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How to Meet the Challenge of Global Team Management

A company competing globally with multiple worldwide locations and geographically dispersed teams (GDTs) must find ways to facilitate communication and motivation among team members. Equally important is finding ways to use new information technologies to realize global objectives.

In contrast to the traditional cross-functional project team, the challenge today is to assemble new product development staff into GDTs that can develop products that meet globally-consistent needs. Because these people rarely if ever meet face-to-face, and usually are from different cultures and speak different languages, using new technologies alone does not answer the question as to how best achieve satisfactory global team performance.

As much current research indicates, the principal problem facing these companies is how to more effectively manage people, especially GDTs. Digital Equipment Corporation is often used to illustrate how many companies are attempting to leverage new technology in harmony with other strategies to overcome problems related to GDTs. Lessons learned about managing a GDT is the focus of much corporate research, which is but one part of a series of ongoing studies.

To develop new products, Digital early on adopted cross-functional teams. But to address Telecom’s global needs, which dealt with creating new worldwide technical standards, the cross-functional teams could not effectively implement global systems that catered to local markets worldwide. This led to a “pony express” manager approach whereby team members remained in their locations while the leader traveled to visit them. Both approaches involved face-to-face meetings between team members and the team leader, which helped to build trust, maintain support, and foster collaborative personal relationships. An advantage of the pony express manager approach is that relocations are unnecessary and avoid disruptions in personal lives, but a disadvantage is that, in addition to being costly, the manager spends insufficient time with team members.

Several key findings were that:

Team members need some source of motivation to establish a common “global” priority more compelling than their “local” task priority.

A “global network of peers” is the strongest source of individual motivation.

The desire to “perform well” in front of other members of the network has the strongest impact on each person’s behavior and actions. It is prudent to gradually increase “risk” among team members within the network to give everyone time to feel “safe” about sharing information.

The role of the GDT manager is to create, manage, and maintain a “level electronic playing field” where all team members have the same computer skills and knowledge.

Deliberate decisions must be made about which technologies to use because the benefits of a particular technology must be traded off with each member’s familiarity with it.

Some of the recommendations and conclusions to emerge are that managing communications through high technology devices (such as audio, video, and computer conferencing) should be introduced on a trial and error basis. Also, carefully managing the meeting structure can encourage participation among team members.

Because the role of the GDT manager is far more complex than that of the traditional manager, they need to interact with the individual’s network in a manner that leverages the motivational influence of the network on each team member. At the same time they must establish and manage an electronic workplace based on multiple telecommunications systems and tools that support the needs of the GDT, and reflect the readiness of each member to use these tools.

In the final analysis, effectively managing a GDT must embrace networks as a primary supporting resource to build trust, to gain commitment by linking personal priorities and values with individual work assignments, and to establish the difference between “safe” and “risky” work to create a supporting environment.

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About the Author

Alan Gray, Total Image Worx
Dumont, NJ 07628

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