After posting the article about small business goes global I got an email asking me to share my experience about managing a global team. I did manage a team of about 100 people that spread across 4 continents and 10 countries and learned a lot by doing it. Here are the 10 commandments of managing a global team (the ones I used and the ones I wish I had used):
- Travel—you have to visit your team a lot. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to set a Webex meeting or a video conferencing. You just cannot replace face to face small talk and bonding.
Interact—when all of your team is in one office it is easy to interact. Even if you don’t plan, it happens at lunch, coffee or in meetings. When you travel you always try to squeeze as much as possible into the day, and you end up gaining not much more than you would have gained in a video conference. So, make time, a lot of time, to interact with your direct reports and the rest of the team.
- Get a strong lieutenant per location—you need someone on the ground who will be “you” for all those small things that need daily attention. Someone who will talk with people and identify problems before they happen and, most importantly, be transparent to you.
- Intercultural training—in plain English, teach everybody in the team to understand all the different cultures involved. You will get so many “Aha” moments that you would not believe how the team functioned before…
- Invest and use technology—even if you follow rule number one, the fact is that the team will interact remotely with you and others a lot. There are many good technologies (some are really cheap) for personal video conferencing, web presentations, IM, collaboration rooms, you name it. Learn all of them, choose the ones that will bring the most impact to your team and make sure everyone, and I mean everyone, is using them. This blog post has a good review on drawing tools as one example for collaboration tools.
- Trust as a key value—the biggest pitfall of a global team is lack of trust. It will create redundancy (“the guys in China will never get it right, so let’s do it here”), slow the team down and get people to finger-point instead of getting things done. Since you cannot fly people to meet each other and develop trust, the best way I know is to build small teams from different locations to work on problems together.
- Communicate a lot—build a systematic communication plan for your team. A monthly teleconference with the entire team is not too often, and a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter keeps everyone up to speed.
- Put a face behind the name—with the rise of facebook, this one is easy to explain: get your team on facebook or something similar. The profile, the pictures, the interaction and the small things that people can add about themselves will bring your team closer together.
- Public recognition is key—develop a habit of recognizing people and actions you like in an organized fashion. Design a monthly event and give a cool reward for an employee that exhibited the behavior you are interested in.
- Chill out—global and virtual teams will always present a greater leadership challenge and companies should never build global teams if there is no real need. So if it doesn’t run as smoothly as your local team did, try your best, but remember that it comes with the territory…