Vital success factors for great global teams

Global teams can be an organisation’s greatest asset but they can also be its biggest challenge.  The business advantages of geographically dispersed teams may be clear, but technology can never quite replace the human aspects of working in a co-located team. Observing the pressures your fellow team members are under from other colleagues, seeing that they are exhausted when their small children keep them awake at night, being able to review a presentation together side-by-side, or having an informal chat about a sensitive issue over lunch or a cup of coffee can all make it easier to develop better working relationships. Instead, global teams face the challenges of different time zones, poor technology, competing in-groups and sub-groups as well as language and cross-cultural challenges.

 “It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage: both because it is so powerful and so rare.” Patrick Lencioni

High performing global teams can be a reality and in fact when managed well they can out-perform co-located teams - but only when there is a change in mindset and dedicated time and attention from everyone involved. Here are five important success factors to consider if you want to manage a great global team.

1. Champion diversity

When you are building your team, actively look for a diverse mix of people. You might think it will make life easier to bring in people you know or who share your background. However, you risk missing out on opportunities to have different thinking styles and problem-solving skills within the team, the ability to see situations from a range of perspectives and to be close to global clients and stakeholders. Once the team is up and running make sure you celebrate its diversity and encourage team members to be curious about each other and share their differences in a positive way. 

2. Encourage cultural sensitivity

These differences between team members can often be cultural, particularly when it comes to work preferences and communication styles. Create space in your initial team-building activity or as part of your regular meetings for team members to learn about each other’s cultures and consider how they can adapt to each other’s styles and meet in the middle – or find a ‘third way’. Intercultural training can also be useful.

3. Share a common vision and values

While it is important to recognise differences within the team it is perhaps even more important to find what you have in common – and what holds the team together. Be clear about the purpose of the team and make sure every team member understands why you are working together as a global team. Take time to share personal values with each other and agree on core values for your team.  This may seem soft and fluffy but it is essential for a high-performing global team. A clear vision and values will help the team to become aligned, to prioritise, make decisions and manage conflict more effectively.

4. Create high levels of trust

Teams that trust each other demonstrate more transparent knowledge sharing, enhanced creativity, a stronger sense of commitment – and ultimately, greater productivity. Trust usually develops more easily when teams are co-located and know each other personally. Trust in virtual teams needs more time and energy not only to build trust between you and your team, but also between every team member. Make sure you have clear and open channels of communication and information is shared transparently. Be available for your team but beware of micro-managing: this is likely to remove any trust you have built.

5. Ensure a common language

Most often the common language in global teams is English and it is easy to assume that everyone in the team can communicate fluently with each other. If you find some team members contribute less and aren’t as quick to volunteer information or support, check that it’s not a language issue and be ready to offer language training and support. 

Encourage any native speakers to adapt their language use, for example, to use fewer colloquialisms, metaphors or cultural references when they are speaking and to check for understanding after speaking.

A common team language is more than just the language you use but also how you use it. Be aware that English is spoken differently around the world and be careful of using jargon and acronyms. It can be useful to have a list of agreed terminology and abbreviations to avoid mis-understandings.

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