Managing Global Teams for Success in a Digital Age

One Abbott manager shares her experiences leading staffs with members located around the world.

REACHING YOUR POTENTIAL     |    Apr. 02, 2021

Having a position with a global company can offer the opportunity to work with an expansive network of colleagues, leaders and mentors around the world.

One example is Jennifer Massucci's role with Abbott's global digital marketing and e-commerce team, which works to deliver world-class online customer experiences across the web and mobile. Massucci is based in Switzerland, coordinates with leadership outside Chicago, works with colleagues in Germany and supports a team in India.

Technology has had the biggest effect on how Massucci manages and nurtures global teams. It is at the forefront of how her teams collaborate and communicate, she says.

"Technology has changed how we work," Massucci says. "I believe in technology's benefits. That's been my driver. I came to Abbott because I wanted to do work that has a purpose, and the technology we deliver has an impact on someone's life."

How to Manage a Global Workplace

Dispersed teams change the way we think about work and how all facets of a team interact — and given her current work responsibilities, Massucci has firsthand experience.

"Our product teams around the world work together virtually," she says. "My role is to facilitate the teams in their everyday work."

Managing a global team has also helped Massucci in her professional development, allowing her to extend her skills in managing a virtual team. For example, she has benefitted from learning about virtual collaboration tools for project managers and developers such as Atlassian.

While a job like Massucci's is exciting – spanning cultures, time zones and languages – some may find it intimidating to make the connections, build the trust, and collaborate effectively with people you may not meet in person.

Here, Massucci shares a few tips for managing teams that work from varied cities and countries, including keyways to optimize efficiency and increase effectiveness.

Communicate Daily

One obvious challenge for global team members is staying connected with each other across time zones. One tool Massucci uses to help her manage this challenge is enabling the extra time zone functionality on her computer. Her calendar includes real times for India and Chicago. Using this feature helps her be mindful when scheduling meetings with team members across the world.

Massucci hosts daily calls and sets specific rules for communication, opting for calls instead of instant messaging. She keeps these daily calls to 30 minutes or less. They're meant to give team members the opportunity to connect and ask for support.

A normal day for Massucci includes morning calls with Asia, early to mid-afternoon time dedicated for her deliverables (including a specific time blocked for lunch), and then she finishes the day with calls to the US.

"Managing virtual teams is continuous," she says. "You have to innovate on some aspects and address challenges."

Build Trust

It's important for managers and their team members to have mutual trust when they're working from different locations. Massucci says that trust is essential to managing a global team.

Lack of trust may occur when you don't have as much insight into when and how your teammates are working.

"In an office, you can stop by and check in," she says. "But when you're managing a global team, you must be confident that they're on the same page and have the same priorities. Ultimately, you're relying on each other's efforts to make the team successful as a whole. Leading by example and communicate openly enables to build a culture of trust within the team."

The other benefit of building trust within a global team is allowing employees to self-manage.

"It adds to the professionalism in our teams and shows how we value each other's efforts," Massucci says.

Respect Cultural Differences

Having global teams opens opportunities to hire people from all over the world. And one of the biggest strengths her team members have is their individual and cultural diversity, Massucci says, which creates an environment for innovation.

For example, Massucci's team in India celebrates Diwali, one of the most important holidays in the country. As manager, she ensures that the rest of the team understands these celebrations and includes them in scheduling.

Hiring employees in different countries also means managers need to adapt to differences in work hours, how employees work and how they respond to leadership. As geographic boundaries melt away, managers should take note of their employees' cultural differences to adapt how they relate to each individual and how the team members relate to each other.

"The digital workplace is the new space where we communicate and collaborate," Massucci says.

When managing or working with global teams remember to communicate as much as possible and to take advantage of the different technology tools that can help with that communication.