It is not easy to manage a team. It is very challenging for many people to manage a diverse team. How tough could it be to manage a diverse team when team members are physically away from each other?
When I was working for an American company in Japan, I worked with one colleague almost every day. I sent him e-mails and called his office. I usually request him to take action. Often, I felt it was difficult as he didn’t respond to my e-mails nor answer my call as promptly as I expected. To make the situation more difficult, we had big time-differences, there was only one hour window to communicate directly. For example, when we have a conversation and he agreed to do what I requested, that is the end of his working hour (my morning was his early evening). So it was typical that he said he’d do the next day. So I had to wait the whole day for him to come back to the office the next day. And I sometimes found he didn’t do what he promised me the next morning. And if I cannot catch him before he left the office, I lose one more day. It was super challenging for me.
If you have team members and colleagues in different locations, this kind of situation is not unusual. It is normal if everyone feels it’s inconvenient, hard to communicate, and not easy to work together. However, more and more people are already in those environments and this trend will not be changed anytime soon.
There is an interesting article about global teams (https://hbr.org/2015/10/global-teams-that-work).
Based on this article, there are some key components to make the global team successful.
>Perception of power
If the majority of the team member is in one location, the everyone in the team (both people in the location and outside of the place) assume the people in the majority location have more power.
It is very crucial for a leader to make sure that everyone understands the mission of the team & the roles of each location and everyone is included in every single decision making. So that team members who are in minority locations feel that they are part of the team.
>Importance of empathy
To feel close to each other is a key component to build a successful team. If you work in the same location, you might be able to chat about weekends, clients, family, and more. However, if you work in different locations, there is no opportunity to have casual conversations unless you put an effort to create one.
As a leader, it is very important to put an extra effort to include people outside of the majority location. A quick phone call and/or an e-mail to show that you are ready to listen to their stories makes the situation day and night.
Most of the global teams use English as a shared language. Even if Germany or China had the biggest number of people in the team, probably they use English as a team. Native speakers of the common language (English speakers) tend to influence or have more power in the team.
It is a leaders’ role to make sure the native speakers speak slower, use smaller words, and speak in shorter sentences. Also, leaders have to encourage people who have less confident in English to participate.
It is possible that one behavior might be considered as a good one in one country, but as a rude one in another. To understand my normal might not be your normal can be crucial to work in a diverse team.
So it is very important for leaders to be open-minded, be willing to learn different behavior, and show a supportive attitude.
>Tech and connection
With the rapid improvement in the IT industry, our work has been significantly improved. When I worked for an American company in Japan around the year 2000, we could use e-mails as well as international calls, but I don’t think chat/messaging was popular in the work environment at that time. And video conferences were both expensive and lower quality. Right now, we can use the cloud base office platforms such as Slack and Workplace. Video conference systems such as Zoom and Vast Conference are reasonably available.
When everyone can be reached anytime and anywhere, it becomes important for leaders to respect everyone’s personal time. If you organize video conferences 2-3 times a week at 10AM in New York time, it could be a late night in many parts of Asia.
The potential of global teams is very high. Many research shows diverse teams provide better output, however, there are many challenges that homogenous teams would not face. It is a leader’s responsibility to make the team successful. It’s not easy for sure, but it is a rewarding challenge.