Developing through diversity

There is never a dull moment when leading a team with colleagues located all over the world. Project Manager Chao Chen shares the key to leading a multicultural, distributed project team and the development opportunities that come along with it.

In my current project, my team is working on the re-implementation of a large manufacturing execution system (MES). Our team set-up is quite unique in that we are an international group, and at the same time, distributed geographically across the world. There are five different countries represented on our team, while some of us work on site with the customer, others work remotely from other NNE offices around the world.

This set-up makes for an exciting and inspiring challenge. To make things work, we have to account for time differences, cultural diversity and a range of perspectives and opinions throughout the team. But that is precisely what motivates me: navigating within these variables to come out with a fantastic result for the customer.

Key elements in a distributed team

Sharp communication is essential when working on a team like ours. With part of the team on-site and others far away, some of us naturally have more daily contact with the customer. So it is important that we keep each other updated and ensure that we are always on the same page. We each have different communication styles and preferences for how much information we share, so a large part of my role is to motivate my team to share with one another as frequently and effectively as possible.

Additionally, it’s crucial to maintain a high level of trust throughout the team. It’s rare that we are all together in person, so you each have to run with your own tasks and give your colleagues across the world the freedom to do the same. That kind of trust and communication can’t be built in a day. You have to invest time and get to know each other as people, not as engineers or for your roles in the project. If you can build that common ground with a colleague, it’s much easier to put yourself in their shoes.

Working with this kind of set-up has its challenges, but I see our diversity as a huge benefit for both our project and our own development as team members. You can’t assume that what makes sense to you will make sense to someone else on the team, so we all have to learn to adapt based on what the situation calls for. Personally, that has challenged me to lead in a more agile, versatile way and see the project with a different set of eyes than I otherwise would. And ultimately, incorporating that varied insight from around the globe makes our end result all the stronger.

Bio:

  • Chao has a MSc in Software System Engineering from Xidian University in Xi’an, China, as well as a MSc in Computer System Engineering from the University
  • He joined NNE as an Automation Engineer in 2008 and became Project Manager in 2014

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