Win Together, Lose Apart

How to ensure global team success.

Global teams are at the center of an organization’s need for innovation, expansion, and productivity. In spite of the importance of global teams, few organizations know how to embed the awareness and skills needed to succeed. For global teams to succeed, fundamental tensions must be addressed. Can training increase the likelihood of success? Absolutely! Research at French business school INSEAD has identified some of the core issues (visit: http://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/authentic-liaisons-creating-bridges-across-cultures-4848).

Here is a roadmap to success based on hundreds of teambuilding programs around the globe and follow-up research conducted by Global Dynamics, Inc., over 30 years.

1. Do a quick organizational scan to identify the needs in your company.

  • Has your organization launched global project teams?
  • Are you developing a shared vision to span the globe?
  • Is your company initiating international policies, standards, and practices?
  • Are your international teams dealing with issues of trust, respect, and competency?
  • Are your team members from many different countries and cultures?

2. Do a cross-cultural scan and provide the necessary awareness building.

Global team members don’t necessarily recognize the impact their different attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions may have on their teamwork. Invisible cultural forces profoundly affect the team’s goals, as well as day-to-day functioning. Each team member’s style of thinking and communicating is significantly affected by his or her cultural upbringing. Issues of leadership, power and control, decision-making, trust, and respect take on different meanings and significance in international teams. Here are some key cultural factors:

A. Communication style: At a global team meeting of a major Dutch organization, which was to focus on expansion into China, there was little initial discussion by the Chinese. After a small amount of cross-cultural coaching, the team facilitators started calling on the Chinese, and the Dutch were amazed to learn how much insight the Chinese had.

B. Openness to risk taking: A team of sales executives from four airlines were in a strategic alliance meeting in Paris to discuss the cultural alignment of their organizations. The U.S. team came prepared to recommend a new fee for luggage for those traveling in Coach on trans- Atlantic flights. The French airline executive immediately demanded the research that proves this would be profitable and not cost the airlines in lost revenue due to passengers selecting other airlines. The Americans were frustrated by the French refusal to “pilot” the idea and said if it did not “fly,” they would rescind the new fee. The French executive said if they lost even one Euro on the new fee, he would lose his job, so he could not approve the fee without concrete evidence. The plan was vetoed.

C. Know what is important to each country: An American medical device company seeking to build a new facility in Hungary used a U.S.-centric assessment process to select the plant manager. The Hungarian team members immediately vetoed the choice since the person selected was over 50 years old, which in Hungarian culture was viewed as someone who might be tainted by a Communist management style.

3. Leverage these training factors for success.

A. Keep the virtual aspect in mind: An excellently designed and delivered global team-building program can have extraordinary results if done right. The key is not to do the “typical” team-building program, which fails to address the unique factors facing a global team. In addition to the cultural factors mentioned above, there is a need to focus on the virtual nature of the teams’ interactions and communication. These specific issues were covered in an earlier column (http://pubs.royle.com/publication/?i=224976&p=66).

B. Realize that building trust is not easy: Global teams need more time to get acquainted to develop trust. Before any teambuilding program, create a team Facebook page or LinkedIn group that contains the professional and social profile of each team member. This should include photos, titles, and personal information such as favorite hobbies. Global team members should always meet in person at the beginning of the team’s formation. This initial time should be spent getting to know each other on a personal level. It should not be an itinerary of business plans. One of the biggest causes of global team failure is not bringing the team together right from the start.

C. Create a global team communication plan: Create a team communication plan that includes a global calendar. Once we created a global calendar for a team, the number of people not attending the team’s virtual meetings dropped significantly since everyone was now aware of each team member’s holidays.

D. Be pro-actively inclusive: Neuroscience has made us aware of the reasons for our unconscious biases. These biases are particularly significant in global teams. For example, individuals are less trusting of a message delivered by a person with an accent than if the same message is delivered by a person without an accent. Unless we make a conscious effort to mitigate our unconscious biases, we will not be able to benefit from each team member’s potential.

Perhaps you are on a global team or have been asked to train such a team. Share your experiences, case studies, questions, best practices, and critical issues for inclusion in a future column via e-mail: ngoodman@global-dynamics.com.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics.com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.

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