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Helping Global Teams Deliver [Cont]

Simple Things To Make It Easier

In our experience there are three simple measures which will help a global team get off to a good start:

Prepare the leader - When executives start an international assignment or take on a role in a multi-cultural team, many believe they understand what will be involved. But, once they get into the process (past the ‘honeymoon’ phase if you like) they are always surprised at how painful, tiresome, complicated and time-consuming it can be to work in a global environment. They wish they had known more, had been better prepared, so they could have anticipated stressful and messy situations and recognised the problems before

they arose, or at least before they escalated into serious trouble.

The ability to motivate, inspire and emotionally connect with people are key skills for any team leader – but to do that effectively in a global environment is even more demanding. Competencies such as openness, ability to deal with ambiguity, patience, resilience and humour are critical.

In our experience, leaders really benefit from having an external cross-cultural mentor or coach. As one AstraZeneca executive put it ‘I know I can ask a colleague for advice but I don’t necessarily want to discuss my leadership style and concerns with a colleague.’

Think carefully about the choice of team members – Once an organisation has decided that it needs to pull together a global team, there is usually a great deal of pressure to get going quickly. Moreover where teams are selected from across a number of functions and most members will only be giving part of their time there can be a tendency to rely solely on a functional nomination process. It is vital, however, that the team leader is absolutely clear about the interpersonal qualities required (as well as the technical skills) and this can take time. Donna Johnstone estimates three months.

Have a face-to-face launch meeting – A global team is like any other team, it needs a sense of identity and clarity over what it is there to achieve.

A launch meeting is the best way to develop a supportive environment and help ensure that everyone in the team can contribute to and feel ownership for its vision and mission. At the initial meeting for her “Gateway 2” project team, Donna found a symbolic way of doing this. She decided to run a competition across the team members in order to design a project logo. The team voted for their favourite and it has now become their logo, a hallmark of quality, “we stick it on everything”.

In addition, the launch meeting is also the time to work through how the team is going to work together. This is the point for the team to talk about linguistic inequality – different levels of fluency in the working language – and to discuss the communications norms of that language. This is also when they can set standards – like items being pulled from the agenda unless the papers have been supplied at least the night before (which addresses both language issues, and the inefficiency of trying to discuss a document that one half of the team in the room can see, but the rest, working virtually, cannot). Also they can agree that all outcomes of meetings and decisions will be put in writing – sounds obvious and simplistic, but it’s surprising how often teams don’t do this.

Some final thoughts…

In many ways, global teams are no different from any other team. The sorts of practices that help teamwork generally will help a global team. What the added dimensions of cross-cultural and virtual working add is a degree of risk. You cannot get away with sloppy team leadership.

The birth of truly global corporations is painful, but valuing diversity is the key to healthy delivery!

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About the Authors: Robin Schneider and Vivianne Näslund

Robin Schneider (Tel +44 (0)1264 882400) is Managing Director of Schneider~Ross, a leading global equality and diversity consultancy.

Vivianne Näslund (Tel + 44 (0)1444 443947) is an international consultant, facilitator and coach who is also a Schneider~Ross Associate.

Robin has British and Swiss nationality, Vivianne is a Swedish national who has also lived and worked in France, Switzerland, Germany, and the UK.

For more information visit their website at or contact them by email:

Robin Schneider

Robin Schneider

Vivianne Näslund

Vivianne Näslund

Reprint credit: This article originally appeared in Profiles in Diversity Journal in March/April 2004 and a shorter version appeared in theHRDIRECTOR as Midwifery for Global Organisations: Helping Diverse Teams Deliver Issue 3, February 2004