In the quest for capitalizing on the unique opportunities presented by each major global region businesses are spreading their international reach and teams are becoming more widely spread. Moreover your overseas employees are likely to be local recruits as they need to be familiar with the territory. A larger geographic spread thus brings more cultural diversity. This creates sometimes unexpected challenges for business owners and managers. This article provides clues on how to overcome the physical distance and other issues while managing a geographically distributed team.
Managing people can be tricky enough when all your employees work in the same building. To effectively manage your global team you must communicate effectively and frequently. It is easier to do so if you establish communication channels and schedules. You can setup communication protocols for your team members to contact you and each other via phone, email, voice chat, video conference, instant messaging, post or others. The choice of channel may depend on various factors such as formality, urgency, reliability, availability and cost. It helps if everyone works on the same platform, such as instant messenger for daily updates, Skype for weekly calls and email for sharing documents/reports.
Don’t forget to account for the different time zones and disparity in national holidays across geographies. It is also important that everyone communicates in the same language so that no communication barriers exist and forwarded messages can be assimilated with ease. Establishing the frequency and tenor of communications, such as scheduling weekly calls with pre-discussed agendas can make your job much easier. The daily number of hours you and your overseas employees will be online simultaneously may be limited. Communications need to be very efficient for your team to be productive.
Culture and leadership style
Organizational culture flows from the top and reflects in a multitude of things that your organization does. Making your people feel motivated and empowered to do their jobs well depends on a large extent on the culture that you as a leader establish. Despite geographic distances culture is invariably communicated and perceived.
Your leadership style also plays an important part in attracting and retaining talent. You can choose an optimum frequency and format for reporting to provide the desired amount of flexibility and independence to your direct subordinates. As a leader you can define how much room for creativity your employees may have and which decisions must come from you. Your subordinates will either feel encouraged or discouraged to share their opinions based on how you communicate with them. With high cultural diversity you may also have to address stereotypes within your organization.
Leaders vary in their approach to problem solving and people management. For example, some leaders don’t like to hire anyone without a face to face interview. You must decide how flexible you will be in letting your employees use their own approaches and styles. How formal or decentralized your organization becomes is entirely up to you. Any disparity between your words and actions as a leader will eventually manifest. There will be pros and cons of each of the choices you make with regards to culture and leadership style.
It is important to have a good incentive structure in place for your global team. Effective incentives go a long way to ensure that individual goals are aligned to organizational objectives. You must communicate the incentive structure clearly and respond to queries to eliminate any unrealistic expectations. Someone who joins your team in expectation of a reward which s/he later discovers does not exist is very likely to leave the team. Managing unexpected employee turnover in a widely dispersed group may not be easy for you.
You must also have robust mechanisms for employee feedback, reward and recognition, as well as for performance improvement in gap areas. In a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed team such a mechanism may be influenced by many cultural nuances. For example, motivation in some cultures is highly focused on economic output while in others it is predominantly relationship driven. Not everyone is equally excited by a wire transfer of the quarterly financial incentives into the bank account. You may discover that leadership is a perpetual balancing act, with a lifetime of rewards for those who can play the role well.