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Sep 1 2014
Managing a diverse, global team is unavoidable for executives in finance working for a large global investment bank. Teams responsible for implementing the finance function are generally led by a Managing or Executive Director, a Vice President, and two Associates and/or two Analysts, with the junior resources split between New York and Asia. In the middle, back and CFO offices at nearly every investment bank, this has been the trend and is here to stay. Managing successful teams poses distinct challenges to any executive in this situation, so here are five best practices to get the most out of a global team.
1. Divide & Conquer/Trust & Verify. At Columbia Business School, one of the first lessons we learned in our study groups or “learning teams” is the importance of establishing a set of ground rules by creating a “charter” before we started to work on assignments individually or together as a unit. Designed to specify team and individual expectations on norms, behaviors and interpersonal communication, the charter can be a useful tool when every member of the team buys in and values the importance of being accountable to one another. As the executive of a global finance team, applying the key takeaways of the charter concept can help clarify how your team will interact with you and with one another on specific tasks and deliverables. Putting pen to paper on which team members are responsible for what, when and where can do wonders for building accountability and transparency.
2. Insist on Face-to-Face Daily Communication. Successful teams have members who know one another on a personal level. While this level of “intimacy” must develop organically and over time through members going through trials and challenges together, one way to promote stronger bonds quickly is to insist on daily video communications, or at least as often as possible. For the same reason that face-time and business trips are so important to building trust with clients, getting your global team members to put a face on the voice they talk to and hear every day is critical. The intangible benefit of team members interacting face-to-face via videoconference can be tremendously disarming and can encourage trust-building and understanding.
3. Acknowledge cultural differences and personal challenges. Overseeing successful teams from cultures abroad that are very different from the West can lead to frustration for an executive sitting in New York with real and unyielding deadlines. Bridging the divide to mitigate this frustration can start by first acknowledging the differences in the first place. Specifically, have frank and honest discussions with your team members regarding work and personal/family priorities. Be aware of who on a team may have young children where being a little flexible can mean the difference between keeping a great, established resource vs. finding an emergency replacement on short notice.
4. Visit team members abroad, personally. As the senior executive or team leader, nothing impresses your global team members more than a personal visit from you to them at least once every calendar year. A personal visit can be a validating, exhilarating event for many of your team members based abroad dying for the opportunity to impress you in person, an opportunity your domestic resources take for granted. The cost of your plane ticket and hotel accommodation is more than a fair price to pay to give your global team members added motivation and exposure. An alternative to this approach that may cost slightly more would be to arrange for your team members to visit you. The same message is expressed either way and is a winning decision.
5. Exchange individual team member photos. If you take nothing else away from this article outlining best practices in managing global successful teams, please consider implementing this suggestion. It’s essentially free, quick and easy. Instruct all of your team members to provide a headshot of themselves to be shared among the members of the group. The cynical members of your team may scoff at this approach, but if your responsibility is optimizing team performance and identifying ways to get your team to cooperate, creating strong bonds and increasing productivity, what do you have to lose? The more you can humanize yourself and your team the more likely that your team will grow to like, depend and work for one another. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple act of sharing photographs.
Feedback from members of global teams from India and the Philippines who have struggled to meet the demanding expectations set on them by their bosses in New York tend to center on core feelings of distance and separation. Moreover, team members report to being over-burdened with excessively tight overnight deadlines, receiving little to no training and having limited opportunities to grow.
Implementing a few of these ideas that I present above can help bridge the gap that you as a senior finance executive may experience with members your team outside the U.S., and can help you avoid many of the known pitfalls that comes with this level of leadership responsibility.