Global and multinational organizations have always faced the remote work challenge. If your team is distributed across the world, how could you not?
The complexity of leading a global work team, in which members come from two or more national or cultural backgrounds, is even higher. The same goes for leading remote teams during the pandemic.
Effective global work teams, though, can also be a competitive advantage. In this era of remote work, CFOs should leverage the management lessons from international work teams.
Effectively leading a meeting at a global company, let alone a team, can be challenging. Earlier in my career, while working at a Fortune 500 consumer goods company, meetings were often scheduled back-to-back, so people were invariably late. Even when everyone was on time, meetings could still be unproductive.
When I became the finance leader for my company’s largest manufacturing and distribution operations, I oversaw the local inventory control team. This team was responsible for about 10 million cases of finished product, and all the raw materials were maintained onsite. After implementing an SAP system, the team concluded wall-to-wall physical inventories were no longer feasible. Instead, they hoped to implement a cycle counting program to regularly confirm physical inventory counts matched inventory records.
While researching the company’s inventory control practices, I discovered there was no corporate policy (each division had its own) and that procedures varied widely. Even locations in the same business and subject to the same policy were, in practice, interpreting and executing it in different ways. Such differences were most pronounced outside the United States.
The corporate CFO charged me with developing the company’s first-ever corporate inventory control policy. I created a team of inventory control leaders and specialists from across the organization. By clearly defining deliverables and aligning on the timeline, the team could balance the project with their “day jobs.” And by alternating meeting times, we shared the inconvenience of the team’s multiple geographic time zones.
The way we developed and rolled out the new policy ensured it met the needs of each supply chain operation, regardless of business line or location. It also ensured stakeholders understood and were invested in the new requirements. As a bonus, it connected each of the company’s inventory control teams, enabling the sharing of best practices.
So, how do you build a team’s trust, commitment, and loyalty, and how does your team build camaraderie? Keep these seven essential tips in mind when leading global and remote teams.
Define shared objectives. Clearly define the team’s purpose and shared goals. What are the deliverables? What is the timeline? How will results be measured and tracked?
Create a team culture. Be sensitive to cultural differences among members, including respect for national and religious holidays. Agree upon meeting frequency and the tracking and reporting of progress. Consider using the “request to speak” function in virtual meeting tools to facilitate discussion flow during large meetings. Be willing to craft a team culture and structure that looks different than the larger organizational culture.
Embrace diversity. Global teams are inherently diverse in every sense, including ideas, thinking, and solutions. To derive the benefits of this diversity, proactively engage all members of the team, ensuring all voices are heard. Avoid generalizing, stereotyping, or making assumptions. Focus on outcomes, not a team member’s work style or approach.
Navigate time zones. Team members come from multiple time zones. To navigate this challenge, alternate the timing of group meetings so no one person or group is always inconvenienced. Also, though not ideal, consider holding meetings twice, in the morning and afternoon, to allow team members to choose the time that works best.
Encourage team bonding. Create opportunities for team bonding and relationship-building. For example, consider kicking off a project in-person or having the team meet in person periodically. If the group is fully remote, consider engaging in virtual team-building activities and encourage team members to connect one-on-one.
Enable workers with technology. Have the technology in place, train people, ensure the team is comfortable using it, and have a backup plan in case of glitches.
Build trust. Provide leadership, coaching, and other opportunities for the team’s personal growth. Show empathy, connecting with team members on a personal level. Most importantly, trust your people to succeed.
Steve McNally, CMA, CPA, is chair of the Institute of Management Accountants and CFO of The PTI (Plastic Technologies Inc.) Group of companies.