It’s a Small World After All — Leveraging the Power of Global Virtual Teams

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As part of my research for my upcoming book Virtual Teams for Dummies (out July 31, 2018 and available now on Amazon, I’ve been talking to many leaders about the unique challenges of managing global virtual teams.

The benefits of bringing together people from many different cultures and backgrounds are significant, but managers who actually lead those global teams have special issues to consider. I recently talked to Claudio Toyama, CEO of Toyama & Co., to get his guidance on the issue. Toyama is an international leadership expert and he has led programs in more than 100 countries. 

Q: What is the biggest challenge on global virtual teams?
A: Bringing together very smart people, who want the same thing and are working towards the same goal, but who have very different styles of communication. I remember working with an Israeli company with operations in Brazil and the U.S. The Brazilians are known for their relaxed punctuality, informal business relations, and the Israelis are known for outspokenness and directness, so it was interesting.

Q: So how do you overcome confusion or misunderstandings on global virtual teams?
A: The best advice I have is to create communications that are so precise, so specific that they leave no room for misunderstanding. Even on teams where all team members speak the same language, there is a need for this level of detail. I like using the 5 Elements of Requests:

  • WHO is making the request and WHO actually performs the task?
  • WHAT are the conditions of satisfaction? For example, is it an 80 page report in a Word doc or several PowerPoint slides? You must be clear about the deliverable.
  • WHEN is it due? Be specific with delivery method and time zones.
  • You must have a shared background of obviousness about the request. Frankly, this is where you state the obvious because what is obvious to you, may not be to your global teammates.
  • WHY – this is the purpose of the request; it explains its relevancy to the project of the team goals.

Q: What’s the best advice you have to overcome misunderstandings?

A: A phone conversation can go a long way – emails don’t always work. In my experience, 99% of the time people are reasonable, there is just a misunderstanding. Direct communication diffuses much of the built up contention. Face to face at the onset of a project is ideal.

Interested in learning more about best practices of virtual teams? Check out my new book, Virtual Teams for Dummies, released July 31, 2018, and available now on Amazon.


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