our goals into clear focus.

Step 1—List the Time Consuming Challenges

What zaps your time and energy in relationships?  We clear out what blocks our vision by naming these challenges.

For a workshop for managers of Millennials, we wrote down “Challenges Working with Millennials.”

Participants chime in: resistance to rules, attached to the phone, in need of perpetual feedback, (too) high view of his (untested) capabilities, and even spelling mistakes.

Maybe you don’t work with the Gen Y.  Then tweak the question to match your work dynamics:

  • Challenges of working with off-site teams
  • Challenges of working in Finance/Legal/Marketing in an industrial group

This process of listing difficulties creates a positive group dynamic and opens communication.  Everyone realizes we sweat and worry over similar predicaments.  In expressing these shared relationship challenges, we give ourselves and each other the permission to be human and to learn.

Expressing the negatives has the effect of letting dust settle.  The atmosphere is lighter and we are ready to clearly focus on the positives we seek.

Step 2—Identify the Team Skills to Build

We then create a separate and complementary list to bring the leadership goals into focus.  These are the skills managers seek to transmit to their teams to create a motivating and performing work environment.  We enumerate them under, “Qualities of our Team’s Culture.”

Of course, you seek to develop technical capabilities: mastery of financial analysis or digital marketing tool.  You ALSO aim to build communication and soft skills:  trust, mutual respect, learning from experienced team members, learning from youth, seeking excellence…

Step 3—Assess

Once the two lists are completed, we step back to review them side by side and invite comments from everyone

Some participant are motivated: “I had not thought of myself in the leadership development business.  How inspiring!”

Others balk: “What pressure.  I don’t master all those soft skills.  How can I pass them on to my team?”

Many have questions: “Do I have to do all of them at once?” and “So, what is the link between the two lists?”

Step 4—Use Time Optimizing Success Lines

Success lines help us identify where we are and where to aim.  They’re like a GPS.

These lists represent our leadership GPS.

The challenges point to our present situation.  “You are here.”  This is where we have arrived using our current leadership style.  This is also where you will stay by continuing with your actual managerial tools. 

The qualities represent our desired destination.  Like when your team members jump out of bed in the morning with enthusiasm to get to work and engage with a dynamic team.  Or when colleagues seek you or your employee out for greater responsibilities.

Focus, Focus, Focus

But you may wonder, “It’s just a list…”

Correction.  It’s a lens. 

You get what you measure.  When your bonus is set on profit, you’ll likely avoid high volume, low margin customers.

“Human systems grow in the direction of their deepest and most frequent inquiries.” – David Cooperrider, founder of Appreciative Inquiry, Case Western University

Our leadership focus is what we generate in our team. Your and my focus matters because it changes our actions.

“The act of looking for certain information evokes the information we went looking for—and simultaneously eliminates our opportunity to observe other information.” – John Wheatley, quantum physicist

When we talk, model, clarify, and encourage the qualities we seek in our team, we create clear success lines. And that saves tons of time…and money, and energy, and good spirits.

Positive Communication Tools

A clear focus is the first among many tools to build the qualities in your Leadership GPS.  Check out the workshops to discover others and how to develop them in your team.

Leadership GPS Works In Life too

This optimizing GPS applies in personal relationships as well.

When our four boys were young I embarked on a husband-improvement-program.  As a woman, I KNEW how to be a great dad!!!

Every day for one month I noted one helpful behavior my husband did for the family and let him know my appreciation.  “Honey, thanks for having done the dishes. It’s really nice to finally relax after having put the kids to bed.”

I anticipated behavioral modification in my husband.  This process changed me. 

My previous focus lay on the mountain of chores to be done and how my husband did not do his part.  My tone of voice often sounded critical.  When focusing on his contributions, I became more enjoyable to be around.  Maybe he became more involved or my company became more pleasant; either way, we ALL (sons included) do chores.

Ranking high on the list of “Dampierre Qualities to Groove Together” (our family GPS) you’ll find:

Everyone in the family helps.

Food for thought

  • How many times a day do you focus on what is going wrong? On what is going right?
  • How time effective is your critique?
  • Your critique is welcome here. What do you disagree with in this post?

Tell us in the comments.  Thanks.

 

Cover photo from lacote.ch