How to Build Global Teams and Bridge the Gap

International company structure is the top challenge facing global businesses, according to Hult International Business School. “If your aim is to be competitive globally, you must have a team in place that’s up for the challenge. One fundamental consideration is the structure of your organization and the location of your teams. For instance, will your company be run from one central headquarters? Or will you have offices and representatives ‘on the ground’ in key markets abroad? If so, how will these teams be organized, what autonomy will they have, and how will they coordinate working across time zones? If not, will you consider hiring local market experts who understand the culture of your target markets, but will work centrally?”

This perspective takes me back to early in my career while working for Hutchison Whampoa in Australia, where I was part of one of the first teams to launch mobile products over a true 3G (mobile Internet) network direct-to-consumers. I was fortunate enough to experience a culture that promoted the autonomy of on-the-ground decision-making by the “local experts,” coupled with the centralized headquarters acting as the support system around finance, branding, network infrastructure, and resources. This lead to a truly localized entrepreneurial culture, where the office felt more like its own entity rather than serving as a branch or “local presence” of a global corporation.

For example, AppsFlyer, a global company that helps mobile marketers measure the effectiveness of their marketing activities, the challenges of international growth in today’s tech ecosystem have been recognized for some time. Yet these challenges have also presented amazing opportunities that have allowed us to adapt operational and cultural strategies that both help our company meet its objectives and our employees thrive.

I see many parallels between Hutchison and the AppsFlyer business, which is headquartered in Israel and has 12 offices around the world. Bridging cultural gaps and time differences, along with the global competitiveness of our industry is a major challenge that requires a high level of trust from a parent company and allows its “local experts” to execute autonomously to be successful.

To give you a sense of Israeli and American cultural differences, consider this (polemic) opinion piece on R&D teams in both countries – based on a repost from a classic comment which originally appeared on Reddit. While there is some truth in this humorous take about an approach to problem-solving, the reality is that cultural differences will always be present in any global organization. Individuals will react differently to events, management styles, work methods, internal decisions, or customer demands — and certain sensitivities need to be recognized throughout the organization.

One way global organizations can bridge the cultural gap, and develop real world opportunities for employees to grow and learn about other cultures is with a Global Employee Exchange Program (GeeP). A GeeP affords any employee the opportunity to apply and pursue their personal and business objectives during a temporary placement in any one of a corporations global office locations.

For example, GeeP lets an employee in the US to gain a deep understanding of our Chinese customers and our internal team that serves them. They operate in a totally different environment than US customers do and therefore have different needs and expectations. Rather than trying to minimize these differences, by investing heavily in cultivating an understanding of regional uniqueness amongst your global employees, where they can gain from shared knowledge and experiences that only come with the value of real-world experience from working in different ecosystems. Embracing this reality truly hits home only when it’s a part of your employees’ daily life, and this approach to a united global culture then becomes part of the overall company DNA, and – in my humble opinion – gives you the competitive advantage on a global playing field.

In today’s hyper-connected world, where personal and work lives are seemingly more intertwined than ever before, the interactions between colleagues on different sides of the world, between businesses and the clients they serve, between people and the values they share are as important for driving companies forward as the products and services they deliver, and can have a profound impact on the company’s bottom line as well as its workers sense of personal fulfillment.

Photo Credit: martinlouis2212 Flickr via Compfight cc