I spent last week visiting my team in Singapore and a trip like this always reminds me of the importance of maintaining connection and culture when you work with teams around the world. Here are some tips I’ve learned over my years of managing global teams.
Face to Face Time Counts
If you have the resources and time to do it, invest in in-person visits to spend time with your team. Nothing beats being face to face with a colleague. Even with the advanced video technology we have today, the interactions you get in person are richer, more meaningful, and will lead to more lasting connections, than a video call.
When I visit teams in other offices, I like to set up structured meetings such as a team gathering, one on one meetings, and out of the office activities. I also like to ensure there is unstructured time for connecting; grabbing a coffee together (or bubble team as is popular with my Singapore team), having lunch together, even joining someone on their local commute, can all help build connections.
Embrace Local Activities
Related to visiting and spending time in person with your team, choosing local activities is also an important tool in building closer connections. When I am visiting my team in a remote location, I like to set up activities that are local to that region. This serves two purposes; it helps me build awareness and knowledge of local customs and habits, and it also allows my team to share their expertise and leadership.
Asking a local teammate to take the lead on planning an activity can have subtle effects on the dynamics in a team, leading to more open and honest dialogue and less inhibition in connecting with someone potentially many years their senior.
Which activities are best? It’s highly dependent on the location you are visiting but sure bets usually revolve around meals and local food, appreciating the beauty of a locale, such as during an after work event with great views, or something cultural such as attending a fair or art event. On my recent trip to Singapore, we planned along these lines by doing a team lunch at Imperial Treasure to experience a traditional duck dish, a team happy hour at Smoke & Mirrors to take in the amazing Singapore skyline, and an outing to the Night Festival, a once a year event that celebrates art and culture in Singapore.
While the first two tips are focused on building connection in person, the next two are general principles to consider when teams are separated by physical distance.
Respect Time Zones
When working in a global team, the concept of working 9–5pm needs to be thrown out. Depending on the locations of your team, it’s likely flexibility will be needed to schedule meetings and respond to questions outside of normal working hours. The key to success in managing this challenge effectively is to set guidelines and expectations for communication, and to balance the impact of time zone differences so that one region is not always disadvantaged.
Some of the strategies I’ve employed in my time leading global teams include shifting my work hours to be able to connect in the early morning with Europe, and shifting later in evening to connect with Asia (I am based in California). For full team meetings where its not necessary that everyone be in the same session, I plan two versions of the meeting, one that is during the morning, covering the US, Europe and South America, and one in the evening for the US and Asia. I also leverage video recording technology so that folks who miss the meeting have access to the content afterwards. For meetings where it is critical to have all global team members present, I’ll rotate the times of these meetings so that I balance the inconvenience for different regions.
Build the Connection
When you work with colleagues in different locations and time zones, it can be harder to form the same connection you have with local colleagues that you see every day in the office. I’ve found through managing global teams that it’s important to be more intentional in building the connection and relationship with remote employee to account for limited face time. There are many ways to go about doing this from getting to know your colleagues at a more personal level, to scheduling more time formally with remote employees. No matter which method you choose, it’s important to keep in mind that building the connection and maintaining it is important to foster communication and community between global teams.
Some ways that I’ve approached this in my career is by being intentional about learning about my team members’s interests outside of work, by asking about non-work topics like how someone’s weekend was or where they went on vacation, and also by using social media to share more myself, and connecting with my team to get to know them better.
Bonus Tip: Learn the Language
This final tip isn’t for everyone, but it’s a strategy I’ve found particularly helpful for myself in building connection with global teams. It’s also in sync with my own personal interest in studying foreign languages. I’ve found that studying the local language of your colleagues can be very impactful to building a stronger connection, gaining a deeper understanding of the culture, and serves practical purposes during visits if you learn basics that can be used in a restaurant, taxi or the office. There’s no need to become fluent in a language of course, but even simple phrases can prove useful in many situations.
I’ve always been interested in language and have studied multiple from Spanish to Mandarin to Croatian. In my current and past jobs, I’ve leveraged Portuguese, French, Spanish and (very basic) Mandarin to complement my own experience with global teams and to get around different cities. There’s also a bonus for me as an American, working for an American company — having some understanding of the local language does help combat stereotypes of Ameri-centrism that many Americans are guilty of.
These tips have been helpful to me in my pursuit of global leadership. I’d love to hear other ideas for leading global teams from you. Let me know your thoughts and feedback in the comments!