EMBA: The Fine Art of Leading Dispersed Teams

by mba

The global workplace

What does the future hold for global business leaders? In 2022 and beyond, executives will be increasing their investments in what they consider the top drivers of growth in their companies. A recent pulse survey by PwC found that the ability to hire and retain talent is most critical to achieving growth for more than three quarters of surveyed leaders (77%).

To steer this growth and veer away from “The Great Resignation” of the past couple of years when employees were quitting their jobs at a record pace, executives are stepping up their leadership. Some of the ways they are doing this is by offering employees better pay, more benefits and increased flexibility.

When it comes to new ways of working, flexibility continues to gain popularity among organisations. PwC reported that 43% of survey respondents now offer hybrid work models while 30% have made remote work permanent in roles that are suitable for it. “Changing processes to reduce reliance on employees, allowing permanent relocation outside corporate offices and outsourcing are all part of the mix to address labour shortages,” according to PwC.

But along with these changing workplace practices comes the responsibility of managing remote teams scattered all over the world. “One example we give is when you have all your software engineers sitting here in Silicon Valley and you have all your marketing team in Bangalore, so not only do you have a geographic dislocation, you have a functional divide,” says Brandi Pearce, Director of High Impact Teams and Research at Haas School of Business (US), where she developed a remote leadership programme for the full-time, part-time and Executive MBA courses.

Many global leaders and startup founders have accumulated plenty of experience in this domain even before the pandemic, but some C-Suite executives will find it useful to read professional advice from those who have already been in their shoes.

Here is how to organise or improve your remote leadership from the word go.

Ensure clear and regular communication

Communication is always crucial and when managing remote teams, it can make or break your leadership. Executives should approach communication both as a skill to be encouraged and enhanced among employees and as a more practical tool to introduce specific practices within the organisation. These can include holding regular team meetings, organising mandatory in-office days and using communication apps that make sense for your company.

“Constantly communicating about the company’s progress and also encouraging regular brainstorming meetings to exchange information and knowledge with each other is important,” Chimezie Emewulu, Co-Founder and CEO of Seamfix Limited, tells Forbes Magazine.

Experts from Harvard Business School (US) recommend always opting for real-time conversation and information sharing tools, such as video conferencing when scheduling meetings with direct reports.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a must

In most industries and for most roles, having clearly defined goals is an essential way to track the individual performance of employees. In remote settings, key performance indicators (KPIs) help both leaders and remote workers follow their progress.

“Regardless of their time zones, our team members know what’s expected of them and when we meet up every week. If we can see at a glance who is doing well and who needs help, we can keep projects on track while helping our employees hone their skills,” says Chris Christoff, Co-Founder of MonsterInsights, which has been a remote company since its launch day.

What are the cultural differences?

When your workforce is dispersed in multiple countries and continents, cultural specifics will naturally play a role in certain aspects of everyday work. It is the manager’s responsibility to be mindful of and get to know these differences and, even more, to facilitate healthy interactions between regional teams.

EMBA: The Fine Art of Leading Dispersed TeamsFor example, employees from diverse locations might have vastly different habits when contributing to group meetings, depending on the way they perceive organisational hierarchy and seniority, highlights the marketing manager of Harvard Business School Online, Matt Gavin.

Encouraging open and inclusive dialogue and proactively seeking to understand local customs are steps in the right direction. Even small gestures like taking note of national holidays and observances will help employees feel seen and respected at work.

Rely on fellow leaders

Tammy Perkins, Chief People Officer at HAVI, believes that hiring strong regional leaders is one of the keys to success in managing a remote workforce. “[Regional leaders] are your eyes and ears on the ground. They are your cultural touchstones,” she tells Entrepreneur Magazine.

After defining the scope of these roles, executives should get a good grip of the local talent pool and benchmark their strengths to determine succession planning. “Make sure to benchmark pay as well to ensure equity by location,” Ms Perkins adds. Once you fill in these regional leadership roles, you should be able to take their advice and lean on their knowledge for support on the ground.

Asynchronous work needs extra attention

If employees work remotely, but from the same continent or similar time zones, their working hours are likely to overlap. However, dealing with many different time zones means collaboration will be more challenging to organise. Experienced remote executives have one simple solution for that: decide on a standard period of the day when everyone can be available without having to work too early or too late in their time zone.

Whether work is asynchronous or not, the good news is there are plenty of software applications today for seamless scheduling, project management and collaboration.

“Just be sure to establish standard practices for using the tools so everyone is on the same page with expectations and methods of passing deliverables,” SEO expert and investor Richard Fong tells Forbes Magazine.

Remote leadership requires excellent time management, good work-life balance and top-notch communication skills – just like in an Executive MBA programme. So why not get ready in business school?

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