People often think great teams come together by happy accident, or that they just got lucky that one time they had a great team. Our research shows otherwise.
When we looked at thousands of teams in dozens of industries, we saw that extraordinary teams always shared a specific set of traits and characteristics. It didn’t matter if these teams worked in the U.S., Europe, Asia, or had team members in all three. On these teams, every person was loyal to the team and to each other. Individuals worked to ensure the team’s success and each other’s success just as they worked to ensure their own.
Building a “Loyalist Team,” as we call these high achievers, is not easy, even when the whole crew works out of the same office and can discuss decisions in person. Building and maintaining a Loyalist Team becomes even more challenging when team members work in different time zones or speak different languages. But it is possible. Here are a few steps to get your global team working better together:
Break out of the hub-and-spoke system.
Often when team members are scattered around the globe, each person communicates directly with the team leader and has less connection to the rest of the team. This hub and spoke system makes it hard for individuals to commit to each other’s success—not because they want one another to fail, but mostly they don’t know what each other is working on or how to help.
On global teams, it’s harder for members to develop the trust that comes from knowing each other personally. When everyone works in the same office, people hear about one another’s kids, hobbies, and birthdays. They see each other day in and day out and learn each other’s tendencies. On global teams, we advise members to get on the phone whenever possible, instead of relying on email. We suggest meeting by video conference instead of telephone. And leaders, when possible, should invest in building relationships across the team by meeting face to face.
Create shared goals.
With virtual teams, people need to learn who’s working on what. Individuals need to meet—in person if possible—to catalogue and compare projects, looking for redundancies and gaps in the list. Then, once everyone knows what every member of the team is working on, they can decide the team’s priorities, longer-term goals, and identify ways to collaborate. People are motivated by seeing how their work aligns to the greater goals of the organization.
Carefully balance the needs of each region with the priorities of the global team.
On virtual teams, it’s easy for members to become so involved with the colleagues they see each day that the virtual team priorities get overlooked or pushed to the side. Often, virtual team members are trying to manage “the matrix,” meeting both local and global needs. Help your virtual team members to prioritize and manage these sometimes competing expectations.
Assume positive intent.
This is important for all teams and absolutely critical when team members are in the far reaches of the globe, living in different cultures, or speaking different languages. On Loyalist Teams, individuals challenge each other’s ideas. On global teams, individuals need to make sure they understand what they’re hearing first, before challenging another’s ideas. Cross-cultural training can be extremely beneficial here.
Share the pain.
Often, on virtual teams, team meetings are scheduled for the team leader’s convenience, but meeting during one person’s office hours can mean another person gets on the call in the middle of the night. Rotate time zones to ensure that all team members get to meet during the day, when they’re lucid, and at night, when it’s a struggle.
Reap the rewards.
Loyalist Teams are 2000 times more likely to be judged as highly effective than the least productive teams we studied. And Loyalist Teams members are the ones having the most fun. Any team can become one, so if you’re not on one now, even if your team members reside around the world, you can start building one today.
We know global teams face challenges beyond what any co-located team deals with. In our view, this is even more reason for a global team to invest in becoming a Loyalist Team. We recommend doubling down to ensure your global team can minimize geographic and cultural gaps and propel you towards sustainable high performance.