Executive Coaching Connections, LLC

Justifying face-to-face meetings for global project teams can be a tough sell.

How do you make the business case? Do in-person meetings really benefit the bottom line?

Recent research suggests that investing in face-to-face meetings, every 9 to 12 months for long-term, strategic project teams can be a game changer for accelerating team effectiveness, according to Katherine Schroeder, Ph.D. Katherine is the Senior Director of Organization Development for the Americas with Astellas and is also an adjunct faculty member with Benedictine University. 

Schroeder’s research into global hybrid teams was recently published by Duke University’s Dialogue in an article entitled Enhancing Global Teamworking.

ECC sat down with Katherine to learn more about her research and what it means for leaders, teams, and organizations.

What are global hybrid teams?

As their name suggests, global hybrid teams meet virtually and in person. They address long-term (18 months – 3 years) strategic projects, and team members are based in different countries.

What should leaders know about global hybrid teams?

  • Face-to-face meetings are transformative. “Teams will naturally do many things better after meeting in person,” according to Schroeder. And it’s not just a “social” thing. Meeting in person allows for authentic communication that even the best technology cannot fully replace.

    When effective virtual communication tools are in place, teams may only need to meet face-to-face every 9 to 12 months, with a “re-boot” every additional 9 to 12 months. According to the Schroeder’s research, meeting less frequently (> 12 months) is less effective, and meeting more frequently is only necessary in special circumstances.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Teams frequently develop guiding principles to describe how they want to work together. According to the research, how a team behaves when facing real issues matters more than what’s on paper.

    “You’ll never have the ideal [team],” according to Schroeder. “Can you catch things when they’re not working and address quickly?” A positive answer to that question will improve overall team effectiveness.
  • A global team is a system. When a team isn’t functioning well, it’s easy to assume…“It’s the leader or the team members, but you need to look at the broader context,” according to Schroeder. Take a systems perspective, and recognize how the overall system affects team performance.

What should leaders do differently?

  • Always keep improving. Schroeder compares team development to exercise. “You have to pay attention to the shape the team is in and keep after it. There’s no neutral. Your team is always getting better, or it is deteriorating.” Time zones and cultural differences will always be challenging and difficult. When a team is functioning well, these challenges feel energizing. When it’s not, they feel draining. Pay attention to the team’s condition.
  • Flex your leadership style. More directive leadership styles tend to be less effective over time with global project teams, according to Schroeder. The most effective global team leaders know how to facilitate dialogue, and balance discussion with decision making. Understand your strengths and opportunities, and flex to the situation.
  • Address issues quickly. If something’s not working, address it and figure out a solution. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you need help, use a diagnostic and seek out resources.

What are the biggest mistakes leaders make with global hybrid teams?

  • Not investing in face-to-face…even when it’s critical. Invest when you need to, particularly at the start of a project, when you’re aligning strategy.
  • Becoming overly focused on task completion vs. team functioning. Global teams tend to be more fragile. Pay attention to the “what” and the “how”.
  • Allowing a “silo” mentality. Global hybrid teams tend to have broad organizational representation, given the complexity and strategic importance of the projects involved. To get out of one’s functional or regional mindset takes a high level of maturity, according to Schroeder. Be willing to “get in the soup.”

“We’re not going to have fewer global project teams [going forward], we’re going to have more,” according to Katherine Schroeder. Learn from the research and enhance your team’s ability to perform at a higher level.