The world’s your oyster: Top leaders share their tips on managing global teams

With remits stretching from San Fran to Singapore and Taiwan to Timbuktu, how do senior marketers overcome the challenges involved with disparate time zones, languages and cultures? Jess Pike speaks to seven B2B big-hitters

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Dealing with cultural differences

Jennifer Watkiss, head of marketing communications, Adestra

In the UK people tend not to want to impose, and the way that manifests itself in our UK office is that you don’t ask someone for a favour unless you’ve really thought about it. In the US, however, there’s a much more casual approach; some of our US colleagues wouldn’t think twice about asking a question, knowing full well that they’re likely to hear a: ‘No’ or: ‘Not right now’ and being okay with that. This led to people in the UK feeling put upon, and US colleagues not knowing why they were being treated as though they were annoyingly high-maintenance. Thankfully, everyone is now more used to each other: the US team are more considered with requests, and the UK team have become more comfortable pushing back.

Georgiana Verdonk Sim, VP, The B2B Marketing Lab, Asia

In many countries, someone's position is based on their ability and responsibilities. But in countries that value hierarchical structure, age is often a big factor when it comes to promotion. A few years ago, I appointed a team leader on a global project and found out that certain people in my team thought she was too ‘young’ for the role. I didn't try to fix the issue right away; instead, I waited for the 'younger' team leader to prove her abilities, and consequently, those who were initially sceptical ended up changing their minds. I’d also say that not all leaders are a natural fit for a global team; sometimes it helps if the person in question has experience living and working abroad.

Sarah Donnelly, strategic marketing directorAtkins

In my previous role there were some big cultural differences: those in the UK, for example, were predominantly proactive when it came to ideas, clear on where they wanted their careers to go, and keen to get in front of senior leaders. Conversely, those in Asia would rarely give an opinion or offer an idea and wouldn’t necessarily see a need to report back to individuals who weren’t their direct manager. As a leader you have to be respectful of cultural differences and recognise that different people need managing differently. If you’re new to a global role, ask for training around cultural awareness if you haven’t had it.

Stephanie Robotham, VP of corporate marketing, Optimizely

It’s not just about differences within the team, but differences between markets. We ran a virtual event recently in the US following a big customer research conference and it went down well with the US executive decision-maker audience. However, we know it would never have gone down so well in EMEA. People just have different attitudes and different ways of thinking.

Corinne Sklar, CMO, Bluewolf

Collaboration in marketing is crucial (it's why I actually don't encourage my team in San Francisco to work from home too much), and this remains true whether you're talking about local or regional teams. True moments of creative genius come around when people are free to take what they know about their region and run with it - don't try and impose what works in one market on another. More often than not, it won't work.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Technology saves the day!

Guillaume Roques, VP marketing EMEA, Salesforce

At Salesforce we use Chatter (an enterprise social networking app) and Quip to collaborate across the global team, as well as Google Hangouts. These tools are great because they mimic the way people naturally communicate through conversation and collaboration. I also host weekly ‘Unplugged’ calls where my entire team can drop in and ask me questions – it could be anything from how a particular campaign has done to my favourite colour (although the majority of the questions are about our business!).

Jennifer: We use GoToMeeting a lot, and always turn on our webcams. It really helps to see the other people’s faces and add that extra level of engagement.

As a global marketing leader, I’d say over-communicate as much as possible – send loads of emails, use your Slack channels and keep your Skype status and calendar up to date.

Stephanie: Totally agree with Jennifer. I think the value of a video call is underestimated. We tend to have rigour around planning and getting the invite right and encouraging people to arrive early in case there are any tech issues. And we also have a wonderful executive assistant who helps out a lot.

Rob Gorby, VP SMB Business, SDL Managed Translation

I’m a big fan of video conferencing, but it can be tricky when you’ve got different accents involved. Make sure people are speaking clearly and slowly and try and bring everyone in on the conversation by putting people on the agenda in advance of the call.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Getting the most out of your team

Sarah: Be clear with your leaders on why your team needs to come together face-to-face regularly and build this into your budget when you’re doing your annual planning.

Stephanie: We use all the tech you’d expect but there isn’t a substitute for face-to-face so I travel a lot – at least once a quarter – and budget for the team to travel too. On my most recent trip, for example, I brought one of our superstar campaign marketers with me, and it was great to see her meeting her EMEA colleagues; they’ve become friends and have bonded really well.

