From Quito to Tbilisi: international collaboration and long-distance (work) relationships

27 September 2014
SERIES Articles and Opinions

Having first met the other participants of The Exchange through a webinar, it was great to finally greet them all in person during our first face-to-face meeting in Lima, in late March. After a week working together, we learned about each other’s organisations, got familiar with one another’s personalities and identified common objectives to pursue within the initiative. It was not possible to fully develop a project proposal, though. We would have to do that later on, to transforming an idea into a feasible, one-year collaborative project.

Our initial idea was related to the desire to obtain more knowledge about the performance of our own organisations. In the weeks following the Lima meeting, the “performance group” was set-up, including people from all over the world: Leandro, from Argentina; Adriana, from Ecuador; Petra, from Hungary; Irina, from Georgia; and me, from Brazil.

We set up virtual meetings to discuss the subject of our proposal, as well as its scope and objectives. We coordinated our work, so we would take turns writing and reviewing sections of our draft proposal. I was glad to realise that all my teammates were committed to the project and were very responsible regarding our tasks and deadlines. In the process of drafting and submitting a proposal, I think we worked well as a team, effectively sharing the leadership of the project.

It would have been great if we could have met in person a second time, to fine-tune the details of our proposal. Nevertheless, it was not possible to coordinate the different schedules of the participants involved. Thus, we had to finalise our proposal using the available tools: e-mail, virtual meetings, google docs, dropbox.

After we received feedback from the organisers, we had to keep working on the proposal, making important choices and reacting to the comments received. Another round of talks, messages and google docs followed and we submitted an adjusted version of our proposal.

This second version was forwarded to three external reviewers, who also took their time to analyse our proposal. We received valuable comments from these reviewers. Some of those required responses from the group, so we had to coordinate again our reply and discuss the implications of these comments to the whole proposal.

We agreed on some of the issues raised by the reviewers and informed our position to the organisers. I believe we can now move on from the proposal to the implementation of the project.

I am happy that, throughout the past six months, we have managed to work well together, even though we all have busy schedules and are in different time zones. Nevertheless, I am even happier because we got a chance to meet again in Jakarta.

Although different tools make it possible for an international team to carry out its tasks, I have the impression that it is hard to address difficult issues or problems through these. Most of the times, it is better to deal with tough questions face to face, when the interaction is more suited for deep conversations. Besides, it is also good to be able to see the other persons’ reactions, to read their expressions and to create empathy.

In this collaborative process, our group has faced constant challenges, such as:

  • Coordinate busy schedules and different time zones;
  • Keep the group united;
  • Effectively share responsibilities;
  • Match the expectations of the organisers.

While we have managed to overcome those so far, I believe they have not gone away. In fact, I think that, in order to be successful, our group will always have to pay attention to these issues.