LEADING GLOBAL TEAMS VIRTUALLYBy
The lack of in-person contact, often present in global organizations, doesn’t have to hinder the team’s ability to get the job done.
TO LEAD A TEAM EFFECTIVELY, you need to clearly define goals and purposes, share values and vision, and know your roles and responsibilities. But sometimes it’s difficult to do that in a global organization where cultural differences influence attitude and behaviors and location differences force virtual meetings instead of face-to-face contact that’s beneficial for team interaction. Yet I’ve had the pleasure of leading a high-performance team of IMA® volunteers and staff who implemented leadership development in only six months without having a single face-to-face meeting.
GET TO KNOW YOUR TEAM
In December 2008, I was appointed chair of the newly created Global Services Pool Advisory Committee (GSPAC). The Committee’s purpose was to engage and educate future volunteer leaders. So we began our call for volunteers. Out of the 200 responses we received, we narrowed down the applicants to a more manageable number and conducted phone interviews to learn more about each candidate.
With IMA staff support, we narrowed the field to a final team of 10, who represented a broad spectrum of membership, gender, age, experience, and geographical location. As a somewhat accomplished chef, I consider this analogous to making a fine soup: Each member, like each ingredient, contributes uniquely to create the final result. Choosing the right members is synonymous with choosing the right ingredients.
After we created the team, members were informed of the time commitment required and our expectations for their individual contributions as well as the collective team’s output. Members were asked to attend every meeting and to meet all commitments in terms of deliverables and due dates. We ensured the commitment was clear and that the workload didn’t expand beyond what was asked. This allowed team members to plan their involvement, giving it their full attention when engaged.
When challenges arose, we used the power of the group to achieve our goals without burdening existing team members. For example, our team was charged with updating, revising, and repurposing existing in-person IMA courses. But once we got started, we realized we couldn’t meet the time commitments given our limited resources. So we sought other opportunities for material—one of which resulted in a professional partnership with the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA, www.efwa.org). We revised, updated, and rebranded its course content in a current, relevant, and practical manner. This innovation allowed us to start the program with an inventory of high-quality courses that has since been expanded.
At the GSPAC’s first meeting, we had to narrow our broad charter, which meant the team had to set some clear, shared goals and a purpose. With our short deadline, we began meeting every two weeks. While the agenda of the meeting was clear—to define and refine our goals—we held open discussions to allow everyone to have input. After a couple of weeks of this process, some members became frustrated because they thought they already “knew what needed to be done” and thought we were wasting time. Let me emphasize that planning and buy-in are critical to the success of any project, and, while some may grow impatient with the process, it’s well worth the time and effort to ensure that everyone has voiced his or her opinion and that ownership occurs through buy-in. Just as soup needs time to cook so that all the ingredients can blend, teams need time to come together as well. Like a good soup, a good team is worth the wait.
FOSTER DIFFERENT VIEWS
Since the team was diverse in culture, I was sensitive to the fact that some members from outside the U.S. had a hard time embracing conversations like we were having. Some team members had difficulty separating the idea from the person—that is, instead of having an opinion about the idea, they had an opinion about the person—and their credibility was at stake when challenging an idea. They also didn’t want to challenge those in authority or who are perceived to be more knowledgeable. In some cultures, these types of conversations are viewed as impolite or that it’s rude to challenge your superiors. So I supplemented the large, 90-minute teleconference meetings with one-on-one discussions to ease the pressure. I used this technique of personal outreach to facilitate the individual understanding of projects without potential confrontation at the group level.
Having one-on-one discussions facilitates understanding and often avoids confrontational interchanges. I sometimes became the catalyst for bringing forward ideas that had merit when a team member was reluctant to bring them up in front of a big group. Cultural and language differences meant we had different views of how teams worked and how conflict should be handled. We needed to be more understanding of what was being said rather than how it was said. We finally settled on a charter that we all could live with. We wanted success with the project, so it was a learning experience for everyone.
COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
After we finished writing our charter, it was time to start developing educational courses. We focused on Attracting, Training, and Recognizing as key points of our leadership development programs. Then we created three subgroups that focused on how each topic would be handled, ensuring we would refine our efforts in each of these areas and share the results while maintaining focus on the overall project. We developed programs in each of these areas as the subgroups worked between regularly scheduled GSPAC meetings to create and document these programs. As the global team gathered speed, we used GSPAC meetings to review progress and coordinate efforts.
The real work took place outside the team meetings. Too often we look to team meetings for the solutions when, in fact, individual efforts and small-group interface are the creative forces. For the leader, that means maintaining contact with individuals and their subcommittee chairs—not solely as a means of checking progress but of ensuring everyone is aware of the resources available. It also means offering your services as a sounding board for ideas and to provide coordination and communication beyond the subcommittee. Leaders who encourage and support their teams help maintain a sense of purpose and reinforce that the work that’s being done is worth doing.
To achieve our objectives and ensure programs didn’t create any unnecessary burdens, we also communicated with IMA staff to validate that the programs were compatible and sustainable within IMA’s systems. The GSPAC’s projects were truly a joint effort, requiring considerable trust and transparency among all team members.
THE END GAME
The lack of in-person communication, often present in global organizations, doesn’t have to hinder the ability to get the job done. Communication is key for a successful global team, and personal outreach—like Skype, teleconferencing programs, or phone contact—is an essential and effective tool that can turn any team into a high-performance team. Time differences and distance shouldn’t hinder your team if they are understood and managed accordingly. Our members spanned 12 time zones, yet we were still able to communicate effectively to achieve our goal of creating a course library in only six months.
As team leaders, we can improve the effectiveness of our teams by creating a sense of ownership, providing guidance and direction, and maintaining a personal, ongoing dialogue with all team members. Encourage your team to fulfill their obligations, and remind them of the prize that awaits them after the job is done. After all, it isn’t about the technology. It’s about the communication and the process that keep a team functioning. Knowing you’re part of something greater than yourself that also benefits others and is sustainable is quite a prize. It’s the psychic income that knows no bounds, and, as a motivator, it’s priceless.
Bud’s Split Pea Soup
Two tablespoons of olive oil
10 cups of water
4 bay leaves (Turkish is my personal favorite for a richer flavor)
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
2 teaspoons of ground thyme
2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg
1 pound of dried split peas
1 ham hock or 1 pound of cubed ham or sliced smoked beef sausage
1 cup of chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup of chopped celery
1/2 cup of sliced carrots
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for three to four minutes. Add the celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until soft for about five minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook, stirring, for one minute. Cover the vegetables with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes, making sure the water covers the vegetables.
Add the meat(s) to the soup. If using a ham hock, score it before placing in the pot. Omit meat for a vegetarian option–this will reduce cooking time by 20 minutes. Add 10 cups of water, another bay leaf and thyme, and cook for about one hour, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed.
Add the dried split peas. I use green peas, but you can use yellow as well. Rinse them before placing in the pot. Cook for about one hour on low boil, allowing the peas to break down. Then reduce to a simmer for about one hour, making certain to stir occasionally and adding water as needed to maintain consistency. The peas should break down completely, and the soup should take on a creamy consistency. When the peas are completely broken down, add the nutmeg and cook an additional 15 minutes, allowing the nutmeg to blend with the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving with heavy crusty bread like rye or multigrain, which makes for great dipping.
I often cook this one day and serve it the following day. But I usually reheat it for an additional 45 minutes, adding water as necessary to maintain the desired consistency. My family likes it creamy and says it always tastes better the next day. But it’s really your preference. It’s best served piping hot. Enjoy!