Managing a Global Team

We live in a global society.  We work in a global business community.  I personally manage a team of folks around the globe – from California to Paris to Shanghai and beyond.  I have learned a lot from managing and working in global teams.

There are some amazing benefits to having a global team:

  • No geographic limits for your talent pool.  Employ the best people regardless of where they are located.
  • Local Insight.  If selling or marketing to a global community, it helps to have local knowledge on your team.  Firsthand experience is powerful.
  • Employee flexibility.  Again, increase your talent pool by allowing people to work from home and have more flexible hours.
  • Employee satisfaction.  There is no “in the office face time”.  Ultimately, this can increase job satisfaction.

But, there are some huge challenges associated with managing a global team:

  • Lack of clarity.  When working with team members that have different native tongues, key messages can get lost in translation.  Add bad phone connections and team members multitasking (i.e. checking email) while on conference calls, and communications do not always sink in the first time around.
  • Speed of decision making.  When there are only a few hours a day of common “awake” time, it can take weeks to get a meeting scheduled that works for everyone’s calendar.  Add the lack of clarity mentioned above, and decision making can happen at a snail’s pace.
  • Conflict resolution.  Working predominantly on the phone and through emails makes it difficult to deal with tough issues and get everyone on the same page.  It is hard to understand nuances of communication when you can’t see body language.
  • Building a corporate culture.  A corporate culture depends on constant interaction and a lot of team bonding.  This can be very difficult to define with a global team and even harder to implement virtually.

Here are a few simple suggestions that I have found helpful when managing a global or virtual team:

  • Face to face meetings are a must.  Meeting in person boosts team morale and increases team collaboration for months after the meeting.  Key messages sink in when said live, and in person.  Communicate strategy and direction face to face whenever possible.
  • Utilize video conferencing as much as possible.  Video conference keeps everyone “present” in the meeting and allows for face to face interaction.   Additionally, you can read body language and understand tone through video, making a meeting much more productive.
  • Put action items and key decisions in writing.  Follow up conference calls with clear, written communication of the outcomes of the meeting.  This ensures everyone walked away from the meeting with the same key take a ways.
  • Pick up the phone.   Never communicate “tough messages” via email.  Speak live to the individual in a one on one conversation.  Tone in email is often misunderstood.
  • Invest in cultural training.  I hired an outside consultant to spend a day with my management team for cultural training. I was leery going into this training, but a true believer in the benefits after.  It gave all of us a better understanding of how different cultures approach situations.  One eye opening exercise:  The consultant split the group into teams based on nationality.  Each team had to answer the question:  “What values would you want to instill in your children?”  The Americans said things like: self-confidence, ambition, and intellectual curiosity.  The Germans said things like:  respect for authority and work ethic.  It gave me a whole new perspective on how team members managed issues and the best approach to working with individuals.

Do I believe the benefits of a global team outweigh the challenges?  Absolutely.  You just have to be prepared.

Does it really matter if you want a global team?  No.  The global community is a reality.  It’s here.  If your company wants to grow or take advantage of the best talent pool, you will eventually have to go global.


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