Leading global teams

I work with leaders across the world who are managing teams they have never met in person, who are in different time zones, speak different languages, with a multitude of different perspectives and ways of working. This brings with it a set of benefits and challenges as a leader in this environment. In our latest blog we will look at some of the challenges and benefits of leading global teams and factors to consider.

Cultural Awareness

Being open and aware of cultural differences is crucial data. In Erin Meyer’s book “The Culture Map” she describes how some countries are more likely to be task based whereas others are more likely to be relationship based. The leader’s approach to building trust may therefore differ depending on culture. For example, with one person it will be built on sharing time together having a coffee, for others it may be built through discussing business. As human beings we can often fill in gaps of knowledge by making assumptions or judging others actions. Cultural awareness helps the leader be more agile to getting the best from each member of the team by understanding each team member rather than making assumptions. 

Leadership Tip: Read up on cultural awareness – be curious and open to learning more. Understand your own culture and how you typically do things. Is your approach different to those in your team?

Leadership tips for leading global teams

Leadership skills are consistent across the globe – they include:

  • Articulating a clear vision
  • Managing performance
  • Setting expectations
  • Giving feedback
  • Being open to receiving feedback
  • Motivating the team
  • Building trust 
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Using different leadership styles to get the best from the team, including coaching
  • Leading change 

Even though there is a common set of skills, I believe that the best leaders are those that adapt their approach to the individual. This includes being aware of difference. Let’s look at some key areas to focus on:

Customs and Practices

Consider setting your team up for success by asking for and being open to understanding the customs and practices that each team member values. A great example when leading global teams, would be the use of humour. It can be easily misinterpreted if we haven’t checked what is usual practice for each person, and this requires an understanding of the customs and practices of that person. 

Leadership Tip: Respect starts with understanding the person and how they operate best. How does each team member in your team connect with you best? 

Body language and communication

I coach across the world, and I notice that some cultures value very direct communication and strong eye contact. With other people I notice a more distant look in their eye, they may even look away a lot and not meet my eye. As a leader, understanding what body language and communication styles your team adopt and why can be useful data to lead them more effectively, instead of making assumptions. 

Leadership Tip: Notice how your team do their best work and communicate. How can you create an environment where different communication styles merge well together?


In coaching, people talk to me about their work life balance challenges. This often includes the desire of their leader to meet with them at a time that suits them, but means the individual can be working unsociable hours on a regular basis. As the leader consider asking your team when they work best, or make some compromises so that you share out the unsociable meeting times. 

Leadership Tip: When do you do your best work? What changes could you make to meetings to make them even more culturally friendly?

Innovation and Learning

In some cultures, the leader is seen as the expert. To foster a culture of innovation and ideas generation consider how being seen as an expert may impact on people’s ability to speak up and share novel ideas rather than looking to you as the expert. In addition, consider how you make it okay for people to take risks and make mistakes. 

Leadership Tip: Make it okay for people to speak up, encourage ideas generation in a safe space. Set the expectation that innovation and creativity is valued from everyone. 

In summary, leading globally is about being open to understanding others and their culture, harnessing it through your actions or words, and asking each individual what works best for them. It is about having a true understanding of your own biases and potential assumptions that you can make which are a barrier to building a high performing team. Successful teams across the globe are built on a foundation of trust and trust comes from a true appreciation and understanding of one another. 

If you would like to review or establish your leadership approach in leading global teams, coaching can provide that much needed space to reflect and create the right approach. Please get in touch to arrange a no obligation discovery call to see how coaching can help you.

Leave a Comment