When you’re working with external teams—whether they be employees working remotely, clients, or partners—a lot can go wrong. And we’re not just talking about the obvious lack of face-to-face, in-person interactions that lead to miscommunications. Everything from mistakes from trying to schedule between multiple time zones. to ineffective and disparate communication from minimal face-to-face contact, to misaligned goals can have a major effect on your teams’ success.
So to help you set yourself up to better succeed in collaborating with external teams, we gathered advice from some high-level business minds on what you need to know.
Dana Fox, Director of Global Customer Success at Athena Software, stresses the importance of technology platforms in dealing with external teams. The information management software company’s 40,000 employees (spread out across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, and Australia) use a myriad of different tools to make their dealings more seamless, whether it’s HubSpot for DRIP or Salesforce to collect data. But their most important tool, says Fox, is GoToMeeting. “Athena works with more than 800 agencies in 15 countries and on 5 continents—we have touched almost all of them using GoToMeeting,” he says. “Every prospect gets two to four online demonstrations and deployment teams use GoToMeeting on almost every deployment connecting with agency staff.” Fox says the platform allows for face-to-face interaction in an easy-to-use, professional looking package. “It’s an inexpensive option to connect 24/7 anywhere we want to do business,” says Fox.
Ronny Loew, National Sales Director for cloud technologies company ProCirrus Technologies, Inc, echos Fox’s reliance on a good meeting tool, like GoToMeeting, but sites it for a different reason. ” The ability to schedule and send invitations through Outlook is extremely helpful to my workflow,” he says. “I also appreciate the pop up reminders as they help me stay focused and make sure I am always early for all meetings.”
Stay on Schedule
“It’s easy enough to move meetings when you’re in the same building (though still a bad habit), but shifting people even five or 10 minutes when people are remote can be a recipe for disaster,” says Greg Abel, co-founder of marketing agency Tailspin.
For Abel, this means installing and testing any platform you plan on using well ahead of time. “If you are the presenter/coordinator, plan to be on the call at least a few minutes before start time just in case you run into the always-inconvenient ‘technical difficulties,'” he says.
Staying on schedule is also an important factor to Loew. To stay on track, he recommends this trick: ” If people are running late, I will add a note to the invitation that says ‘ONLINE NOW:’ at the beginning of the subject and send an update to the calendar invite. That way, it will pop up on the calendars, email inboxes and smartphones of the attendees to remind them of the meeting.”
Loew also stresses to be as careful as possible in terms of time zones. “I always change the invitation text to the attendee’s time zone,” he says. “Even though most email programs will convert it to the correct time zone in an actual calendar, the text won’t change. If people see a different time, they may get confused. So I think it is important to set them up for the fewest chances for errors or confusion.”
Have a Plan, and Stick to It
“Get the agenda out early—it sets the content,” says Fox. “You need to clock the conversation and anticipate the transition for the next topic to make the shift easy and natural. I set a mental map of the areas we need to cover and let the client set the speed and priority of what gets discussed for how long.”
Loew also says that at the beginning of all conference and video calls, “I confirm how long we have so that everyone is focused and knows there is an ending time. I also state the purpose of the call, the possible outcomes and get agreement right at the top.”
Abel also stresses the importance of sticking to a planned agenda. “Have a goal, have an agenda, have a leader. Everyone can get a voice, but it should be clear who owns the meeting and is steering the ship,” he says. “Also, we always make sure we’re wary of ‘selling after the close.’ When you can’t as readily see visual cues of others in a meeting, it can be easy to try and oversell a point – get to agreement and move on.”