How to Lead Global Teams: One Powerful Tip for Westerners

Friends, Business, Team

How to lead cross-cultural teams, particularly teams where East meets West? What are concrete things you can do to help your global team in real-life business situations? This was the topic of my recent keynote at SIETAR Europa’s congress in Valencia. Here I want to share my one most powerful tip for Westerners.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently (May 2015) released its forecast of what will be the Top 10 economies of 2050. Just in case you still had doubts about how the balance in this world is shifting: Eastern economies (including China, India and Indonesia) move up rakings. Western economies (including the US, Germany and the UK) slide down.

Economist, table with statistics on global economies

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

Not surprisingly, business leaders increasingly approach us with questions like:

“We have just been bought by an Indian multinational. What can I do to ensure that our global research teams deliver, within the agreed planning? I noticed that the Indians are bad planners already.”

“I think I inadvertedly offended the Japanese person in my global HR team. When I told him in clear terms what I expected him to do, he just stood up and walked out. What went wrong?”

These are just a few examples of how leading cross-cultural teams comes with its own surprises. Even to the most experienced (read here how GE’s Raghy Krishnamoorthy describes his cross-cultural missteps).

How to lead cross-cultural teams, particularly teams where East meets West? What are concrete things you can do to help your global team in real-life business situations? This was the topic of my recent keynote at SIETAR Europa’s congress in Valencia. I want to share my one most powerful tip for Westerners.

Stimulate your team to invest in personal relationships.

I believe that in today’s business world, the importance of building relationships outside the business context is crucially important. To really get to know the person you are working with, not just the colleague or the member of your team.

Now if you are Italian, French or Greek, this probably sounds obvious. But for a Dutchman like myself, it is not.

Graphic about task versus relationship oriented cultures

For the Dutch, and for most Americans and northern Europeans I know, work is work, and private is private. I am extremely open about my business and about what I want to achieve, but if you ask me about my family I’ll be a little bit reluctant because: how well do I know you? It is not that I don’t want to share, but for me family is private.

I recall a nice discussion with a global business team I coached. A Danish team member shared how he had received a wedding invitation from a colleague in India. ‘Flying all the way to India?’, he had thought. ‘How can I decline this invitation without insulting my colleague?’ At that point the Indian team members started to laugh: ‘Do you really think that, when we invite you to a wedding, we are expecting you to come? You shouldn’t feel obliged to go, though you would certainly be welcome. But in our culture it would be very rude to not send you the invitation.’

Experience has thought me how important it is to invest in personal relationships, even when the next deadline looms on the horizon. And I am still learning every day.

So if you are leading business teams where East meets West, build those personal relationships. And stimulate your team members to do so too.

Like this article? Find more useful insights on how to lead cross-cultural teams here:

How different cultures look at time and planning

How to avoid making people lose face

How to help your cross-cultural team deal with different perceptions of authority and hierarchy

Some things you can do when working with people born and raised in the Far East, creating a communicative environment where people feel they can share their thoughts and ideas

How to build trust in cross-cultural teams

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Photo: moodboard/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

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