There are many advantages to utilizing global teams. Businesses will say that ‘going global’ gives them access to talent, helps reduce costs, increases flexibility and responsiveness, offers diverse perspectives and provides a local presence in countries where they do business.
However, successfully implementing, managing and growing global teams takes effort and involves elements not present when managing strictly domestic teams. Conflicts or lost productivity can arise from cultural differences, lack of clear and consistent communication and incompatible leadership.
Below are tips for successfully managing global teams:
Select team members carefully and try to screen for intercultural competence; that is, look for people who are curious about other cultures, sensitive to cultural differences and also willing to modify their behavior out of respect for other cultures. You will build a foundation for success by choosing people who are open-minded team players.
Foster cultural awareness through training. Encourage team members to practice patience and be sure to do some cultural training when setting up the team; understanding differences will strengthen your team dynamic. Kari Heistad, CEO of Culture Coach International, an expert in this area, doesn’t recommend team building exercises per se, which are hard to do virtually and especially when working with team members of different cultures. Heistad instead suggests encouraging team members to interact one-on-one and get to know each other. Share team bios and allow for social exchanges that can help build understanding and relationships.
Set up frequent communication
Frequent communication helps generate and sustain momentum and team members should be encouraged to contact each other outside of scheduled team calls. Readily-available, inexpensive technologies like instant messaging, internet soft phones and desktop web cameras are eliminating barriers to communication with global teams. Treat your global team members just like you do the people who sit around you. For instance, at Professional Staffing Group, in-house recruiting teams attend three brief team meetings per day, which their overseas recruiters participate in via phone. Team members also communicate in real-time throughout the day using email and instant messaging. As a result, the overseas recruiters feel totally connected to the US team members and their productivity and job satisfaction are improved.
Clarify communications to prevent misunderstandings
Remind team members to ask for clarification in regards to accents or language barriers. Sometimes that means taking the extra step to define the words you’re using because even when speaking the same language, people can often have different interpretations of the same word.
Provide structure to meetings
• Send agendas and all relevant documents in advance of meetings to give team members time to review and absorb the material beforehand.
• Look to gain the participation of less outspoken members and take into account the differences in cultures regarding participation and inclusion needs.
• Schedule time for both task-focused and less structured interaction during the meetings. Heistad says it’s good to allow for a more casual conversation before diving into the agenda; many Asian cultures typically spend 15-20 minutes on this before a meeting. She also cautions against being too social during this part of the meeting; the U.S. is much less formal than other cultures and team members abroad can feel that Americans are prying when they are trying to “break the ice.”
• Take notes, especially if language barriers are a concern. Write down the key ideas and decisions that were discussed during the meeting and circulate them afterward. While note-taking and documenting decisions makes sense in meetings that don’t involve different cultures, this approach is particularly valuable in managing global teams.
Provide the right kind of oversight
Team leaders need to be clear with their members about the team’s purpose, governing principles and decision-making practices. They should talk about the roles everyone plays on the team and set expectations for what the leader can and will do. For example, in Central and Southern Asia, as well as in parts of the Middle East, the leader’s role is that of the protector who is expected to shield and defend the team. Other cultures may perceive that outlook as lacking in personal accountability, which is why it’s important to understand team dynamics and leadership from cultural perspective. Also be cognizant that different cultures manage conflict differently. Research has shown that most conflicts are a result of cultural misunderstanding and lack of familiarity. Naturally teams with trust mesh more easily and are more productive.
Reward efforts and success
Strive to create reward systems that pull the team together across cultures. By fully integrating the global team, you will be unifying the group toward the same goals and objectives. The steps they take toward those goals and successes along the way should be acknowledged and rewarded in a way that motivates the individual and the group. While keeping cultural differences in mind, use your incentives to spark camaraderie as your team works together toward a common goal.
As global teams become more commonplace in many businesses today, ensuring you have the right mix of people, process and management tools will help foster your global team’s success.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Offshore Resources. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.
About HR Columns
Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.