Rob: Last month my team met in Romania for a global team get-together, and it was excellent. We discussed work, yes, but we also did an assault course (great for team bonding!).

Stephanie: Building friendships and professional relationships is really important, so another thing we do at our meet-ups in San Francisco is volunteer at the local food bank. Packing rice and carrots together is a great way to bond!

Guillaume: The Salesforce culture is centred on ‘ohana’: the Hawaiian idea that family members are all responsible for one another wherever in the world we’re based. That really helps us pull together as a team.

Corinne: To me, successful leadership on a global scale is all about giving as much autonomy to the different regional teams you're working with as possible - the challenge is letting them go whilst making sure they're working within controlled environments. And I truly believe that the best senior marketers have started to move away from a centralised model and instead see their regional teams almost like mini start-ups.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

The global leadership highs and lows

Sarah: Being in a global role gives you a fantastic understanding of other cultures. Plus, it’s not bad to be standing on a deck in Florida or Cannes in March with the sun shining down on you and a glass of wine in hand.

Jennifer: What do I love about it? It opens my team’s eyes to new ideas and ways of doing things, and it’s also a pretty amazing boost for creativity.

Stephanie: The lows? Definitely time zones! And encouraging everyone to embrace our culture of experimentation while maintaining a consistent branding and tone of voice. Essentially, though, because we’re all about experimentation we encourage our teams to do whatever works in their territories. We want to stand out for the right reasons; we don’t want to be that brand doing vanilla marketing that nobody shouts about.

Rob: On the data side, I occasionally find myself frustrated that information in another language is locked away and left in its own silo. This is where great communication comes in though. Oh, and it’s always painful to reflect on how much time has been wasted with people on mute.

Jennifer: I’d agree with Stephanie: trying to fit projects and meetings around time zones. And, of course, misunderstandings due to cultural differences.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Overcoming jet lag

Rob: To be honest I never manage to swerve it – I get hit every time. When I travel to the US a bit of jet lag helps me get into the gym really early – and in the evening a glass of wine tends to help.

Jennifer: It depends on how far you’re going and for how long. Generally, get into your new time zone for sleeping and eating as quickly as possible. Those are the big cues your body uses for deciding what time it is. If you’re travelling west to east, and have trouble falling asleep at night, melatonin can also help.

Sarah: Remember the basics: avoid alcohol, drink lots of water on the flight and reset your watch to the destination time as soon as board.

Stephanie: I’d agree with Sarah: drink tonnes of water and try to stay awake until 10pm wherever possible. Avoid afternoon naps at all costs!

Guillaume: I'm not sure there is a secret. Good sleep, good food and exercise. I also go for ‘micro-sleeps’: I read a while back about sailors and how they manage to sleep when they’re on solo cruises. Basically they micro-sleep. So when I travel I tend to sleep for a few hours (or even minutes) rather than a block of eight. It’s taken years to master but it does work!

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Georgiana Verdonk Sim, VP, The B2B Marketing Lab, Asia
Based: Singapore
Manages teams in: Europe and APAC.
Number of business trips taken per month: At least one.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Sarah Donnelly, strategic marketing director, Atkins
Based: London
Manages teams in: Currently UK but previously every continent.
Number of business trips taken per quarter: 20 per month in  previous  role.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Guillaume Roques, VP marketing EMEA, Salesforce
Based: Paris
Manages teams in: APAC, EMEA and Canada.
Number of business trips taken per month/quarter: Most weeks.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Jennifer Watkiss, head of marketing communications, Adestra
Based: Oxford
Manages teams in: UK, US and Australia.
Number of business trips taken per quarter: Two to three on average.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Stephanie Robotham, VP of corporate marketing, Optimizely
Based: San Francisco
Manages teams in: UK, US, Holland, Germany and Australia
Number of business trips taken per month/quarter: Every other week on average.

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Rob Gorby, VP SMB Business, SDL Managed Translation
Based: Basingstone
Manages teams in: UK, US, Germany and Romania
Number of business trips taken per quarter: Two

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams

Corinne Sklar, CMO, Bluewolf
Based: San Francisco
Manages teams in: Globally
Number of business trips taken per month/quarter: Two per month

The world’s your oyster: Top leader share their tips on managing global teams