Leading global teams

When you lead a global team, you can’t have informal conversations in the corridor or over coffee. It’s therefore important to put time and effort into having clear goals and governance and to build good relationships and formal communication channels.

See below for some tips from my experience of working with global teams including two suggestions for further (short!) reading.

Many of my previous articles touch on this month’s topic in various ways, especially ‘The role of the leader‘, ‘Emotionally intelligent teams‘, ‘High performing leadership teams‘ and ‘How to build trust‘.

I hope you find these ideas useful and welcome your feedback.

Leading global teams

Setting the strategic direction

As with all successful teams, make sure you have a clear vision, mission and strategy with goals, metrics and owners from the outset. Determine who your stakeholders are and how you want to work with them.

This provides the guiding light for the team to work to.

Building relationships and trust

5 dysfunctions of a team

Particularly at the beginning, it’s important to get to know each other, and build relationships and trust between team members. Don’t be tempted to miss out this step and dive straight in to what you want to achieve. Human nature means we are more likely to help and respond to someone the better we know them and have empathy for their needs.

When new people join an established global team

As with any team, you should make them feel welcome. Bring them up-to-date with the team history and journey so far. Give them the time they need to settle in and feel part of the team.

Further reading: Please ask for my one-page PDF handout ‘The 5 dysfunctions of a team’ by Patrick Lencioni. This gives an overview of the key behaviours required for teams to consistently deliver results.

Working together

Agree your team commitments and principles. These should set out team behaviours and ‘rules’ about how you will work together to enable people to get their job done in an environment that suits them. Here are some example statements that are in use by global leadership teams I’ve worked with:

“We respond to emails and voicemails from each other within 24 hours.”

“Everything we do locally will be in service of the global goal.”

“We make sure everyone’s opinion is heard.”

“We respect timezone differences and how individuals like to use their time.”

“We participate in the discussion during conference calls. If someone is not contributing, we help them get re-engaged.”

“We assume positive intent.”

“We look after each other within this team.”

“Communicate, communicate, communicate!”

Roles and responsibilities

As with any team, you should make sure roles and responsibilities are clear. Especially when setting up a new global team, each person should be clear about who is responsible for what. This is particularly important in matrix environments where distinctions are blurred. For example, you could ask each person to prepare a one-page document, diagram or mindmap that sets out:

  • What’s the purpose of my role? (max. 2 sentences)
  • What are my key responsibilities? (max. 7 statements)
  • What/who are my key interdependencies, both within and outside the team? (approx. 7)
  • What are my top 3 current challenges?

Take time to debate it so all views are heard and considered and everybody is aligned. When team members are not used to working with each other, these discussions may take longer than you expect, so be sure to allow enough time.


Agree decision-making protocols upfront, when you can have have a calm, neutral conversation. Determine which decisions you’ll make as a whole team and which decisions you are comfortable delegating to individuals or clusters within the team.

Meetings governance

Decide what meetings you’ll have, their purpose, frequency, who should attend and where they will be held. Know what technology you’ll use for each type of meeting e.g. video conference, telephone conference or face-to-face. Agree how may face-to-face meetings you can commit to each year. Ideally (while respecting budget constraints), I’d recommend you meet quarterly.

Telephone conferences
Sometimes in global teams, the bulk of people are at one or two sites, with a few outlying individuals. If this applies to you, remember to put extra effort into making sure the more remote team members are included in the conversation (and if you’re the remote team member, take personal responsibility for ensuring that you’re included.)

Face-to-face meetings
Use them for discussions about strategy and direction, when it’s helpful to have everyone on the room together. They are also useful for team and personal development time, as team members can strengthen the bonds between them through shared experiences. Remember to include informal social time as well.

Dealing with timezones

Big time differences can have a negative impact on people’s working hours. Over time, this erodes energy and engagement.

Global team-working means you’ll need a degree of flexibility. Take time to understand how each team member likes to work and communicate. For instance, some people like to start and finish work early so they can have gym or family time before going back online in the evening, while others may be available while commuting to work in the mornings. Ideally, you should find out and accommodate each person’s preferred working pattern.

Particular projects
Consider the balance of representation across your sites while being mindful of time differences. If your team is working on a number of initiatives, you may find it more productive to put people in the same timezones to work on them, say, US, Europe or Asia, while consciously consulting globally to make sure everyone’s views are fully incorporated.

Cultural differences

Be attuned to how individuals like to behave and communicate, but don’t pigeonhole them and assume they will behave in the same way as their national stereotype. It’s best to get to know each person as themselves, not based on their nationality.

Advantages of global team-working

Global team-working means team members are not necessarily tied to the office. It gives people more flexibility about when and where they work. Not everybody wants social interaction in the workplace; some thrive on the space and freedom of working from home. As the leader of a global team, you are likely to get more out of people by allowing flexibility about how they work, so take advantage of this possibility.

Further reading

For more on this subject, please ask me for the five-page Harvard Management Update Are your global team members miles apart.

Please click the sharing buttons to share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting, and let me know if you’d like help to lead a global team within your organisation.

Next month, we look at how to develop your confidence.