Being a global team is an amazing adventure. You travel the world (and have the airline status to show for it). You work with colleagues of different cultures, who speak many different languages and your often feel like getting even the easiest stuff done is like beating your head against a very thick, high, rough brick wall.
In my time working with global teams as a regional leader and leading global teams, I have found 3 simple rules that help make things better, easier and most of all more fun. I think in most companies the global teams have a simple reputation. They get all the perks – large travel budgets, large research budgets, access to Senior leadership and don’t have to deal with the day to day crap – find a way to hit this quarter’s numbers, skimming the advertising budget to hit the profit number, managing the supply shortage when there is an issue in a plant. Net, net this can lead to a great deal of ill-will between the “front line fighting” regions and the “ivory tower” global teams.
Here are my three simple principles.
1) Facts not opinions:
There is no possible way someone in a global role no matter how smart or experienced they are can ever know a business situation as well as their regional or country colleague. They can and should do their homework but they will never know what it’s like to face the customer in France or China to sell in the new innovation or program. This inherently creates an in balance of knowledge and expertise. It can create a situation where in working to find common ground and agreed action plans there are heaps of advocacy based on little to no facts and plans and projects often fail as they are based on weak or inaccurate foundations. This goes both ways by the way – global folks pretending to know more than they really do and region folks working to keep global at arm’s length and being coy with facts. By setting an expectation that we will first deal in “facts” validated, measured, facts. It establishes a level playing field. It can be hard work and requires honesty about what know, what we don’t know (more importantly) and what we think. Separating what we know from what we think from what we wish were true (facts and opinions) and focusing our discussions on who to build off the facts to create a future we desire can eliminate long futile debates, set our plans on firm foundations, build trust and partnership across the global and regional teams, and most importantly increase the likelihood of success for our initiatives.
2) Impact not Activity
This one is really aimed at the global team members. I challenge all of you to think about the number of times you’ve had the global team present to you, to the executive team, or worse to the Board of directors, a wonderful PowerPoint presentation that outlines how their plans will transform the business and then they pass to the regions and act like their work is done. Leaving the regions to the much harder work of actually executing the plans, course correcting when needed to deliver the results. I know I have sat in many of these presentations when I was in regional roles. Silently (and often not so silently) fuming about the challenge of picking up this theoretical work that Executive team already thinks has been implemented. When I was leading my global team, we had a strict rule. Our work was not done until the cases of product were shipping the in countries. This does not mean we get in the weeds with regions and countries when we are not helpful; clear R&R and division of power are critical. It speaks more to a mindset. My global team knew they had to work with and support the regions from idea to cases on the floor. It led them to ask better questions in the early stages of the projects. It built trust with the regions as they understood we cared about more than the PowerPoint. It also led to much less PowerPoint, which by any measure has to be a good thing for our business.
3) Choosing the Hard Rights
There is an expression – Hard choices, Easy Life… Easy Choices, Hard Life. When we are working in a global team it can feel (and often is) a constant negotiation. There are times though when the “right” choice is abundantly clear, abundantly unpopular and requires huge effort to make happen. I know from my experience though each time we turn away from these Hard Rights the Easy Wrong ends up being much more work and more heart ache. This is all parts of life, not just in leading global teams. I’ve found when I had the courage to take the hard right the only thing that felt hard was making the choice. After that people rally and respect our choice, quickly making it become the path of least resistance and with the highest impact.
Global teams are lots of things but they are never boring … These 3 rules are powerful guides to ensure your global team is respected and effective.