5 tips to help leaders develop skills to manage international teams

Virtual team
fotocuisinette/iStock
Nina Mehta-Vania
Talent Management Consultant
Halogen Software
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Every individual deserves to work for a great leader. That’s easy enough to say, but how real is it? Consider this: one in two candidates applying for a management position is lacking leadership skills, according to a survey of 200 HR directors by Robert Half UK. That’s just looking at talent outside of an organisation. What about the available talent within an organisation?

Technology and flexible work policies enable people to work from remote locations or be part of teams operating in different time zones or countries.

Just the fact that more people will be working from remote locations on a more regular basis poses a challenge to leaders.

After all, the leadership skills required to manage international teams must focus on language, communication and a solid understanding of each territory’s cultural and regulatory context.

This is putting pressure on companies to develop the right skills for its leaders – skills that also extend to the realm of recruiting leaders with the right skills.

The Robert Half UK study also found that HR directors want to see candidates improve on planning skills, with nearly one in five people (18%) applying for leadership positions falling short, while 15% lack functional, job-related skills and 14% lack communication skills.  

Threat to core business

In 2016, Bersin by Deloitte conducted a study with MIT – more than 1,000 business leaders responded – and found that 90% of these companies believe new digital competitor are threatening their core business. In addition, 70% believe that they do not have the right leadership, skills or operating models to adapt.

Furthermore, Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends study, which surveyed more than 7,000 companies in 130 countries, found that 92% of companies believe that they are not organised correctly to succeed, while only 14% know what their new organisation should or will look like.

Deloitte predicts organisations will increasingly be made up of “networks of teams,” changing the way organisations lead, manage, reward and deploy people. 

Practical tips for developing great leaders

Here are five top tips to help you nurture your leaders to meet the needs of an increasingly global workforce:

  1. Match management training to the realities of today’s virtual dispersed workforce. A survey of 1,372 respondents from 80 countries found that 41% of corporate teams never meet in person. But while more and more people work remotely, few receive training on how to do so. Only 22% of respondents have participated in virtual team training, and only 34% in formal global leadership training. It is key to put in place training that helps people get used to a new way of working.
  2. Prioritise developing skills for global leadership. Identify the specific skills gaps when it comes to the effective leadership of globally dispersed teams, or where leaders face an increasing challenge in creating an environment where people feel supported. Leaders who are expected to deliver coaching and mentoring will benefit from effective coaching and mentoring themselves.
  3. Help employees find meaning at work. If employees in teams based in different locations are clear about their company’s objectives and how they can contribute to success, they will be far more engaged. Managers must have the language and communication skills to convey the strategy effectively in the first place and to continue to link ongoing performance management activities clearly to organisational objectives.
  4. Schedule time for managers to check in regularly with employees. Look to the future rather than analysing the past, and focus on coaching and training that will develop skills rather than rating past performance.  Managers carrying this out across dispersed global teams will need high levels of emotional intelligence and cultural awareness.
  5. Encourage supervisors to get to know their people. It is important to develop a relationship with individual employees, wherever they are based. This allows the manager to understand what is going on in that employee’s life that may affect workplace performance and also takes account of local, cultural factors. For example, in some parts of the world there is a culture of presenteeism and taking little time off work. Other cultures guard their right to time off fiercely and have a culture where unions or work councils protect their rights. For example, as of 1 January 2017, French workers have a right to refuse to look at work emails outside of their core working hours. Understanding these differences is key to maintaining a healthy, strong working relationship.

Great leadership matters

The shortage of basic management skills and the additional challenge of sourcing or developing leaders with the right skills for a fast-changing world is top of mind for global business leaders.

We know employee engagement is important. However, the process of how to achieve high levels of engagement is key for leaders at all levels of an organisation.

Yet, it is increasingly difficult to do so as employees are scattered throughout the world and teams are often virtual, made up of people collaborating electronically from different locations. 

Leaders who can make individual staff members ­– wherever they are – feel valued and supported help employees perform to their potential on a consistent basis. Organisations that do a good job of developing leadership skills to support its global workforce will reap the benefits.

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