In a recent Ask Me Anything, we highlighted Everwise mentors with expertise in global project management and cross-functional work with teams around the world. Our community brought numerous questions and issues to light in an engaging discussion thread.
Thanks to the following experts for providing their insights into the challenges the community brought to the conversation:
Tangy Morgan, Senior Advisor, Bank of England
Ganesh Tayi, Author, Speaker, Sales Expert, Marketing Strategist & Business Advisor
Lisa Foulger, Founder, Lisa Foulger Leadership Solutions
The Path to International Business
Several community members were curious about the journey to global business, both on an individual professional level and at the corporate level. All three mentors agreed that their moves to international careers weren’t planned going into the start of their careers. For example, Tangy Morgan noted that she did not consider working internationally until she was 15 years into her career: “At that point, I started to strategically move to a global company that had opportunities within my specialty and had an international footprint. The opportunities that came from there I never expected!”
For an organization looking to expand globally, Ganesh Tayi recommended taking a more calculated approach, identifying and prioritizing markets you want to expand into, then hiring key personnel from the local market to initiate your expansion. Lisa Foulger pointed out that one way to lay the groundwork for an internationally minded organization is to form employee resource groups (ERGs) – Women’s ERG, Latin ERG, etc. – to bring diverse groups of employees together and provide a platform for them to share what is unique about them across the organization. Foulger noted, “Hiring diverse talent will help strengthen the global skills and perspective in any organization, whether you decide to go global or continue to focus on US operations.”
Relationship-Building Around the World
A number of questions came up regarding how to build relationships with remote team members from different cultures around the world. Foulger suggested, “Be curious to discover what your colleagues care about, are interested or are challenged by and see if there’s a way you can provide help, sharing ideas, resources, connections, etc. When you offer to help someone, they naturally want to reciprocate and add value to you… Your team members will be more receptive to your efforts to build relationships if you show them you care.” Tayi chimed in that one good practice is to schedule a conversation – preferably over video chat – after important meetings to get their perspective on how things went and what could be improved. This will build trust and show you value their opinion.
Part of building relationships is ensuring that everyone on the team is on the same page and that you are up-to-date on their performance. To do this, Foulger noted that she is a big fan of using dashboards. She observed, “We are constantly bombarded by information, so a simple, clear dashboard is an effective way to cut through the clutter.”
In the process of building these relationships, several community members noted that they have sometimes struggled to navigate cultural differences among their team members. Foulger agreed, “This is a very real and challenging dimension of the leadership reality we operate in. I also find it very inspiring to discover different cultures and learn how to embrace the best of each diverse culture and manage the elements most challenging.”
To help face this challenge head-on, Foulger recommended doing homework to learn about the cultures with which you work. She is also a big proponent of seizing opportunities to experience different cultures whenever you get a chance, even if it is during a personal trip or adventure: “Walking in the shoes of others will give you a deeper sense of connection and empathy. There are so many rich positives of embracing diverse cultures, that can lead to creative, innovative contributions, if you’re willing to learn, build relationships and honor local cultural values”
Morgan agreed with Foulger and added that in the process of experiencing different cultures and connecting with people around the world, “you do begin to realize that human beings have more in common than it might appear,” regardless of their cultural differences.
Getting Down to Business: Managing Global Project Teams
Many community members had questions about how to successfully manage project teams with members operating around the world. For instance, the topic of how to encourage remote project participants to take ownership for important deliverables came up in several threads.
All of the mentors agreed that communication is key in this regard. Tayi establishes key performance indicators (KPIs) ahead of time that will be used to track the success of the project. He noted that you can choose to assign team members to KPI’s or let people volunteer to own a KPI depending on the situation. Either way, Tayi warned that it is critical for people to take responsibility for a KPI by the end of the first project meeting.
Foulger agreed and added that you might even consider assigning a scribe to capture the “who, what, when” commitments to ensure that everyone leaves the kick-off meeting clear on who is responsible for what, and when every deliverable is due. This kind of alignment will also help drive results, even when people around the world tend to work at different speeds from region to region.
Given the importance of communication in order to manage international projects, one community member asked how the mentors are able to maintain work/life balance when meetings are going on at all hours with teams in various time zones. All three agreed that this is a challenge for anyone working internationally but that it all comes down to your ability to set your own boundaries. Tayi recommended, “Communicate what are reasonable hours for you to be available to accommodate your colleagues’ time zones. One way to do this without hurting feelings is to block off times that you are not available on your calendar as busy. This will indicate the time slots you are available so you do not get pulled into ad hoc meetings at odd hours.”
Foulger agreed with Tayi’s strategy but observed that sometimes “the hardest person to convince is ourselves. Once you are clear on your boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them will help others honor them!” Morgan agreed with Foulger’s point about sticking to your boundaries, reminding community members, “Setting boundaries means turning off the work devices! As long as someone knows that you will respond to a request 24/7, you will set expectations that you are always accessible.”
The Ultimate Key to International Success?
One community member asked the question that so many are curious to know: what is the number one skill for someone wanting to pursue a global career?
Our experts each landed on a different skill, confirming the theory that there is no one silver bullet for success working on the international level.
For Tayi, it all comes back to effective listening: “It’s not just about what people say but about how they say it.” Along these lines, Morgan thought that the most important skill is being attuned to the culture you are working in. She reflected, “I have worked and traveled in my executive roles globally and being aware of cultural differences and adjusting to local style and customs take you a long way in developing relationships.” Last but not least, Foulger said it all boils down to resilience: “Being able to lead and master behavioral agility in our crazy world is a redeeming skill that sets strong leaders apart.”