The Secrets to Successfully Work with Global Teams | A Q&A with Jo Owen

20 August 2018

We often find ourselves working with event organisers and speakers from across the world. The briefing calls we arrange often take place at out-of-office hours when we sit in between Asia and America time zones, not to mention the regular email and telephone conversations that take place.

It's great to work and collaborate with citizens of the world, but we wondered if there was a better way of communicating. How could we be better at what we do?

In our quest to discover some useful strategies, we asked Jo Owen, the founder of 8 NGOs with a combined turnover of £100 Million, including the education charity Teach First, keynote speaker and author of Global Teams, for his advice and wisdom on how we can all work and collaborate better across global teams.

Why did you write Global Teams?

I was asked to run a global business out of Japan, and discovered just how hard managing across borders really is. I looked for some practical help and advice, and there was none. There was work on global strategy and organisation, and articles which told me that the culture in Japan was different from Bradford. But there was nothing which helped on how you could get groups of 5, 10, 50 people to work together across the world. So I spent a few years researching this, to help myself and anyone else in the same position.

What’s special about global teams?

Everything is harder on a global team. In your office, you can see who is struggling and who is coasting. You can see and fix problems in real time. You speak the same language and probably have similar backgrounds. None of that holds true on a global team. But the good news is that if you can lead a global team, you can lead any team. It is extreme leadership and a wonderful development opportunity for any emerging leader.

What is the biggest challenge we face when communicating across time zones?

Trust. You have to trust people to make decisions while you are asleep. Controls stop them making non-compliant decisions, but can not stop them making dumb decisions. That means you need high trust in your team. But trust is a two way street. They need to trust you. They have to understand not just what you want, but why you want it. They need the context. If customers come first, then when does the team give a refund, customise the product, adjust the pricing? Without context and understanding, they can not make the right call.

How do you build trust across the world?

There is only one way to build trust with people you can not see, speak a different language, work on different time zones and think differently to you. Buy a plane ticket. Go and meet them face to face, not just in work but outside work. Get to know them professionally and personally, and let them get to know you. If you want a great team, throw a party and just make sure you call it a global conference!

Can’t you use technology to communicate?

We live in an era when we communicate more than ever, but understand each other as little as ever. Technology is great for transactional messages, useless for building trust. Once the personal bond is there, the quality of communication soars. Meeting people face to face is a big investment, but it pays huge dividends.

There is communications overload on global teams: you can spend your whole day communicating across time zones. You have to establish clear rhythms and routines about when calls occur, when you can expect email responses, and what communication platforms everyone will use.

What makes a good global manager?

Ultimately, it is mindset and attitude. If you only like home cooking and believe that your way is the best way, you are doomed. You need people who are open, inquisitive, quick to learn and adapt. And you need high resilience to deal with the inevitable stresses, strains and knockbacks of global life. Being able to sleep on planes is a big advantage. Ultimately, the best global managers select themselves: they get into because they love the responsibility and challenge. For the right person, leading a global team is the adventure of a lifetime.

Thank you Jo for your expert advice - we'll be sure to start putting this into practice!

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