Give me some team spirit around the world

Time is running and we’re all focused on getting the job done. When working on international projects, the speedometer is going 24/7 as distance and time zones create a relay race around the world. As the global project manager and tour guide, you have your project check list in hand. Clear objectives? Check. Roles and responsibilities? Check. Project process and  metrics? Check. International roadmap and timeline? Check.  Team spirit and collaboration?  Pause…

With a complex, global project, the project management methodology is often driving the team process through project milestones and stage gates. Thus, team communication processes tend to focus heavily on tasks and timelines that are linked to the expected project management results. The work becomes so wrapped up in the project process that we often lose sight of time needed to get to know our team members around the world. Building trust and creating alignment is especially important when working across cultures and geographies. Rather than relying on the project check list, we need to step outside of the office and make some time for live and virtual team-building.

The management of a globally distributed team is not an easy task as it requires the full engagement and commitment of team members that are dispersed across countries and time zones. It is a multidisciplinary role that demands effective strategic planning, project management, and team leadership across functions and cultures. In my current research involving 45 global team leaders, study participants were asked about the success factors for cross-cultural teamwork.  The responses focused on several elements that included aspects of product planning, project coordination and team management. However, the factors that were consistently mentioned emphasized the soft management skills required to achieve successful results from product concept to market introduction worldwide. Communication and cross-cultural understanding led the way, followed by team engagement, and the development of a shared vision. A list of the top five success factors is shown below:

  1. Understand cultural differences.
  2. Practice frequent and open communication on global and local levels.
  3. Engage global teams through collaboration technologies and tools.
  4. Establish clear goals and objectives through effective project planning.
  5. Develop a shared vision that ensures a common understanding.

So, next time you’re creating the project check list, make sure to add more time for team-building and socialization. Determine how you can integrate time for exchange and discussion throughout each project phase. Consider how you can engage and involve team members from the planning to execution stages. Look at live and virtual events that can increase communication across the world. Then you’ll be ready to move from pause to play.

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