Scaling a culture of learning across countries

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Recently, I did some work with a team, or more accurately a portfolio of teams owned by the same parent company. Each individual team provided similar services but in a different part of the world and, at times, in different verticals. One of the challenges they were facing was leveraging the collective knowledge and continuous learning of all the sub-teams for the benefit of the entire portfolio. While their audiences varied by size and culture (in some cases), their end goals were identical. Here are the top 3 things we discovered that made scaling a learning culture successful across countries, companies and management teams:

  1. Don’t outsource your research — While core customer behaviors might be similar across countries, understanding the unique nuances of each country’s culture is critical to designing and maintaining a relevant service. It’s risky to assume that just because customers behave a certain way in South America that will reflect behavior trends in Asia. Instead, keep all qualitative research efforts local. Ensure that your local implementation has passed muster with your local customers. Outsourcing your research leaves it vulnerable to editorializing and bias. It also reduces local team shared understanding of the customer, their needs and how your service is meeting those needs.
  2. Consistent, proactive transparency — While your qualitative learnings should be done locally, the results, tools and techniques used to achieve that learning should be proactively shared with colleagues in other countries and offices. If you’ve figured out a unique way to get information your service needs, chances are other countries’ teams can leverage that same tactic. Use a regular, broadly distributed email to share these tactics (pics, videos, links go a long way here). Alternatively, a Slack or Hipchat channel dedicated to real-time learning and outcomes also provides teams with leveraged inspiration and direction without having to recreate everything in each locale.
  3. Shared core services — If a feature has proven successful across multiple locales, consider creating it as a shared central service. This way the learnings of the organization translate into shared services each locale can use (or not use) without having to recreate the wheel. As these shared services are deployed locally, any learnings about their efficacy should then be shared through whatever channel you chose in your transparent communication stream.

These three tactics are a good start to ensuring your distributed teams learn locally and share globally. They reduce duplicate effort and take advantage of the broad footprint your company has to continuously nudge your teams in a more accurate direction for your product or service.

What have you seen work with distributed teams when it comes to sharing knowledge and leveraging similar efforts?