Working Effectively with Global Teams

world of peopleAt a previous client project, my editing, writing, and analysis responsibilities revolved around the validation of computerized systems. The global computerized systems validation team included members from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, The Netherlands, and the United States. We used a document repository system (i.e., Documentum) that enabled us to electronically create, edit, and route documents for review and approval, and the system ensured that only one person had control of a document at a time from anywhere around the world. Some of the challenges that our global computerized systems validation team encountered were differing time zones, lack of proximity, and communication. To mitigate these problems, here are some strategies we employed to work effectively and efficiently as a team. The examples are from the perspective of an editor working with an author, but the idea is true for programmers and developers or business partners and quality assurance teammates because we all need to document and share our work.

  1. Assignments – When you receive an assignment, repeat the request back to the person to be sure that you completely understand the goals and timelines. Follow up with an e-mail to confirm your understanding. Attempt to communicate with your authors in their native language. Try closing an e-mail or speaking phrases during a conversation in the author’s language. This endears you to them because you are attempting to communicate, even if your accent is atrocious. Prettig weekend en tot maandag. (That’s Dutch for “Have a nice weekend and talk to you next Monday.”) Do a search on the internet for a language translator (e.g., English to Spanish).
  2. Deadlines – If the deadline is approaching, send an e-mail to explain your progress and to remind the author that you are actively working on the request. If for any reason you are unable to make the deadline, contact the author immediately so you can negotiate a new deadline.
  3. Differing Time Zones – Because global members may work across several time zones, be considerate as you coordinate meetings. Vary the meeting times to ensure that the same people aren’t always inconvenienced.
  4. Editing – When it comes to editing, it doesn’t matter that an author has been a writer for 25 years. Everyone needs an editor. As an author, how often have you become so engrossed with the content that you don’t notice the mistakes anymore? It happens to all of us. Encourage your authors to relinquish their documents to an editor who can see the content with fresh eyes.
  5. English as a Second Language (ESL) – English is usually the official language for global documentation. If you have ever read instructions that were written by a non-English-speaking author and then translated, you understand the problems you will encounter as you edit the work of ESL authors. You must determine the message that the author is trying to convey before you can help finalize content.
  6. Lack of Proximity – Proximity is related to time. Be mindful that you may not be able to get an immediate response to your questions and plan accordingly.
  7. Style Guide – Maintaining a simple style guide is a must. Post the style guide to a team site where the authors can access the content electronically. Have you ever encountered a belligerent author who is convinced that they don’t need an editor? Having a style guide to reference diffuses the situation and provides an opportunity to teach the author. It insures that there documents are as affective as possible. Did you jump out of your skin while reading the mistakes? Just checking to see if you’re paying attention!
  8. Templates – It is vital to standardize the use of English in global documents. To that end, use boilerplate templates to aid the creation of documents. Using templates prompts the author for required information, and the documents have a consistent look and feel. One of the most difficult tasks for an editor is to perceive what’s missing. A consistent structure simplifies identifying missing information.



maryvMary Van Brink – I’m a technical writer, editor, trainer, QA analyst, and archivist. I began my career with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 1984 and have had consulting contracts with Fortune 500 companies including IBM and First Union (now Wachovia/Wells Fargo) and several smaller companies, such as Crawford & Company, Marcam (an IBM offshoot), the C.D. Group, Solvay Pharmaceuticals (now Abbott Products, Inc.), and Immucor. During my 32-year career, my experiences have meandered through industries including banking, telecommunications, risk management, training, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and transportation. I’ve worked through SystemwarePS as contract Technical Writer and Quality Assurance Analyst for Norfolk Southern on the Positive Train Control (PTC) project (—Meeting-the-Challenge-and-Getting-It-Right.aspx) since August of 2012. It’s my goal to make authors look good.