Bridge over ocean
1 December 2015 CFA Institute Journal Review

Global Teams That Work (Digest Summary)

  1. Marc L. Ross, CFA

The globalization of business necessarily requires a more culturally diverse and geographically dispersed workforce. Harnessing global teams’ capabilities presents myriad challenges.

What’s Inside?

Global work teams can be a double-edged sword for employers. On the one hand, they bring the rich and varied experiences of their members, but on the other, such diversity, improperly managed, can break a team apart and hinder its effectiveness. The author offers solutions to such possible obstacles.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

The cultural heterogeneity of global teams brings together different work experiences and perspectives on how to solve problems. Yet the geographic dispersion of such teams creates issues of poor communication, misunderstandings, and a possible lack of cohesion that begets mistrust.

The degree of social distance or emotional connection among team members can determine whether the team is successful or not. As a student of global workforce dynamics for over 15 years, the author proposes a guide for employers to recognize the challenges when they arise and address them accordingly.

The SPLIT framework has five components: structure, process, language, identity, and technology.

  • The structure of the team can affect its members’ perception of power. Are they all engaged when most are in one location but a few are in distant locales? Such a dynamic could affect how team members view the alignment of their interests. The team leader needs to emphasize that the team is one, serving a common purpose, and that he or she will support those members who are far away.
  • Process entails creating a collaborative work environment that fosters empathy. Self-awareness in team members of how they communicate with the other members, encouragement of unstructured time to build relationships, and productive disagreement—all create a more cohesive work environment.
  • Effective communication skills are critical in global teams where language proficiencies often vary. Native speakers should not dominate dialogue, and less fluent speakers should strive for meaningful contributions in meetings. In so doing, everyone balances participation and ensures inclusion.
  • Behavioral identity can be an issue of perception when multiple cultures are involved. Effective observation and listening are crucial. All members can teach and learn, leading to a better understanding of what ideas they are trying to communicate and how their language and culture condition them to reflect their aspirations.
  • Team leaders and members must consider how best to use technology to delegate tasks and communicate ideas. Participants should tailor to their team dynamics the use of instant (tele- and videoconferencing) versus delayed (email and certain social media types) forms of communication. Often critical to address pressing needs, instant communication may be difficult for team members in multiple time zones. Delayed forms may best serve the need to share information. Overreliance on one form or the other may make for an unnecessarily difficult and ineffective work environment.

There are valuable takeaways for management consultants and human resource professionals in these guidelines. Senior management will want to promote a work environment that fosters productivity and mutual respect.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

Effective leadership means recognizing the diversity that is now commonplace in the global workforce. Creating an environment that identifies and addresses the challenges that may arise will lead to a work environment conducive to greater productivity and profitability.

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