Luckily I have had the opportunity to lead a global multicultural team of quality leaders and engineers during my international career as Global Quality Leader. Such a high level role has already its challenges in terms of meeting the goals and making your team perform, not to mention the nuances of each and every individual who sits in a different part of the world.
First of all, even though English is the global official language of every major multinational company, we know that only few or minority of the employees of a global company will have English as their mother language. This by itself, still in 2016, brings the first challenge of leading a global team. You may be fluent in English and fully confident in your language skills, but have in mind that not all of your team members will have had the same opportunity as you had in order to develop their language skills, so they most likely are not fully comfortable in communicating in a second language!
Given the language barrier, it is needless to mention how important clear and straight to the point communication is in order to make your team highly perform, but only clear communication is not enough to assure the success of your role and your team. You also have to deeply understand how each culture communicates. I can give you here a few examples of countries and cultures that I have lived at and experienced working with in the past:
"Swedes" for instance, great people, great professionals, but when you need to discuss a project or issue that will affect their team, then the decision can take long time to be taken. This is mainly because Swedish people and leaders will often prefer to get consensus among the team prior to having a decision. Yeah, I understand we may not have all this time until a decision is taken, but given their cultural behavior simply pushing them for a quick one without getting the consensus won't work either, so best is to give them a bit more time and once you have the decision then you can be sure they will follow through the agreed plan and things will move smoother!
"Finns" are probably a bit easier to communicate with. Finns are very straight to the point communicators, they will save the words only for the really necessary points to be discussed. This makes discussions very objective without wasting time loosing focus and discussing items that are not in the agenda. They have surely openness for all to give their opinions and viewpoints, but once majority of the team agrees with the direction to move forward or action plan, then they have a decision and move forward!
"Brazilians" are a bit confusing when it comes to communication. First of all, prior to starting any meeting, be it face to face or via phone conference, the socialization part of the meeting is very important. This means that until the meeting really starts we will spend at least 5 to 10 minutes "socializing", then start the discussion, not to mention that being on time is not an asset for Brazilians. Often times, lack of preparation and deviation from the topic in discussion can drag the meeting down for long hours...But not everything is bad about Brazilian culture, we are very open to trying new ideas and being the "pilot plant" for a key initiative of the company, while others may be willing to be last to make the change....
"Americans" are very very focused on achieving the proposed results, so focus is on results, results, results.....not really too excited about discussing the details of the action plan or who will do what, etc... They will be more focused on key metrics to measure the success of the initiative, key milestones to follow up and by when they will have the project concluded so they can move on to the next one!
Note: Please, have in mind that the difference in cultures mentioned above are only my point of view based on my own experience working with them, and that by no means I am trying to make an stereotype of any of these cultures, even because we are all human beings and each of us, no matter where we were born or raised, are different people!
Measuring the performance of each team is also part your role as a Global Leader. You must have a defined set of "standard" metrics that will measure the performance of every single factory reporting to you. Make sure each of them clearly understands the meaning of each metric and that they also know how to measure them! By having standard metrics not only will give you a good visibility on the overall performance of all the factories, but can also serve as a benchmark tool for you to improve the performance of the ones under-performing.
You should have frequent calls, at least once a month with your team in order to follow up their performance, key projects and any major issues they want to share with you and may be in need of your support to address them solve the problem. But remember, just managing the team by distance will not be enough, so you have to be prepared for having a tough travel schedule when accepting the role of being a Global Leader. You have to visit frequently the sites with most challenges to improve their performance, because only by being face to face with your reports and their local leader will "open the door" for an honest discussion. And here I mean honest not because they will try to deceive you by distance, but simply because if you are far away from them, they might feel you may not be of great help or that perhaps you are just being polite when you ask if they need support. By showing up and being genuine interested in helping them will make them open up for their challenges and ask for support! So do not underestimate the importance of being present to your team!!!
Managing different time zones for having calls with the team is also a challenge when it comes to leading a global team. It might very difficult to have all from USA to New Zealand in one call at a time, but then you can have two or three different meetings with the leaders from each respective time zone. This will surely create additional work hours for you as a Global Leader, but it is part of the role that you respect each working hour schedule and adjust yours as needed! So be prepared to start calls at 5 a.m. or as late as 12:00 a.m.!
How about yourself, Global Leader of a multinational organization? Do you agree with my experience or have you had different approaches towards managing your team? Please share with us your experience!