While reading through an old HBR magazine, I landed on a salient article written by Tsedal Neeley of the Harvard Business School. The article, Global Teams That Work, addresses the challenges of globalization in the management context. The challenges to business have been to manage international diversity wherein language, culture, business environment, work norms and even legal and statutory differences raise barriers to business functionality. “Managers who actually lead global teams are up against stiff challenges.” (Neeley, 2015) Mergence Global manages critical multi-million dollar programs and projects for large global firms. We are accustomed to leading projects that bring diverse teams and different functional backgrounds together from around the globe in a matrixed environment.
The most significant challenge with any global technology project is the fact that the participants are still not face-to-face. While collaboration tools allow for synchronous interaction – whether its real-time communication from an instant message solution or long distance audio or video engagement – you still lack the ability to share the same space, read the energy in the room, interpret body language and facial expressions. In video collaboration, more of this is possible, however, without the light, informal interaction that is afforded when the meeting is in person, it becomes difficult to build trust or measure intangible dynamics like body language and facial expressions made during a meeting against moments outside of the meeting. This can often lead to misinterpretations. My late football coach often said “the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” – I apply this to relationships. Successful global projects begin with building global teams that trust and cooperate.
The author dives into several factors, including the structure and the perception of power. Here she elucidates how the perception of power can be determined by the location where most people physically sit. “People in…the minority group may believe that the majority is usurping what little power and voice they have. This situation is exacerbated when the leader is at the site with the most people or the one closest to company headquarters: Team members at that site tend to ignore the needs and contributions of their colleagues at other locations.” (Neeley, 2015) Neeley also points out what I have found to be penultimate in importance – the need for unstructured communication when building the trust necessary for successful collaboration and positive outcomes.
It is important in global projects to be deliberate about small talk and informal interaction. I try to monitor the news from the countries and cities represented in my meetings so that I can comment on current events - like the victory of a soccer team. I ensure that I know their calendar so that I can wish them well relative to their holidays and periods of calendar significance. “Unstructured communication like this is positive, because it allows for the organic unfolding of processes that must occur in all business dealings—sharing knowledge, coordinating and monitoring interactions, and building relationships. Even when people are spread all over the world, small talk is still a powerful way to promote trust. So when planning your team’s call-in So when planning your team’s call-in meetings, factor in five minutes for light conversation before business gets under way.” (Neely, 2015)
Her article thoroughly touches on language strategies and the perception of competence that comes from speaking the organization’s lingua franca (usually English). She closes with the concept of SPLIT dimensions: “Decisions about structure create opportunities for good process, which can mitigate difficulties caused by language differences and identify issues. If leaders act on these fronts, while marshaling technology to improve communication among geographically dispersed colleagues, social distance is sure to shrink, not expand.” (Neeley, 2015) I encourage technology management professionals to read this article and to understand the dynamic impacts of internationally diverse and dispersed teams have on productivity and functionality. The article is from the October, 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review but can be found online at the link below:
Neeley, T., Ferrazzi, K., & Jeanne Brett, Kristin Behfar, and Mary C. Kern. (2015, December 01). Global Teams That Work. Retrieved October 06, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2015/10/global-teams-that-work