One unique management challenge you have to learn to handle when working in an international business, is managing global teams over multiple time zones, particularly with respect to team meetings, which are usually held virtually. Having worked in multinational businesses for 30 years, I’ve picked up a few tips and techniques for working with and leading global teams and thought it worthwhile sharing some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.
Don’t keep all your team interactions in the virtual world. Team building and bonding, creating shared experiences and getting to know each other on an informal basis are vital to enhancing team performance and this is only really going to happen if you get people face to face occasionally. There are also some subjects just too complex and subtle to try to have a meaningful virtual discussion, particularly strategic ones.
Chances are that some or many of the people in the team know each other through other projects or other business activities, which is a good start, but ultimately, at some point, you are all going to need to get on an airplane. For big important subjects, particularly global senior management teams, with activities that will run continuously, I tend to get people together face to face twice a year, with virtual sessions in between. For big global projects, which will have a beginning and an end, I will certainly have a face to face kick off meeting, but beyond that I will judge the frequency of the need for face to face meetings as the project progresses.
When scheduling face to face meetings, you need to appreciate that international travel can be a very tiring experience for people. I have travelled internationally for 40-60% of my time for the last 20+ years, so I know the physical challenges and the personal commitment involved. I loved the travel, there is no denying it is a great feeling walking down the road and pinching yourself, saying ‘I’m in Buenos Aires, I’m in Shanghai, I’m in Singapore’. International business travel gives you a lot of life enhancing opportunities, but it can also be a life destroying opportunity given that you will be away from your spouse and family, so a delicate balance is required. As my career grew, so did the international travel. I would be regularly circumnavigating the globe and away from home for weeks at a time. I remember one particularly crazy trip, when I was living in China at the time, where I flew from China to Europe for 2 days of meetings, then back to Asia to Bangkok for 4 days, then back to Europe for 4 days, then back to China. You need a lot of stamina for such trips. The worst trips were, when based in Europe, I would spend one week in Asia, followed immediately by 1 week in the US, the time zone jumps were crippling and I would regularly fall ill whilst in the US. Several years ago, after one particular 6 week tour of duty around the world, I had people start asking me if I was okay. I had lost a lot of weight and was looking pretty unhealthy. It turns out I had reached the point of physical exhaustion due to such a long period of poor sleep, and all those endless business dinners. I learnt a valuable lesson from that episode.
The number one thing I have learnt about international travel is that the single most important resource is sleep. Without enough quality sleep you cannot perform, you cannot deliver effectively the job that you travelled there to do in the first place. So schedule meeting starts to allow a little lie in time for people to catch up on jet lag, 9 or 9:30 instead of 8:30am. Some people deal with jet lag much worse than others. I remember one senior colleague who wouldn’t turn up for overseas meetings until midday because he just couldn’t handle the fatigue. Eventually he had to leave the business, and settled for a job without international travel. Otherwise it would have destroyed his health.
Dr Andy Wynn
Managing Director, TTIP Consulting
Adapted from the book ‘Transforming Technology into Profit – a guide to leading new ideas through the complexities of the corporate world and transforming them into successful new products’, available now on Amazon