Leadership + virtual (global) teams + a happy culture? Yes, it is possible

Managing a global team can be a challenge, but shouldn’t have to be…here are practical ways to collaborate, connect and communicate

I recently facilitated a workshop in Australia where the delegates were from various countries. It reminded me of the challenge leaders in a multi-national company face. It is the hard reality of managing a team, stationed across the globe, some working at the office, some in remote locations, others based in their home office and to add a notch, in different time zones.

Leaders usually appreciate the benefits of having a global team. Diverse views, strengths and knowledge of these team members are needed in this fast-paced, ever-changing world. Yet, it also adds a different level of complexity in motivating the team and should be managed in the right way.

Life in a global team isn’t always smooth sailing

Team members are removed from their manager and colleagues, which makes the day-to-day communication and engagement challenging.

The secret ingredient for any leader of a multi-national (and virtual) team is to focus on building a strong culture. Due to geographical distance, team members easily feel disconnected and misaligned. The key is to align the team to a mutual set of values and behaviours.

The level of effective interactions between team members also plays a vital part in building the culture. In my experience as an HR executive of a well-known multi-national, I can definitely relate to the challenges of keeping a remote team connected. Herewith some practical considerations:

  • Agree on which technology to use to assist with collaboration and decide on rules for virtual meetings.
  • Simulate a virtual “water cooler experience. Use social media and video conferencing to informally meet and engage with team members on a regular basis.
  • Clarify business hours taking different time zones into account. Decide on meeting times and accommodate everyone by rotating the timeslot and each member share in attending the meeting at an inconvenient time slot.
  • Agree on response times to queries – internally and externally.
  • Commit to honest and candid conversations. Follow a plan to address miscommunication, as it can very easily happen.

Biases – be consciously aware

Research conducted by psychologists Tinu Cornish and Dr. Pete Jones found that nearly 40% of people have unconscious biases against genders and ethnicities. When working with multi-national teams, each team member, and especially the leader, need to make a conscious effort not to be biased towards other gender and nationalities.

How can you overcome these biases? The first step is to identify and be aware of your bias. By acknowledging the bias, you are able to take a step back in the situation and reflect on the best next step. By being consciously alert, you can challenge your behaviours, views and decisions during interactions with your team members.

Use remote working arrangements to your advantage

Flexible working arrangements are a huge attraction for many individuals and this is evident in the report published by the International Workplace Group (IWG). You can download the report from their website https://www.iwgplc.com/ . Here’s two highlights that stood out for me:

  • 80% of the participants stated that enabling their employees to work from anywhere helped them recruit and retain top talent. This is a 16% increase from 2016.
  • Another interesting statistic published by IWG report that African and Asian business leaders, when entering new markets, allow their teams to work from anywhere (91% and 88%).

The big question: Is there a “best way” to manage virtual teams?

Here is a video by Erin Meyer speaking about: “How to lead a successful global team”: https://www.socialzon.me/videos/watch/DgbU7pP5QRc

The following tips will help you as a leader to build solid and engaged teams:

  1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: Establish a rhythm for collaborating with team members. This all about how you work with the team member, finding the balance between too much and just enough collaboration.
  2. Visibility: Drive visibility for remote employees. Arrange your own ‘cupcake day’ to celebrate birthdays of team members.
  3. Establish a culture team: Start a group that is dedicated to leading and inspiring a remote culture and helping employees feel more connected to company’s
  4. Share in the fun: Include a fun element and share pictures of home offices. One can create a contest with categories such as “best view from your desk” or “biggest need for improvement”.
  5. Co-ordinate volunteer initiatives: Even if the team is not together, their efforts still contribute to their local communities and let them share their volunteering activities on your internal network.
  6. Pay them a visit: Remote employees would value a face-to-face meeting vs. seeing your face on a video conferencing screen all the time. It will be good to catch-up and connect on a different level instead of always just talking business.

 A last thought

One of the Agile leadership principles summarises it well: “Agile leaders build communities based on high trust, respect and meaningful working relationships. Their role is to provide their teams with all that they need to operate efficiently but then let them function autonomously within their boundaries.”

Leaders of global and virtual teams need to intentionally build connections by creating a psychologically safe environment to bring forth the team cohesion, commitment and energy. It isn’t always easy, but if you keep the above tips in mind, you will be in good stead.

#LeadingRemoteTeams #Leadershipfirst #ReduceCulturalBias

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