5 tips for managing international IT teams

Nigel Blythe-Tinker is the Executive Chairman for VGW, the company that revolutionized the social gaming industry with their Chumba Casino and Global Poker brands.

He has extensive United Kingdom and international corporate experience spanning over thirty years and covering all forms of mergers and acquisitions, divestments, corporate finance, restructuring, AIM and FTSE 100 flotations, corporate governance and incentive schemes. He has 17 years of experience within the international gaming sector.

With commercial trade and supply chains across more than 20 countries, globalization remains a backbone of the tech industry as of 2019, based on a recent IT trends analysis from CompTIA. In fact, the research continues, in this past year alone, the United States exported an estimated $322 billion worth of tech products and services around the world.

With this connection to so many global markets, it would stand to reason that more IT leaders have grown their teams to include people from Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and South Africa, to name a few technology hubs. So if you manage a team of international IT workers, here is what you need to know.

Keep the Emphasis on Innovation

Brainstorm sessions can be difficult enough when everyone is in the same office, but with a team that’s spread across multiple time zones, it can feel near impossible to make sure each person’s ideas are recognized and evaluated. But while it’s a challenge sometimes to push for innovation on a global team, the effort pays off. For example, consider that in 2013, General Electric partnered with the online engineer community GrabCAD to create a new jet engine bracket for its 3-D printer, and the person chosen to spearhead the design was an engineer in Indonesia. So if one of the foremost American tech companies prioritizes global innovation, then it should be part of your team’s culture too.

Use Virtual Communication Tools

Effective communication is important for any team, but when you are located in different countries or even continents, it becomes all the more necessary to keep in touch with each other on digital platforms. In 2018, nearly 50 percent of remote workers used some kind of virtual collaboration software to interact with other employees, a Deloitte survey found, and another 71 percent confirmed these tools made them feel more productive, efficient and connected to their team. Cloud-based project management software, in particular, has gained traction on remote teams because it enables you to monitor workflow and communicate directly on the interface. Here are some options worth using:

  • Slack: $6.67/user per month (standard), $12.50/user per month (plus)
  • Asana: $9.99/user per month (premium), $19.99/user per month (business)
  • Wrike: $9.80/user per month (professional), $24.90/user per month (business)
  • com: $25/month (basic), $39/month (standard), $59/month (professional)
  • Basecamp: $99/month (all-inclusive features and unlimited users) 

Be Intentional Not to Micromanage

If you make a point of hiring a talented and diverse team of people from around the world, it makes sense that you would, of course, want to retain them as long as possible. So in order to keep your workforce engaged, satisfied and committed, it’s important to avoid the tendency to micromanage them. This approach to leadership is harmful because it “hampers their drive to succeed, destroys organizational innovation, and decreases growth potential for both the employees and the company” since “ideation only occurs in safe, empowering environments,” adds Forbes. Instead, equip your team with resources, accountability and trust to perform their jobs without your constant interference.

Learn to Be More Culturally Aware

You probably know–at least on a basic level–that an employee in the United States will have a different framework of communication, operation, and collaboration than an employee in Asia, Europe or the Middle East would. In order build a team that maintains cohesion in the midst of diversity, then you need to prioritize inclusion, respect and cultural awareness. IT is a field that draws creativity from all corners of the globe, so it stands to reason that you will “need a local person’s perspective to understand how the culture […] could affect the market for some consumer goods and services outside the U.S.,” notes Business News Daily. These are some cultural nuances to account for on your team.

  • Languages and colloquialisms;
  • National holidays and local customs;
  • Non-verbal mannerisms and gestures;
  • Etiquette for communication;
  • Business ethics and practices;
  • International privacy compliance;
  • Tax codes and financial standards;
  • Labor laws and work expectations.

Make a Point to Travel Periodically

Even with all the digital modes of communication to interact remotely, it’s still important to have actual face time with people too. This is easier said than done when the employees are dispersed in a number of locations, but if you choose one place to visit each quarter and connect with team members on their home turf, this reinforces that you value the assets and contributions they bring to the business.

Travel is not always convenient, but if you can afford occasional trips to meet with international employees, this instills a sense of authentic relationship. “You no longer just see someone as an avatar—you’ve built up some background context and empathy […] and that means you’ll be much better at working together,” Remote.co enumerates.

Managing international teams can be one of the toughest yet rewarding parts of your job. The ability to meet new people and work together toward your goals is simply an outstanding career accomplishment and will leave you with a euphoric feeling of a “job well done”.