Effectively managing a global team requires stellar leadership and communication skills coupled with a dynamic cultural awareness. It takes effort to communicate, motivate and celebrate your team. You need to collaborate in ways that energize employees to work together as one team across departments, languages, time zones and culture. It is a thrilling challenge that stretches your leadership skills. When you embrace diversity and empower people across your global team, great things happen. The results are hard earned and totally worth it.
Here is how to construct and streamline your international operation.
Start with the culture
Building and managing a global team means understanding and adopting the professional practices of a culture that’s new to you. Endeavoring to direct a team in a culture that you may just be starting to understand can be complex.
“In developing culture in remote locations, it’s important to balance appreciating and taking advantage of what makes each location unique with developing your globally consistent culture that has made your business successful” explains Brent Jaye, vice president of Amazon Web Services.
To find this essential balance, start by acclimating to the cultural basics of the remote locations. This includes a working knowledge about gender roles, attitudes towards leadership, work norms and expectations. Regional partners help tremendously. Listen to them. Hear their advice and get comfortable leaning on them.
Jaye adds: “The immersion experience can provide useful ideas on how best to translate aspects of your culture to the location’s context and avoid potential traps. Mechanisms such as having the site leader visit other locations, sending an away team of role models for a period of time to the new location, and encouraging movement across locations can all be helpful.”
Hire strong regional leaders
Strong regional leaders, whom you trust and with whom you communicate well, are key to your success. They absorb and model company values in your absence. They are your eyes and ears on the ground. They are your cultural touchstones.
I’ve managed strong and weak regional leaders: It’s worth the time to be hands-on in choosing the professionals who assume these roles.
Define the scope of the roles; this needs to be crystal clear, particularly on remote teams that you are developing to function without your daily, in-person interaction. Understand the local talent pool, and benchmark strength to determine succession planning. Make sure to benchmark pay to ensure equity by location.
Finesse cultural nuances
Steward your international colleagues with the same care as your local team members. As part of your meeting prep, make sure you have the right greeting prepared for the right time of day, so you’re appropriately wishing your team good morning, afternoon or evening. Kick off meetings by sharing positive news, success stories or team recognition highlights, just as you would if your colleagues were sitting with you.
“Developing a strong culture within our global teams is a long-held and clearly articulated company vision” explains Mike Gathright, senior vice president customer channels with Hilton.
To that end, nuances around time zones and geographies are part of a mental shift that you have to own. Be connected with global constraints when it comes to sending messages and timing meetings. This way, your requests will adhere to realistic timelines, and your meeting invitations will land at reasonable hours where your teams are working.
Create an open and inclusive dialogue with your team to cultivate an awareness of holidays and local customs. Learning this the hard way is humbling, as I found out when I was HR leader at Amazon and I mistakenly scheduled business travel to India during Diwali.
One of the most significant festivals in Indian culture, Diwali spans five days. I did not realize that my team would be out of the office to celebrate with their families. They graciously welcomed me to their family functions. I appreciated their kindness, but I recognized that the error was mine. It is part of my process now to double-check regional holidays before booking international business trips.
Team building takes effort
The onboarding process is one of the most important leadership functions; it is fundamental to success when it comes to developing strong, diverse teams. The additional complexity of managing remote, international teams makes it even more important that we get onboarding right.
Find mentors who can help with assimilation and who are cultural ambassadors to represent the company’s cultural values. Cultural ambassadors can help new employees understand the values and leadership. They get it and they champion corporate values to their peers.
Once the team is in place, create efficiency through standardized processes, information flow and sharing best practices, then be clear with setting standards and alignment. Giving operations your attention and care sends the right message to your team about the importance and value of the work.
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It is imperative your teams know that out of sight is not out of mind. Make sure to honor your commitments, because this is where your team looks to gauge the company’s cultural values. Rescheduling and canceling meetings with your international reports, for example, makes leadership seem unreliable or disengaged. It’s hard to unseed that message, so don’t plant it in the first place.
Global employee experience
Give your team the support their success requires. Provide team members with visibility into decision-making. Be reachable, and invite input. Build a foundation of empowerment and accountability with remote employees.
Spread positive news by sharing updates about great work and great workers across the remote team. Hold meetings to connect your virtual team, provide regular updates on progress, brainstorm and hear their ideas.
Model your company’s professional values. These are more than just words in your company’s handbook. Live them. Breathe them. Own them. They are your mantra-how your shared culture defines success; it translates into every language and transcends every mile.
Creating a strong foundation and global employee experience ensures your team’s cohesion.
Build a virtual community that promotes collaboration and ongoing communication across geographies. Nurture and expand empowerment across teams. Practice inclusion. Drive behavior through multiple touch points with the business. Then use technology and collaboration tools to keep your team organized, motivated, and productive.
Celebrate anniversaries, milestones, successes. “Milestones present an opportunity to unite global teams into celebrations either in-person or virtually so they can share in the sense of pride and their value to the organization.” shares Gathright.
Often the experience for employees working at corporate headquarters differs from those working in satellite offices. While you want employees to identify with the broader company culture, you also want to provide opportunities for each location to define and share the culture of the team.
Gathright explains: “A way to galvanize teams is by ensuring they have equal access to internal programs. For example, awards and recognition are locally relevant for our global teams and help generate engagement and a deeper connection to company values.”
Internationality is part of the overall employee experience. It’s exciting and it characterizes your team. Celebrate the culture that each location embodies.
Leading a global team enables you to use a deeper dimension of your leadership skills. It is demanding, and it is life-changing.