Working across different time zones can present significant challenges when it comes to fostering a team culture. I came across a typical scenario in a geographically distributed team with their Engineering team members based in New York and Poland. They are set to welcome a new Director of Engineering based on the West Coast. With minimal daily overlap between the teams, the question arose about how to create and manage their team culture.

The new engineering director proposed several ideas, including having daily standups at the junction between the two time zones, negotiating a longer overlap, and using asynchronous communication methods. This idea is a practical solution that helps to maximize the time the team spends together. It ensures that everyone is aware of what is happening in the team and can contribute to discussions. However, it may not be feasible in the long run as it requires a significant commitment from team members.

Another idea suggested is the use of asynchronous communication methods. This can include messaging apps like Slack, email, and project management software. Asynchronous communication is an excellent way to ensure that everyone has access to information, regardless of the time zone they are in. It provides the flexibility needed to accommodate different schedules and time zones. However, it can lead to communication gaps and misunderstandings, especially when urgent issues arise.

Maximizing the time to build relationships is essential. A Director of Engineering will have a role in managing people and processes, which requires building relationships. Therefore, it is crucial to find a way to ensure that anyone in that role has enough time to build these relationships. There are many companies where newer members, especially in an engineering management role used a rota system that allowed the new member to interact with team members from different time zones on a rotating basis.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing team culture across different time zones. However, there are several best practices that can help create a cohesive team culture.

First, establish clear communication guidelines. This includes setting expectations for response times, modes of communication, and language use. It also involves ensuring that everyone has access to the same information, regardless of the time zone they are in.

Second, prioritize building relationships. This means finding ways to ensure that team members can interact with each other, even if it is not in real time. One suggestion is to have regular team-building activities, such as virtual coffee breaks or game nights. These activities can help build rapport and trust among team members.

Third, be flexible. Teams that work across different time zones need to be flexible and adaptable to changes. This means being open to adjusting schedules, changing communication methods, and finding creative solutions to problems that arise.

Managing team culture across different time zones can be challenging. However, by establishing clear communication guidelines, prioritizing building relationships, and being flexible, teams can create a cohesive team culture that fosters collaboration and productivity. It is crucial to find a solution that works for everyone and allows team members to feel valued and included, regardless of where they are located in the world.