Top Teaming: Building and Improving Global Virtual Teams

While the phrase “globalization” is commonplace in business vernacular, the ability to actually work well across geography, culture and time remains a huge challenge for teams who must operate virtually.

Global Virtual Teams are a necessity in today’s business environment and have great promise. The reality is that this is a promise that is rarely met. In recent studies, it has been suggested that far fewer than 50% of Global Virtual Teams (GVT’s) actually meet their business objectives. Conversations with my experienced Alexcel colleagues suggest that the performance of Global Virtual Teams may be even worse than previously thought.

In the next three BlogPosts, we’ll examine the potential of GVT’s against the problems inherent in working together without actually being together. We’ll suggest ways to assess the issues and significantly improve how these groups of skilled, smart, and committed people can and should work together. And we’ll discuss both the obvious and subtle leverage points to improve and sustain real teamwork.

The Promise:

  • Bringing divergent perspectives to the table – global teams bring the real promise of diversity – of culture, experience, and viewpoint to the table. Ideally, this should lead to better, richer, more agile business decisions.
  • Building and expanding a Global Mindset – being able to understand and operate “Glocally” – both across geographies and more intelligently within regions is clearly a promise offered by Global Teams.
  • Operating with Collective Intelligence – the whole here could and should be greater than the sum of its parts. The promise is that smart people, operating well as a real team – a Top Team — should do far better than a collection of dispersed leaders.
  • Making team members smarter and the business better – as we look at increased VUCA (volatility/uncertainty/complexity/ambiguity) and rate of change, we need to learn from one another to gain and sustain competitive advantage.

The Issues:

  • Primary culture versus…. everything else – the old line that when culture and change collide – culture wins continues to be true. There is a difference between true global companies, and companies that operate globally. For example, American dominated companies drive and prize US cultural attributes. By the same token, Chinese companies tend to prize and rely on their own unique values and views.
  • Different cultural norms and assumptions – this is very difficult to bridge, as the awareness of and communication about these assumptions are largely unspoken.
  • Obvious problems of communication and time – how do we work together across 6/8/12 different time zones? How do we avoid “the invisible man” syndrome of having a participant on a speakerphone that is only borderline engaged? Do we speak the same language well enough to really understand nuance and meaning?
  • Building relationships which foster trust – if we believe as I do, that most relationships are formed informally (over dinner, in the hallway, over time), and that trust is based on understanding and knowing the intent and wiring of a teammate, real Global and Virtual Teams are difficult to form.

The Solution Set: We’ll discuss this in greater depth in future blogs but below are some of the keys to addressing and improving Global Virtual Teams:

  • Know and normalize issues – understand what is in front of you. Address all elephants in the room. Utilize our Global Team Assessment to assess the issues.
  • Create a conscious and deliberate process of improvement – work at this intelligently, constantly, and tenaciously.
  • Move divergence to convergence – continually focus on what you are FOR.
  • Be clear and clearer – define the type of team you need to be and what behaviors you will drive.
  • Constant review and recalibration – this work is not a team-building event. It is a constant, continuing and intelligent process.

In subsequent Blogs, we’ll address each of these areas in more detail. Feel free to join the discussion.


Lawrence Levin PhD
Founder & President
The Levin Group LLC
+1 404 377 9408
[email protected]

“Top Teams have a looseness about them —
a deep and abiding trust that they are in this together”

Author: Top Teaming: A Roadmap for Leadership Teams Navigating the Now, the New, and the Next

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