So you have just been named to lead a strategically important global project. This is a plum assignment and one you have been working towards for over 10 years. There will be visibility for you and the team all the way up to the Executive Team and Board of Directors. This is your moment to shine!
Your core project team consists of leads from: R&D centers in Taiwan, Sri Lanka and the USA; manufacturing sites in Singapore, Mexico and Indonesia; software programming in India; and, your regional marketing offices that will coordinate user testing via customers in the USA, Germany, Japan and Brazil. Finally, you and the corporate support personnel (finance, branding, supply chain) are co-located in California, USA. Let’s see, that means you’ll have team members in 9 time zones, 11 countries, speaking dozens of languages. You get the idea – this is going to be one global project!
How do you get started creating a high performing global project team? The initial moments of a project are critical. The author Frank Herbert wrote the “beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” You need to get the team off to a productive and positive start. But with such a diverse group, you worry about how they will mesh as a unit, and how long it will take to form a team identity and culture. How can you insure that your global team hits the ground running?
It all starts with a well planned, project kick-off meeting. Below are nine suggestions that will help your team have a productive start.
- For a large, global project, the kick-off meeting should be done in person. With such a diverse team it is mandatory that you quickly take control, start the integration process, and build on the initial project momentum. A face-to-face meeting enables you to manage interactions, observe behaviors, and lay the foundation for solid team dynamics.
- Hold the kick-off meeting in a neutral location. Many people like to start a large project with a meeting in the corporate head-office, to have a big show for Senior Executives. To me, this is a waste of time. Focus on the purpose of the meeting and not the photo opps. You only get one chance to hold a kick-off meeting, make it free of distractions.
- Plan your meeting in a timeframe that does not conflict with any major global holidays. Often we say it is not a holiday in our country, only to find out it is a holiday (like Chinese New Year) somewhere else.
- Have team members arrive at least a day before the meeting starts. This will give them time to recover from their travels and adjust a bit to the local time. You want the team fresh, focused, and motivated during your meetings.
- Plan several “ice-breaker” and team building activities early in the proceedings. Some cultures tend to integrate quickly, but this is not the case with everyone. In most cases, relationships are built on trust – which is something that must be nurtured and developed over time. Use team building activities to start the process of building trust-based relationships.
- Schedule a cultural understanding workshop. There are plenty of programs that are fun, educational, and can build relationships. I bet your in-house training person could run a session for minimal costs.
- During the kick-off meeting, plan several non-meeting activities. If possible, plan an afternoon of sight-seeing with the team. Go to a museum; see a play or even a concert. I like to organize “walking and talking” tours of the city where we are staying. A city walking tour is educational, relaxing, fun and usually tiring! Pick an activity that the team will remember and can go home and “brag” about to their families, friends and co-workers. Outside activities help break the monotony of meetings and allow team members to interact and bond over something besides work.
- Have a variety of foods to eat and watch the eating habits of your team. You may find that there is a team member who does not eat the local food. Often, they prefer to go hungry rather than tell you that there is a problem. If you see someone not eating, speak to them in private and arrange food that they enjoy – you will win respect for your observations.
- At the end of the meeting, give gifts or mementos of the event (shirts, sweaters, hats). In many cultures, gifts are an important component of a relationship. Make sure that you understand the gift expectations and protocol.
The ideas above will not create an instant bond between your team members, but they will help to get things moving. With a solid foundation of knowledge and common understanding of each other, your team can together move forward into the next phase of your project.
Do you have any other kick-off meeting recommendations? I would be pleased to hear and learn from you.