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Mastering the Art of Global Management

Posted on October 23, 2015

The phrase “It’s a small world” was once very common, but this saying, while less commonly used, seems even more true today. Technological advances have made it possible to communicate with someone on the other side of the world with the click of a button. Messages that used to take days or weeks to send back and forth, can now be accomplished within a matter of seconds.

These communication technologies have opened up a world of opportunity for companies, both in terms of labor and selling products and services. Through their use, managers are no longer limited to hiring employees exclusively from their region of the world. Now talent can be obtained at a lower cost in previously closed off locales such as Russia and China.

The premise for this concept is great, and has appealed to many large companies. However, while managing a global team has a terrific potential upside it also has its own unique set of challenges. Managing a team in multiple offices in the same region is hard enough, so how does one do it when the team is spread across eight time zones?

Or, even worse, take the case of Tariq, a 33-year-old manager for a global firm, assigned to manage a department of 68 people ranging in ages from 22 to 61 who live in 27 different countries and speak 18 different languages. Such a task sounds like The Tower of Babel all over again. How does one make this work?

Knitting The Many Into One

Creating a global team that works is a subject that Harvard professor Tsedal Neeley has studied for the past 15 years and he shared some of his insights in this article in the Harvard Business Review. A great deal of the tension that arises when managing globally, in Neeley’s view, is the lack of emotional connection between team members. To understand and correct this dynamic, Neeley developed the acronym SPLIT for global managers to follow: S is for structure, P is for process, L is for language, I is for identity, and T is for technology.

Using this framework, managers first seek to understand the structure of the organization and any power imbalances that may exist. For example, offices with the most employees are often regarded as the power centers; team members in remote offices located far from them can feel marginalized. To correct this, managers should work to create an inclusive environment by reminding everyone they are a member of one team, aligned around one goal, and their input is valued.

Process Makes Perfect

After managers understand the power dynamic in the organization, they can set up processes to counterbalance it. With this in mind, managers should encourage informal discussions between disparate team members. While despised by some, small talk is actually a powerful way to build up trust and should be incorporated into daily routine tasks.

Managers should also allow time for open disagreement among team members (while preventing these skirmishes from escalating to full-scale conflict). Leaders who question and seek answers from a variety of sources promote a sense of trust and often, through the process, figure out the best solutions.

Communication Goes Beyond Language

Differences in language can be one of the most difficult issues for managers to address. Fluent speakers of the organization’s common language have a natural advantage over the less skilled speakers, whose contributions can be just as, if not more, meaningful. Managers would be wise to be inclusive, get input from all involved, and make sure everyone understands what is being said.

Closely related to language is the concept of identity in managing a global team. Cultural misunderstandings are a real danger and threat to performance. For example, one sales engineer at a large technology company repeatedly asked a Japanese group he was training if they were okay or if they needed a break during a long session. The group consistently declined despite being visibly tired.

It was only later that the sales engineer discovered it is impolite for Japanese students to speak so openly. Teachers in Japan regularly build in breaks and do not depend on student feedback or requests. To counteract this, Neeley urges managers to “avoid making assumptions about what behaviors mean.” Leaders should ask lots of questions before drawing conclusions. This establishment of two-way communication also promotes trust.

Last, managers of global teams should incorporate technology into processes to facilitate communication. Skype calls, instead of emails, can lead to more meaningful, face-to-face meetings and promote healthier connections among team members. Further, employee suggestion programs can be incorporated to facilitate the discussion of new ideas and solutions.

The upside for managing a global organization is opening up new markets, creating a wealth of good ideas and solutions, and overseeing a skilled, high performance team. Done right, the payoff can be enormous.

And if you’re struggling to keep communication flowing with your widespread workforce, then it’s time to call the Vocoli team at 888.919.5300.


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