Competitive Intelligence is no longer viewed as a discretionary option, reserved for the world’s leading companies. It’s a crucial function to support current business strategy and to help meet future demands. That’s why companies are increasingly making use of multi-site intelligence teams to meet the growing need for global intelligence combined with local expertise.

As with any other business function that relies on the cooperation of employees who are located across multiple sites, teamwork and collaboration are critical to the success of the geographically dispersed intelligence department.

Managing a dispersed intelligence team may seem a hard challenge to overcome. However, by following these 6 practical tips you can create a high-performance intelligence team that delivers strategic value to your organisation.

1. Define Expectations & Align Goals

One of the most important factors in managing a dispersed intelligence team is to agree at the outset on how to work best together and to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Set out clear expectations of what needs to be achieved in terms of the frequency, quality and format of intelligence reports. Each individual team member should know what he/she is expected to contribute in order to achieve your shared goals and priorities. It’s paramount to the success of the overall intelligence function that virtual teams feel supported and included in the broader goals and objectives of the company.

2. Harness Technology for Effective Collaboration

Managing a dispersed team is complicated by the fact that good communication is impeded by distance and time-zone differences. However, this can be overcome with proper planning and a genuine commitment to making communication, openness and teamwork a top priority. Make sure that your team remains connected through proper use of group emails, synced calendars, a shared intelligence dashboard and other collaboration tools as needed.

It’s important to establish a common framework for communicating with each other on a regular basis e.g via email, telephone or IM. The benefit of co-located teams is that face-to-face meetings can be arranged easily and without too much forward planning. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple with dispersed teams. Stay informed of the challenges facing your intelligence team by holding weekly update meetings to review work in progress, plan ahead for the next intelligence project or to raise any pertinent local issues.

In order for virtual teams to work efficiently you need to put robust technology in place that will assist in creating, managing and sharing information without leading to any unnecessary or wasteful duplication. A specially tailored intelligence dashboard, available for each local team to upload and access information on demand, will greatly assist the collaboration process.

3. Seek and Deliver Feedback

Give regular feedback so that your team understands clearly the impact that their contribution has on the overall intelligence function. It’s also a good idea to vary the way that you deliver feedback, either by commenting on recent activity on your shared intelligence dashboard or by sending an email in response to a well-constructed intelligence report. Be open in seeking out the opinions and advice of your team members, as this will make them feel valued and appreciated. In turn, it will foster a culture of trust and cooperation that values feedback and opinions from everyone, irrespective of hierarchy.

4. Build an Internal Communications plan

One of the great benefits of being part of a wider intelligence network is that you can join forces to advocate and promote the value of Market or Competitive Intelligence across the entire organization. Adopt a unified communications plan to spread awareness about your activities and share concrete examples of your strategic value. Think about ways you can win support and engagement from internal customers and replicate this in each region. One way to achieve this is by conducting interactive workshops with each business function, outlining how you can bring value to their role by sharing key insights on competitor strengths and weaknesses, product benchmarks, new sales prospects, market developments, consumer purchasing trends, regulatory changes etc. Familiarize yourself with the demands of your internal customers by actively encouraging them to log requests with their local intelligence team if they need any specific market insights. This is a fantastic way to galvanize support for your intelligence activities and to broaden your sphere of influence across the organization simultaneously.

5. Leverage Local Insight for Global Advantage

We live in a global, interconnected world that holds immense opportunity for those who can tap into the knowledge of a diverse intelligence network. Take advantage of your local intelligence sources to gain deep insights on regional issues. Companies that reflect a monolithic, outdated view of their industry and fail to factor in external threats from encroaching competitors or emerging markets won’t survive long at the top.

Use the expertise and knowledge of local teams to identify weak signals that have the potential to create industry-wide ripple effects in the longer term. For example, if your Spanish intelligence unit has information regarding a potential merger or acquisition between two rival companies – use this information to spotlight their activities in other countries. Keep up to date about regional politics, local innovations, demographic changes and connect this disparate intelligence into a map of global hot spots, highlighting risks and opportunities for your company in major regions around the world.

6. Nurture a Sense of Team Spirit

The team rapport which is easily developed in a co-located group setting takes much longer to build with dispersed teams. One of the most common pitfalls which besets dispersed teams is a sense of disengagement or isolation caused by a lack of cohesion. The secret to building trust and rapport is to make the ‘team’ a priority in all your interactions. Before launching into the latest project specifics on your weekly conference call, take a few minutes to focus on small talk, find out what’s new with your team-members and inject some light humour into the conversation. This will help to gel your professional relationship and create a sense of team spirit based on trust, camaraderie and a shared passion for intelligence.

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