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The Time Zone Blind Spot

Written by: Mariann Bobály-Dienes, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Those working with remote teams in different time zones will probably understand the time zone blind spot concept. That window of time when some remote team members are not available and work should carry on, yet there is an information deficit. This is your sweet spot if you want to understand why things go astray. This is where you need to start.

While You Were Sleeping


Ever woke up to mayhem in the morning ‒ after part of your team has been working for a while and you did not understand what was going on, why decisions were made the way they were made, wondering what were they thinking and why they did what they did the way they did it? This sentence is intentionally complicated because the situation is usually this complex. If your team is remote in different time zones and cultures, this situation can be familiar.


Identifying Your Blind Spot Window(s)


Knowing exactly when you have no control or management presence is crucial. This is exactly the window you need to understand in detail and plan for ‒ so that confusion, chaos, misunderstanding, and resentment can be avoided. These are natural phenomena if your team is remote and intercultural, but you can reduce the intensity by asking the right questions from the team at a retrospective or lessons-learned session.


Dissecting the Situation ‒ Peeling back the Onion


The best idea is to pick a situation or a series of events of the same pattern and examine what happened there. What was your perception and what was the team’s perception of the events? Who thought, supposed what? Where was the misalignment in those suppositions? What did those suppositions imply in terms of actions, roles, and responsibilities? What did this pattern lead to? Could this be avoided later?


Decision-Making Styles


As a next step, it is helpful to check what management style is dominant for the team and what are the implicit and explicit expectations. Who calls the shots? Is the company approach top-down, or egalitarian? Do you need approval for everything, or can you just go ahead and proceed according to your judgment? Is it agile or not at all? How do you make decisions in the respective cultures? What are the differences? Is the team aware of those differences? Is there an attempt to bridge the different styles and come up with an approach that works for everyone?


What Happens When You Are Not There


Looking at the time when your team operates without your presence will benefit cooperation and alignment. Understanding that decisions made during your absence might not be “wrong”, but different and made from a different cultural perspective is key to fighting frustration. The blind spot aspect is exactly this, most teams are just not aware of the fact that the same problem is approached differently if the culture differs. The approaches are not good or bad. They are different, so the solutions might be different, with similarly good intentions.


What Happens When They Are Not There


Another type of blind spot issue is when your team logs off, but life continues, and decisions are made affecting their work. Are they communicated clearly to the affected stakeholders? The biggest issue is that we think communication happened but in fact, it did not. If the team is not aware they cannot be expected to act accordingly. The expectation of being available all the time is unrealistic ‒ we burn out if we try to be online 24/7.


Trying to select a communication channel and use that regularly for updates concerning the decisions can be helpful. Information flows better, and friction decreases, but consistency is key. We are all guilty of fragmented communication and not being clear enough. The usual set of questions of who, what, where, when, and why can have a huge effect on the effectiveness of exchanges in a professional setting. Whatever is obvious to one person will not necessarily be obvious to another one, after all, we do not live in each other’s heads.


The Final Question: The Rabbit in the Hat: What Frustrates You Most?


If nothing else works asking this question can help, but it is a very difficult one. It is really tricky because it can let loose resentment, interpersonal conflicts, and prejudice. If not moderated appropriately this can do more harm than good, because of the possibility of willingly or unwillingly offending colleagues from a different team, which can increase resentment as opposed to easing tensions. This is the genie in the bottle. If done right, with sensitivity and an understanding of cultural differences, your journey to understanding could start here. If you are willing to listen, you might discover the most important pieces of information that can help you manage your team.


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Mariann Bobály-Dienes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mariann Dienes is an intercultural consultant and applied linguist with a background in both business and Applied Linguistics. Having worked for multinational organizations for more than 10 years, she brings a wealth of experience to intercultural consulting. Her qualifications in Applied Linguistics, Neurolanguage Coaching and English Teaching provide an excellent skill set that facilitates intercultural understanding at its best. Her primary aim is to assist clients in achieving an increased awareness of cultural dimensions, and foster understanding and cooperation in organizations.

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