A Facebook Exec's 5 Tips for Building Successful Distributed Teams
Deb Liu, the company's head of platform and marketplace, shares what she's learned.
With 45 offices around the world, Facebook executives certainly understand the challenges of leading a distributed team.
As Facebook's head of platform and marketplace, Deb Liu has spearheaded projects that include things such as login to marketplace and payments, leading teams based in places from Seattle to Singapore.
During her seven and a half years at the company, she has learned some lessons in effective leadership. From incorporating people on the ground to communication methods, check out these five tips from Liu to make your remote management process as seamless as possible.
1. Incorporate local leadership.
When growing, it’s important to make sure your distributed offices feel just as important as the central office. “You don’t want them to feel like they have less opportunity and less growth,” Liu says.
That’s why it’s necessary to bring in people from that area to join the team. “Having a local leadership team creates a strong foundation in which you can build a strong office in the long-term,” she says.
Local leadership allows a company to understand what’s happening in a new office’s area and any challenges that people there face. Ask questions such as, What are the work hours in that city? What is the weather like? What are the activities people do?
Understanding that locale will help foster a stronger office culture.
2. Transplant one or two people from headquarters.
There’s no reason to start from scratch when building a new team. Although it’s important to hire locally and employ local managers, a company should also transplant one or two leaders from the company’s headquarters to get the new office on its feet.
Those people can be in charge of growing the new team, and act as a bridge between the central and distributed office. Sending ambassadors is “an opportunity to build two-way communication,” Liu says.
3. Your first hires are the most important.
A strong company culture stems from a strong local culture. That all comes down to who you hire. “Your first few hires are going to be key in the kind of culture and office you’re going to build,” she says.
These key hires help set the foundation for your distributed office and play an important role in building the local team.
“Hire people who are self-motivated, good communicators and who are open and honest. These qualities will serve them in a remote working scenario,” Liu says.
4. Use the best technology.
An obvious challenge of distributed offices is that they reduce or eliminate face-to-face communication. Today’s technology can make up for this, allowing for seamless communication and the ability to build relationships. “The level of intimacy you can create is only as good as the technology that connects you,” Liu says.
For Liu’s teams, video conferencing has been the key to their success -- and she recommends it for any business with distributed offices. Here are some quick tips from Liu:
Be mindful of timezones.
Assign someone to be a video conferencing sherpa, who's tasked with monitoring the meeting and making sure everyone is heard.
Take notes and send them out to everyone after the meeting.
Maintain message threads and group chats so everyone stays connected.
5. Host company-wide events.
Technology today can take the place of face-to-face meetings, but it’s still important to host company-wide events to boost morale, build cohesion and foster creativity.
Facebook hosts an annual “Hackathon” for its employees -- giving them the opportunity to collaborate with others in the company and put their creativity to the test. Every year, the hackathon is hosted in a different city of one of its distributed offices, and Facebook employees from around the world come together to participate.
“It is these things as a company that make us not headquarter-centric,” Liu says. It teaches employees about the cultures of other offices, and ensures that everyone at the company can feel the same level of opportunity and appreciation.