In my career, I’ve worked for large organizations that employ tens of thousands with teams based all over the world. These organizations have access to vast resources and have well-established systems for sharing ideas, communicating with leadership and maintaining corporate culture.
On the flipside, I’ve also had the good fortune to lead a number of smaller companies. While their resources don’t compare to the larger organizations, they still share many of the same needs: to effectively communicate both top-down and bottom-up, to readily share and access information and to bring disparate teams together who may be siloed in different locations. In my current company I lead an organization of 150 employees who are located all over the world, including our executive leadership team, and meeting those needs is critical to our success.
There are distinct challenges to running a small company distributed across eight countries and 10 time zones. It can be difficult to work as quickly and efficiently as other organizations, decision making processes take longer when the leadership team is sparse and spread out and it can sometimes feel as though you’re missing out on the opportunity to capitalize on what makes a team great: the human element. When everyone is spread out, those informal meetups and watercooler conversations that help breed familiarity and trust among colleagues are much harder to replicate.
These challenges are worth overcoming, however, as there are inherent benefits to managing a highly diverse team in a small company environment. In fact, research shows globally diverse companies perform better financially.
Diversity Of Talent
One of the most valuable benefits of a geographically-diverse team is talent. Our global economy means we have access today to talent pools all over the world, and most any company can benefit from the unique strengths of a particular region.
For example, Romania has a highly diverse technical workforce, with many more women in tech roles than you typically find in the U.S. The country’s working culture emphasizes the traits of pragmatism, self-reliance and loyalty, invaluable to any organization. What’s more, the anti-virus community has strong roots in Bucharest, so for my company, Romania has been particularly valuable, as it offers a deep pool of talent.
Israel is another country with top-notch technical talent, particularly in the cyber arena, as the best and brightest high school students are drafted into and trained by, the Israeli Defense Force’s renowned Unit 8200. We’ve found fantastic talent for our company’s research and development team from this and similar units.
Many regions of the world offer strong talent options, and it’s worth taking a closer look. While there can also be cost benefits to employing people in various international locations, this should be ancillary to the much more strategic advantage of drawing on the unique capabilities, culture, training and experience of each region. In fact, companies that have offshored technical jobs to lower-cost locales merely to save money are often disappointed in the results. The rapid increase in demand in very low-cost regions such as India, for example, has led to high salary inflation and quick turnover, creating inefficiency and ultimately costing the company more money than they were trying to save.
Diversity Of Culture
It’s easy to believe the common language around the profession, industry or company means everyone is thinking the same way. However, cultural norms and expectations can often overshadow professional commonalities, leaving some individuals to feel left out or unhappy. For this reason, it is critical the leadership team spend time engaging with employees at every level of the company. Crossing management barriers and talking one on one to your staff on a regular basis yields vital information while making a clear statement that each member of the team, no matter their role or location, has insight that is valued and respected.
We talk a lot today about building company culture, and that’s important. The flip side of that, though, is respecting individual cultures within the company and allowing team members to stay true to both. Celebrate company milestones or achievements as an organization, but do so in ways that make sense for each location. Allow employees in various regions to enjoy the holidays and customs important to their culture without criticism or frustrations from working team members and seek to find equitable time off for everyone. When employees sense trust and partnership among their team members without needing to compromise their customs or traditions, there is a level of openness and freedom that results in a thriving, productive environment.
Diversity Of Approach
While it’s true that a diversified team can slow down decision making, it also can be far more effective at innovation and problem-solving. Having so many different backgrounds and approaches raises the stakes of landing on the ideal solution to solving a pressing concern. And research has demonstrated that culturally diverse leadership teams are more likely to develop new products than those with homogeneous leadership.
This level of diversity, when managed correctly, also helps encourage everyone to have a voice. I have found that teams who are open to ideas across regions are also open to ideas across titles — meaning no matter how junior or how senior the individual is, their voice is heard and their opinions matter.
Leading a globally diversified team has forced me to think about my work, and the world, differently. It has challenged my expectations and yielded tremendous insight, making me a better and more effective leader. It has required consistency and discipline, but the rewards far outweigh the struggles. As smaller companies continue to build out their international workforce, we’ll see the challenges associated with global diversity diminish and, in their place, a more embracing, cohesive workforce that enables every individual to contribute and deliver at the highest level.
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Paul Lipman has worked in the cyber world for over a decade, and is currently CEO of BullGuard, a global leader in smart home cybersecurity.