Let’s take a hypothetical situation of a leader with a global team. One part of his team sits in Delhi, another in Singapore, the third in London, and the fourth in China. The leader is expected to keep the team together and committed to deliver the expected results. However, the picture is not as rosy as he expected. There are differences amongst teams, with regards to the communication style with one set of members complaining about the demanding attitude of their colleagues in another location. Then there are some additional issues- like odd hours for the team calls due to multiple locations signing in. These challenges are impacting the team dynamics and productivity, and the leader is finding it difficult to make this work- thanks to the distance and the differences.
This is not a rare case, but a situation faced by numerous leaders, irrespective of their industry or domain of expertise. The rise of globalisation has led to the rise in companies having dispersed teams, with members based across different locations. The need to be physically present is now a passé. Today, it is easy to stay connected with your team via smartphones and multiple video conferencing as well as live meeting tools like WebEx. There are numerous advantages of dispersed teams like enhanced creativity, diversity of thought, and increased productivity. However, there is the flip side. It may not be only about odd hours but also about culture differences that can lead to conflicts amongst team members. No matter how global and exciting this may sound, the challenge of building a connected and impactful team exists in this case, in comparison to traditional teams that sit and work out of the same office.
Leaders of today’s times often struggle to keep their global teams focused and motivated. A key challenge faced by teams is to keep everyone aligned on the same page. Hence, while there a number of phone and video conference meetings, there is a lot of team communication that is done via emails. This ensures that all the team members tread on the same path. This is critical for all teams. Take the example of a Global Communications team. It is imperative that in case of a global campaign, the team members are in sync with regards to the brand and the campaign messaging.
Global teams can work well if the communication is done correctly. Also, the teams need to leverage their strengths and work on minimising the challenges. Here are top tips that can help build a connected and impactful global team:
Recognise cultural differences
This is the thumb rule when one has to work in/ lead a dispersed team. It is important to have a basic understanding of the cultural nuances of the region, so the team members are not totally clueless when speaking to their peers in other locations.
Cultural differences can exit not only with regards to ethnicity or generation or geography, but also can be the function of different working styles. For example, the work culture in India is very different from that in a European country. While in India one does not mind getting on a call late on a Friday evening, it might not be an acceptable practice in many countries in Europe.
Cultural differences with regards to working style can also be seen in the way an individual approaches meeting (reserved or outgoing), introvert vs extrovert, and communication styles. As a leader, it is essential to train the team to recognise these differences and to adjust accordingly. This can go a long way in building good working relationships.
Leverage technology to build relationships
Technology is the biggest facilitator for global team bonding. We understand that the lack of in-person conversations affects the possibility of non-transactional conversations and in turn reduces the chances of building great rapport amongst dispersed team members. In-person conversations tend to work well as they help break the ice and build a better understanding of an individual’s personality.
This is where technology plays a big role. With the emergence of various apps/softwares for video calls, one can bridge the gap between in-person conversation and virtual conversation. In case such calls are regular, the conversation is eased out and beyond being pure-play transactional. This can aid building relationships, even amongst team members who may not have met in person ever.
As a leader, you should encourage your team members to be in touch with teams across locations on a regular basis.
Give your team a compelling purpose
With the new age Millennial workforce, the purpose has become very important. Millennials tend to deliver better when they connect with the purpose of the organization or the team. Hence, a leader is advised to ensure all his team members across locations are on the same page. Communicating a compelling purpose goes a long way in building a connected team, especially in the case of virtual global teams where the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ dynamic across geographies is so prevalent.
How the purpose is defined is also very important. The team’s purpose cannot be at a higher ground hyperbolic level. It needs to be clear, measurable, challenging and consequential. A compelling purpose can help build together a team, and drives all team members towards the common goal.
Address any negative conflict without delay
Conflicts are a part and parcel of team work, and more so in case of virtual teams. The challenge is to manage them well and it becomes even more difficult in case of dispersed teams. The lack of face-to-face communications as well as the lag in communication (at times due to various time zones) can make situations worse. Hence, the leader should try to be proactive and act as the mediator to solve any such issues, as early as possible.
Create opportunities for personal bonding
We spend majority of our day at work and hence, it helps to build a good personal rapport with the ones we work. Feeling connected to team members is good, and especially in the case of teams of people from different cultures and geographies. A leader should help provide opportunities for personal bonding- in the form of offsites, team outings etc. Once a year team offsites can be good for team bonding.
The key to successful communication with global teams is to overcommunicate, reiterate key points, while ensuring that this is done in a way that it is okay with all the team members. A leader should encourage his team members to ask questions, in case they are unable to understand what another team member is saying. He should also put basic processes in place to ensure transparency of information across the team. For example, sending minutes of every meeting/call with key actionable items and owners will help keep the team aligned. Also, a leader should encourage ease of communication and healthy interaction across teams. Also, having individual check-ins with team members can help build trust, particularly at the beginning of a project.
It has been proved that dispersed teams deliver better results due to diverse workforce that bring in interesting ideas and best practices from different parts of the world. Also, it comes with the additional benefit of learning about various cultures, working across borders, and enables collaboration with people from different parts of the world. With more and more organizations working across geographies, the future belongs to global teams.