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Are You Ready to Lead a Global Team?

Are You Ready to Lead a Global Team?

by Louis Efron

Story Highlights

  • Remote work is bringing together highly diverse teams worldwide
  • Being on the global stage places unique requirements on managers
  • Follow three tips for creating diverse, inclusive and equitable global teams

Remote work has made it easier than ever for leaders and managers to oversee global teams. Being virtual means teams can be comprised of people from anywhere in the world.

Technology connecting us, however, does not mean that leaders and managers understand or know how to navigate a diverse group of people from different cultural backgrounds. Especially people who may have entrenched local practices and established, unique belief systems.

If you ever traveled to or lived in a big city nearly anywhere on the globe, you will know that turning a corner can present a world vastly different than where you were only one block away. In fact, some landscapes and social dynamics change so drastically that you can become uncomfortable, feeling like you may not fit in or know how to behave.

This same dynamic may play out if you moved from your own country to another or, as is more probable these days if you're asked to manage people who work and live in other countries and whose cultures differ from your own.

This lack of awareness is understandable if you have had little or no experience or exposure to the new environment, but leaders must still take steps to bridge those gaps and cultivate an inclusive culture.

Gallup defines inclusion as creating an environment at work that makes people feel welcome, respected and valued. And employees in inclusive work environments feel appreciated for their unique characteristics and are then comfortable sharing their ideas and other aspects of their true and authentic selves.

Practical Steps Leaders Can Take to Be More Inclusive

To effectively engage and lead global, diverse teams (defined by the traits and characteristics that make people unique) in-person or virtually, you must do three things:

  • engage in learning and understanding cultural differences
  • be aware of your own biases and their impact on others
  • be considerate of differences, time zones and lifestyles

It's Going to Be a Learning Experience

Imagine spending your early career in the U.S. leading a successful commission-only sales team and then being relocated to Europe to replicate your success. Your new team all have a sizable base salary, plus a moderate commission. They are performing well, but nowhere near the level of your previous team in the U.S.

Your first instinct might be to change your salespeople's compensation plans to a lucrative, commission-only plan to further motivate them. However, you are quickly challenged as it turns out that employees in some of the countries you manage will not qualify for a home loan without a base salary.

In another case, you moved to Asia to remedy an overworked team. With the best of intentions, you instruct those on your team to leave the office no later than 5 p.m. each day, despite you working late. When you open your office door at 8 p.m., you discover your entire team still sitting at their desks because employees in the region believe it is disrespectful to leave the office before their boss does.

A culture of inclusiveness, one that makes people feel welcome and valued no matter where they work, is rooted in respect. Employees in such an environment are treated, and treat others, with civility and decency.

While business expectations may not change as you move from one region or country to another, the way you achieve these expectations may need to. As the saying goes, "there's more than one way to bake a cake," and creatively leveraging and respecting the strengths, talents, and local norms/practices of the teams or team members you manage is the key to accomplishing your objectives.

And beyond respect being fundamental to inclusion, a lack of respect for employees has large ramifications for business. Nine in 10 employees who say they are not treated with respect at work report experiencing at least one of 35 different discrimination or harassment experiences at work.

A culture of inclusiveness, one that makes people feel welcome and valued no matter where they work, is rooted in respect. Employees in such an environment are treated, and treat others, with civility and decency. And managers who value employees for their strengths, individually and collectively, create a sense of belonging.

Leaders and Managers Must Increase Self-Awareness

There are few things more detrimental to career and life success than a lack of self-awareness. If you go about your day without considering how your actions, beliefs, or biases impact others, productive and fulfilling relationships will be few and far between. Meaningful connections with others are almost always the difference between winning and losing.

In most cases, managers and leaders do not know how to effectively manage the relationships of vastly diverse geographical teams (from times zones to cultural nuances) or appreciate the importance of rising above their own local geographical perspective. Such shortcomings are often disengaging to others living in different parts of the world, negatively impacting overall business performance and their general sense of organizational belonging, potentially undercutting efforts and progress made on inclusion efforts.

Trust is critical to an inclusive culture, and self-aware managers and leaders in diverse workplaces help employees navigate the vulnerabilities and uncertainties that can arise because of differences.

Self-aware and culturally competent managers help attract and retain a diverse global workforce, and most importantly, optimize team performance to deliver exceptional business outcomes.

To gain a better understanding of your cultural competence and the areas you may need to address to improve it, you can use a version of the Hays ADDRESSING Model. Developed by Dr. Pamela Hays, the model is designed to focus awareness on beliefs and biases connected to age, disability (developmental), disability (acquired), religion and spirituality, ethnicity and race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, national origin, and gender.

Trust is critical to an inclusive culture, and self-aware managers and leaders in diverse workplaces help employees navigate the vulnerabilities and uncertainties that can arise because of differences.

Be Sensitive to Time and Lifestyle Differences

If you ever worked on a global team, you may have experienced frustrations due to the team's manager or other members on the team who appear entirely inflexible or disinterested in accommodating the time zones or local conditions of others.

These people may have caused you to be on 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. calls or wake up at the crack of dawn to join Zoom meetings. Or you may have experienced a total disregard for siesta or prayer time. In all cases, such dismissive behavior is disengaging at best and does not put employees in the ideal or well-rested frame of mind to do their best work.

Even something as simple as rotating meeting times so everyone is equally inconvenienced at times goes a long way toward making team members feel like they belong.

Equity, after all, has a strong influence on creating global belonging and inclusion. Gallup defines equity as fair treatment, access and advancement for each person. If segments of employees feel like they are being treated unfairly, that their access to resources, advancement, or additional benefits in the organization is restricted -- especially if these are provided for others -- engagement, work quality, productivity, and turnover will suffer.


Leaders and managers must have a desire to learn and understand the differences in people, be aware of their own biases and their impact on others, and be considerate of differences, time zones, and lifestyles of those on their team in order to be able to attract and retain top diverse talent and maximize business results.

Creating a culture of inclusion doesn't just happen. It requires intention and strategic effort. For leaders who are ready to measure how their organization fares on global inclusiveness and belonging, Gallup's Culture of Inclusion Index offers three core workforce survey questions.

  • At work, I am treated with respect.
  • My current employer is committed to building the strengths of each employee.
  • If I raised a concern about ethics and integrity, I am confident my employer would do what is right.

Ultimately, creating an inclusive global culture where all people feel like they belong, virtually or on-site, requires the shared responsibilities of employees, managers, and leaders. Such a culture fosters employee and customer engagement and enhances business outcomes.

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Louis Efron is a Principal at Gallup.

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