Managing Global Teams: Guiding an International Finance and Accounting Team

Sarah is brusque in her emails. Sam rarely answers voice-mail messages. Peter never puts in overtime.

Managing global teams can present unique frustrations for managers, but they may be easily explained by cultural differences among employees working on a global team. And such differences are only one small example of what accounting and finance managers need to be aware of when managing global teams. Lack of respect for cultural differences, ineffective communication, absence of team bonding and unmet expectations can ruin the success of an international team. 

Managing global teams isn’t easy — so how can you keep your employees working hard and working well together? We have a few tips:

Tip 1: Communicate

Communication is the most important part of managing global teams and including key professionals in decision making. Your employees should always know what is expected of them. Time zones and cultural differences make this much more difficult than the usual office communications. Be sure to make yourself available to answer questions and that your employees have all the information they need. 

And don’t discount other forms of communication. Phone calls and video chats are ideal for connecting with employees and making sure that tasks and assignments are clear. With online document sharing, you can access files and even edit them with others at the same time. Texting and instant messages are also useful.

Tip 2: Hold regular meetings

Regular meetings are essential for keeping a team functioning smoothly, but with an international team, 2 p.m. for one person may be 2 a.m. for another. It’s up to you to make sure that inconvenient meeting times are evenly distributed. If that one person in China is constantly asked to attend midnight meetings, bitterness and resentment can build up. Distributing meeting times and being sensitive to your employees' needs will show you respect them and their commitments outside of work.

Don’t forget that technology may not always be your friend. Team members may have trouble connecting, have bad connections or forget to take their phone off mute. Technical difficulties can be frustrating when they cause a meeting to stretch from 30 minutes to an hour. When managing global teams, be sure to have a Plan B in place, such as a conference call instead of a video call, to help eliminate frustration.

Tip 3: Take note of cultural differences

Just because you are unaware or choose not to address diverse backgrounds won't make them go away. Such differences can foster tension, bitterness and misunderstanding within a global team. Strive to be aware of how cultural differences in approaches to work style may spark misunderstanding or otherwise affect your team’s work. Be up front and open with your employees and you will gain their trust and confidence. Promoting cultural training for your employees and even attending diversity workshops yourself is a good start.

Tip 4: Encourage socializing and bonding

It’s important for your team members to feel united rather than scattered. If they achieve a goal, organize a virtual ceremony. Or send a small present to team members and have everyone open them at the same time during a virtual meeting.

With a global team, you’ll need to invest some time and effort in fostering relationship building. It’s imperative that employees are able to socialize with one another. Sharing how your weekend went and chatting informally builds relationships and trust. Humor can help, but make sure it’s appropriate and inoffensive.

Be aware that pre-existing teams can resent new members who may not share their approaches and may even erect barriers. Try putting a diverse mix of employees together on specific projects to ease the transition.

Tip 5: Budget for international travel

Meeting face-to-face is essential for managing a team that trusts each other and works well together. Budgeting for international travel will allow your team to really bond. If possible, try to schedule at least one in-person meeting each year.

While it’s certainly challenging, managing global teams can bring many benefits, such as lower costs, increased productivity, reduced travel time, a 24-hour workday and greater workforce flexibility.             

Do you have any experience with managing global teams? Share in the comments section below.

Photo credit: © Fuelrefuel / Wikimedia Commons