Inside Aperian Global: Derice Darlington
In our monthly interview series, Inside Aperian Global, you will get to know the passionate people that drive Aperian Global’s mission, values, and day-to-day operations. Aperian Global’s employees will provide you with a sneak peek into their work lives and share stories about themselves. This month, we asked Derice Darlington, our Manager, Web Tools Marketing Group, a few questions.
Derice, you work in our web tools department, focusing on promoting GlobeSmart®and other elearning products to our clients. What attracted you to the cross-cultural consulting industry and how did you end up at Aperian Global?
Aperian Global and, specifically, our online learning products exist to provide access to global knowledge so people can learn how to collaborate more effectively with others. In many ways, my path to Aperian Global starts with my childhood up through college years, moving every two or three years around the U.S., and living in Turkey and Italy with my military family. Learning about different cultures and how to adapt to new environments was my way of life. As I’ve grown, I have realized that my interest in this space is not only a function of my mobile childhood, but also my identity as a Black woman. I’m often seen as a double minority in the spaces I occupy – whether it’s school, work, or community – and I am very aware of the impact of cultural values, similarities, and divides on a daily basis.
In my previous role at a large management consulting firm, I was involved in a number of global IT and HR transformation projects. After some time, I felt that there was not enough focus on skill development for the people involved in or impacted by these large-scale global programs. I felt like something was missing. I was thrilled to learn about AG’s niche space in the global business consulting arena. I get to promote tools to help individuals and teams thrive at the intersection of intercultural effectiveness and global business success!
At the base, we are a learning organization and I like being part of a company with a mission so rooted in providing access to information that is not only good for business results, but in a way, contributes to creating a more socially-conscious and inclusive society.
You work in an organization that has a large percentage of employees working remotely, as well as across different time zones and cultures. What was your own experience of “finding your way” in a virtual environment, when you first started?
When I first joined Aperian Global 4 years ago, I enjoyed working in our Boston office. I felt like I had solid camaraderie, knew who to go to for what, and even though my immediate team was not all in the same location, I felt like I had a core group of coworkers. With my client work, virtual is reality. There is no way to be in person for every client meeting, so it’s essential to be responsive and establish credibility, especially knowing that every client has a different expectation for our working relationship.
Last year, I moved from Boston to Raleigh, North Carolina, and now work remotely full time. While I don’t notice too much of a difference with my client work, I was nervous transitioning from being in an office to working from home full time. I was afraid of feeling isolated – I enjoyed coffee breaks, walking meetings, and informal chats with my Boston officemates. To avoid this, I intentionally reached out to people via Skype/e-mail to check in or ask questions. This was a bit of a shift from sitting in an office and being able to walk easily over to a colleague’s desk and ask them questions. Surprisingly, I feel like I collaborate with more and with different people now that I’m a remote employee.
I also make a point to show my personality as much as possible via e-mail or on calls. Being virtual, you miss out on facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc., many of the elements that help us know whether or not a message is being understood. Knowing that being virtual has its limitations, I use what I have. For example, if I’m excited about something, I make sure to show that excitement with my tone, inflection, pacing, etc. Also, I rely on technology for audio and sometimes video, but definitely for screen-sharing during meetings.
This month’s blog content focuses on establishing team culture in a virtual environment. You are the manager of a team that sits dispersed around the world. What did you focus on during your first 30 days?
I realized there was so much I just didn’t know about my colleagues’ day to day realities. We are all based in different Aperian Global offices. Some offices are traditional spaces, while some colleagues are in more modern co-working spaces. Each office has its own unique culture. Each team member is working on her or his own client portfolio and special projects. Each client is engaged with Aperian Global, and the level of interaction with each client is really quite varied. I was intimidated by how much I did not know.
With this in mind, I knew I needed to get organized and learn as much as possible about what my team members are doing and what challenges they are currently facing.
To do this, I set up a weekly meeting series with each of the team members. I made a point, early on, to share discussion topics and meeting notes from cross-functional departmental meetings, individual one-on-ones, and project meetings with each team member in our weekly discussions. Knowing that it is challenging for some team members to have weekly one-on-one calls with each other, I realized it would be a big part of my role to serve in some capacity as an intra-team knowledge-sharer. I set up this cadence early for personal gain, but it lends itself to creating a more collaborative culture and strengthens connections within the team as well.
What rules have you established with your virtual team to ensure a positive, engaged and effective team culture? Could you share two or three best practices that have worked well for your particular virtual team?
Get to know your team members’ styles. The GlobeSmart ProfileSM has been an invaluable tool for me to learn more about my team members’ preferred communication styles, decision-making preferences, and how best to approach delegating a new project task. One of the first tasks I assigned to our new team member was to complete the GlobeSmart Profile. On day 2, the new team member and I had an insightful conversation, using the GlobeSmart Profile dimensions of culture and advice generated as our shared vocabulary and guide.
Create a space for collaboration. Unfortunately, working in a virtual space often creates the illusion that the person on the other side is not real – we may never even meet as a team face to face! In several team meetings, I have gone off script a bit and asked ice-breaker questions like, “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” and, “What’s your favorite food?” This enables us to get to know each other as people by creating a space where team members can be comfortable sharing more about their interests and motivations. It has led to our team culture being quite collaborative and open.
Be approachable and available. As manager, it’s important to me that my team knows I am approachable and available to support their client requests or projects. While I don’t think it’s good practice to work all hours of the day, I do find it valuable to check e-mail and stay on Skype later in the evening so my India- and Singapore-based colleagues can “ping” me during their morning work hours for guidance on client issues. My goal with this tactic is to eliminate the wait time often caused by time zone differences. Now a client can get a response in half a day, rather than a day and a half!
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet.
I recently performed in a community theater production of Godspell with the Towne Players of Garner. I love musical theater!