Expand your horizons: 5 tips to build effective global teams

Understanding different cultures strengthens work that spans multiple countries.

Finding creative ways to integrate far-flung teams is fast becoming a priority for many finance managers as the remote working boom prompts companies to accelerate plans to recruit more talent from around the world.

Looking beyond differences and finding common ground is key to building unique global teams that effectively weave together a diverse mix of country, industry, and corporate cultures, experts said.

Boosting communication and encouraging teams to interact independently with each other while creating extensive learning and mentoring opportunities are essential for managers as they look to centre talent around common goals.

"Empower people and find common meaning. You need to be patient, you need to structure it, and you need to understand the rhythm of the team," said Jean-Philippe Gauvrit, a Paris-based executive coach at Praesta International. "There's no trick and there's no training; it's really about the personal engagement of the leader."

Here are five ways to integrate global talent:

Be in tune. When you're trying to straddle diverse regions and cultures, it's important to start by finding common ground. Take time to talk to your local managers to decide on a shared language, vision, and set of priorities that fit your individual team, Gauvrit said.

Make sure to set clear boundaries and consider using the internationally recognised tools, standards, and timetables embedded in finance and accountancy as the basis for a common framework.

Simply leading from the top rarely works. Encourage your managers to brainstorm concepts such as accountability with their staff and try to incorporate diverse cultural approaches into your own strategy, he said.

"We need to get everybody on board," said Gauvrit, a former CFO with extensive experience of running teams in Asia.

"It's important to give opportunities to team members to reflect on nonoperational things and to share their values, the meaning they give to work."

Come together. Capitalise on digital technologies to conjure up creative ways to share company news and celebrate team achievements, said Chris Smith, FCMA, CGMA, who heads Ricoh Europe's UK shared services centre.

Using Microsoft Teams, Ricoh's lively, Europe-wide virtual town hall forums are proving a popular way for staff to interact with management while creating opportunities for remote teams to network and bond, he explained.

"We talk about real, valid subjects. From an integrated management point of view, it's a fantastic new opportunity which COVID-19 has actually helped us with," said Smith, who previously ran teams in Europe and Asia.

Handing out awards during the events helps reinforce company values while creating a healthy spirit of competition between country groups. Running quick polls through MS Teams can also be a useful way to judge responses to change, he added.

Learn from each other. Foster cohesion by encouraging diverse teams to work closely together, exchange information, and help each other overcome obstacles to reach common goals, experts said.

Try breaking down corporate barriers by establishing cross-border groups that mix people across business functions, cultures, and seniority to work on projects. These could be practical tasks such as ways to implement new processes or more conceptual challenges, including outlining objectives for the coming years, Gauvrit said.

Roll out social media networks or chat channels for teams to easily share knowledge and ideas, and consider putting triage-style teams on standby to help colleagues that might be struggling to meet key deadlines, he added.

"This creates a team feeling beyond cultures," Gauvrit said.

Bridge cultures. Understand different cultural attitudes to ensure your teams run smoothly — and to avoid making embarrassing gaffes.

With business travel largely on ice, schedule regular virtual one-on-one meetings with country leaders to build personal relationships and find out how their cultural background influences the way they work, Gauvrit said.

In countries where women or minority groups are not adequately represented, consider setting up workshops and leadership programmes to promote greater diversity and inclusivity, he said.

Mentoring programmes can also be a powerful way to ensure people from underrepresented groups get the opportunities they need to thrive, he said.

Working through cultural differences can be sensitive territory, Gauvrit noted. "However, at least in large corporations and with new generations, the mindset is gently shifting. If you create the right conditions and you support it as a leader … it can work."

Shout about it. Encourage teams to film short videos or write blogposts about their latest projects or achievements. It's a way to learn how others work and let teams in smaller countries make their voices heard, experts said.

Creating such internal learning opportunities is also important to reinforce company values as well as to allow individuals to flourish, Smith explained.

Through Ricoh's online learning library, staff can learn about the Japanese concepts that underpin the company's philosophy plus find out more about the responsibilities of colleagues throughout the business, he said.

Ultimately, building global teams that effectively work together boils down to strong communication and a willingness to learn from others, Smith said.

"Communication to me is vitally important. The door is always open," he said.

Sophie Hares is a freelance writer based in Spain. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at