Ten top tips for running a global team

How do you manage a team you can’t see, you don’t know and who are separated by time zones, language, culture and regulations? Welcome to the challenge of leading a global team.

  1. Meet your team. Even the most high tech firms find that high touch works. Invest in flights and meet your team face to face. You will find trust soars and communication is transformed.
  2. Communicate well. There is more communication and less understanding than ever. The best team leaders have two ears and one mouth, and use them in that proportion. Communicating well starts with understanding well: listen twice as much as you talk.
  3. Build trust. No one wants to work with a leader they do not trust. Your team does not know you, so why should they trust you? Time spent understanding each other personally is not idle chit chat: it is an investment in building relationships which are key to success in many parts of the world.
  4. Deliver on what you say, always. Your credibility depends on this. That means being crystal clear on setting expectations and goals. Avoid misunderstandings which lead to loss of trust.
  5. Acquire cultural intelligence. You are not an anthropologist who has to know everything about foreign cultures. You need cultural intelligence: learn to observe, understand and adapt fast to the different ways of doing things elsewhere.
  6. Stay curious. Try the local food, music and films. You might even enjoy it. Read the local papers. If you stick with what’s familiar, global work is probably not for you.
  7. Create a sustainable rhythm of updates and reports. The need to communicate can get in the way of actual work. Your team needs a stable pattern of communications. Share the pain, so that the same people are not always have to check in at 6am (often the West Coast) or 10pm (often the Far East).
  8. Know your place. You may think other cultures have odd ways. To them, you are the one who has odd ways. Don’t assume your way is either best or normal. Try explaining to Japanese the rules of shaking hands: how do you know when, who and how? By comparison, bowing is easy and predictable.
  9. Assume positive regard. Your team will be doing things and making decisions while you are asleep. You have to trust them. When things go awry, positive regard means assuming that your team did their best. Avoid the blame game. Focus on the future and move to action.
  10. Keep on learning. Leading a global team is extreme leadership: leading without seeing your team all the time, and with the challenges of physical and cultural distance. You need high level skills and new skills to succeed. Keep learning, keep adapting. If you can lead a global team, you can lead any team.

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