Global Teams: Overcoming Barriers for Optimal Results

Global business teams face a bevy of unique challenges. Not only must they overcome the obvious barriers—geographic, linguistic and cultural – but global teams must also address issues of cross-functionality, alignment and trust.  These are difficult matters even for teams operating in the same office space, let alone for those spread across the globe. Optimizing global teams takes time and commitment, and in today’s ever-changing, fast-paced world, our clients need to be reminded of that. 

Barriers to Success

Global teams may encounter numerous disruptors that could lead to conflict or other challenges. Potential disruptors could be a new CEO, an operational update, or a shift in clients or workload. If the leadership team doesn’t have a strong foundation in place when these disruptions occur, it can result in decreased performance, increased dysfunction and siloed interactions. 

More specifically, most global leadership teams I’ve encountered have dealt with challenges such as: 

—a lack of trust among team members

—the inability to argue effectively (which requires a level of comfort with each other)

—different approaches to handling conflict 

—a lack of commitment to decisions made around talent or projects

—a lack of accountability within the group 

For example, while it may seem minor, one complaint I’ve heard from global teams is that one leader wants to work only during his or her business hours. The obvious fix is to implement a time rotation for meetings across different time zones, requiring everyone to bend their schedules. 

Dig deeper and you’ll find that the solution stems from this philosophy:  When a team comes together, it’s about the success of the organization they are running—not the individuals. Individual roles must be separated from the team. Instead of showing up wearing function or business hats from their respective locations, they must come together as equal members of the team. Even if team members are dispersed around the world, they should establish a goal they can accomplish together as a group. 

That would take them one step closer to becoming a more effective, functioning team—one that will produce tangible results. Or, from an internal perspective, their collaboration will help produce a positive, thriving company culture—the kind of place where people want to work. These are the benefits of team optimization that flows up, down and around the organization. 

Team Formation Starts with Trust 

I worked on a project for a global company with 12 leaders on the team, including nine from different countries. When taking on a project like this, it’s vital to address communication among team members right up front because it can often be a disruptor. Removing barriers to communication is imperative and is best accomplished with face-to-face meetings that help solidify a foundation on which the team can build. 

At times, people assume that geographic obstacles will prevent these team meetings. I’ve had teams try optimization without face time, thinking they could do it with technology alone, and it wasn’t effective. 

To build a solid foundation and operate at a high level, the most effective teams commit to meeting in-person at least four to six times each year. Inevitably, the takeaway from these in-person meetings is positive. Coming together provides the opportunity to build on the foundational pieces that we know make a team successful. 

First and most critical to the foundation is trust, no matter what model a consultant uses. Trust can come only from being together, getting to know one another, and doing that in a way that demonstrates vulnerability. The words that are used, the body language, the eye contact, the tone of voice—these all come into play during team formation. That’s where a team begins to build its trust foundation. 

When team members understand each other’s greatest strengths and vulnerabilities, they can communicate and contribute better to the group’s effectiveness. This results in a truly global team that is capable of operating at a high-performing level, despite disruptors. Once that trust is established, the team can move on to more technology-focused collaboration solutions, such as video conferencing. 

The Team Optimization Journey

A combination of face-to-face team-building and technology is optimal, but many companies mistakenly believe that team optimization work is a one-time session rather than a journey. The evolution of a team comes from its experiences along the way. 

If a team faces a disruption in the market, it changes how they might operate from an organizational design perspective, or team members might leave as a result of the shift. The point of team optimization is that the group can manage through changes as they occur because the groundwork for success is already in place.

Team optimization is an ever-evolving process that requires continuous attention. Leaders of global organizations must invest their time and effort to ensure that they are in sync, working together to create a culture that is in line with business objectives, as well as the company’s mission, vision and values. 

It is important to remember that no one ever has it all figured out. Every team is at a different place in its trajectory of success and optimization. Most great leaders will say that you’re never done working on becoming your best, as an individual or as a team. 

The Consultant’s Role

Successful global team optimization centers around the wisdom and experiences each team leader brings to the process. As consultants, it might benefit our clients if we put on more of a coach’s hat during these projects. Our clients must come to their own conclusions about how they will respond to change and produce business results. A coaching approach allows the team to create the answers they need. 

In this line of work, I like to refer to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s quote: “Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy.” Everyone wants to matter. I’ve seen examples of this at the C-suite level on global leadership teams. 

This is where cultural awareness becomes so important in our work as global consultants. We must be mindful of where we are and with whom we’re working. Approaches to this work might differ based on culture, language, or geography, while the methodology for achieving overarching goals can be more universal. 


Mary Herrmann is Managing Director, Executive Coaching, at BPI group. As a global practice leader, she leads a team of professional coaches in the United States and abroad. Mary and her team are focused on helping organizations drive change and deliver results through proven best practices in leadership and executive team development. Mary can be reached at 312-334-3829 or