Leaders without borders. Some very useful tips on how to lead global teams that are dispersed across multiple sites, time-zones, and cultures

Leaders Without Borders

As more companies, including start-ups, go global, more and more teams have become dispersed across multiple sites, time-zones, and cultures. This presents a real challenge to leaders.

In particular, being physically distant from people on your team makes regular communication much more challenging. It requires leaders to become great communicators via several different mediums, including phone, e-mail, video call, and IM.

It also makes it harder to achieve good alignment and cooperation among members of the team. This, in turn, can adversely affect the team’s performance and morale.

From my own experience in leading global teams, spread over multiple locations including the US, Germany, Holland, France, Israel, Taiwan, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and India, I can share with you the following lessons and best practices.


Cultural awareness

To effectively lead and develop a high-performance global team you must first recognize and understand the cultural differences between team members from different sites. It’s important to communicate and interact with each person in a manner that matches and respects their cultural background, customs, and values.

Despite today’s rapid globalization, there is no “one leadership style fits all”. An approach that may be effective in the US will not be as effective in Israel or Europe. Similarly, what works in Israel and Taiwan doesn’t work for India, and may be viewed as impolite in Japan.

For more tips on cultural awareness, I recommend the following article: Three Traps Facing New Global Leaders, by Saj-Nicole Joni.


Set and clarify team goals and objectives

I suggest doing it in face-to-face team discussions. It’s important that all members of the team understand its goals and objectives, and sign up to them. They need to be clear on the purpose of the team, and your expectations from them.

It’s also important to let your team express any concerns, and share any suggestions or ideas that they might have. As a leader, you should actively listen, address any concerns, and incorporate their inputs appropriately. This is where you start building trust and earning their respect.


Define clear role and responsibilities for each team member

Then, let her define her own goals and objectives, derived from those of the team, and based on her role. Add your inputs if needed. It’s important that these goals be specific and clear to both of you. This will help eliminate possible confusion and misunderstandings later. Be sure to clarify your expectations, in terms of performance, communication, and contribution.

It’s critical that each member on the team takes ownership of her respective goals, as well as the team’s. Moreover, it’s important that every team member understands how her role contributes to the team’s performance and the company’s success.


Schedule a weekly call with each team member

The purpose of these calls should be to provide mutual updates, coaching, and mutual feedback.

It’s a great opportunity to learn of any issues that may need your attention or action. It’s also an excellent opportunity to provide and receive timely feedback. Such feedback will help your team member improve his performance. Consequently, it will help you improve the overall team performance, as well as your own.

The outcome of this one-on-one call should be a specific, prioritized and mutually agreed to plan of action for the next two weeks.


Schedule periodic face-to-face team meetings

Perhaps once a quarter or every six months. These meetings should address team related topics, such as goals, planning, as well as team building activities.

It’s important for team members to spend time together. This helps build trust, and improve their communication and cooperation. It also gives them the important feeling of being part of a team.


Visit your team at their sites

At least once a quarter, make sure you visit each of the sites. Nothing builds trust and relationships like showing your personal commitment to the team. You can demonstrate it by taking the time and making the effort to visit with them. Make a point of having some social time, such as a dinner, or other social activity in each site.

Such visits will enable you to get to know better each person on your team. It will allow you to develop your relationship with them, and learn more about the culture of each site. This will enable you to be more effective as the team leader.


I’m confident that the above practices will help you build a high-performance global team, with motivated and engaged people. This will add significant value to your organization and to you as a leader.


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