How to Lead a Global Project Team

Jane is an ambitious, motivated, and talented project manager with a proven track record of success driving regional projects. She has just been put in charge of a global product development project. Her company is looking to leap over the competition by launching a “game changing” technology. This is a high visibility project where speed is of the essence, and the future of the company may ride on her success. Jane’s sponsor (the COO) tells her the project must get off to a fast start and there is little time for the project team to go through a normal development cycle. Jane thinks this is her ticket to a VP job. All she has to do is deliver.

Her core team will be selected from a group of cross-functional leads located in Malaysia, India, Belgium, Australia, the US and Brazil. Jane and her corporate support functions are located in Northern California,USA. The diverse and global nature of this team presents a new challenge for Jane; one that will test all her project management skills.

Projects that include remote and virtual teams have gone main stream as companies look to leverage resources, specialties and costs around the globe. Managing global, cross-functional teams is a required skill now for project managers. This is the first time Jane will lead this kind of team. She is excited by the opportunity, but concerned by the unknown this global initiative brings.

Jane and I sat down and discussed what will be the key drivers of project success and outlined seven actions that will help her lead this project:

Clarity of Mission: Jane needs the sponsor to make a powerful endorsement of this project to the organization. It needs to be clear about the objectives, priority and leadership of this initiative. This will allow Jane to quickly acquire the global resources needed to start this project and make it easier to build interest, momentum and buy-in. To get off to a fast start, the organizational “doors” need to be wide open.

Build Winning Team: It’s important that the project team be staffed with individuals who have the technical skills and motivation to be successful. But, Jane must also look for team members with the necessary interpersonal skills that will allow them to thrive in a global team environment. She should look for those with prior global work experience, who are open to new ways of thinking, and able to deal with the rigors of a project which will operate outside normal standards for business hours, travel time, and levels of stress. Jane has determined who she wants on her project team; now she needs to work with her sponsor and stakeholders to secure the best.  

Execute Effective Kick-off Meeting: The kick-off meeting will be the first chance for the team to interact. For a large, global project, it is important that this meeting be held face-to-face in a neutral location. For global kick-off meeting best practices, see my post from February 2012. A productive kick-off meeting will help to insure that alignment, motivation and buy-in exists within the selected team.

Build Cultural Understanding: Jane must quickly learn to facilitate cross-cultural communication. In addition, the team needs to understand how cultural differences impact communications and team dynamics. A cultural understanding workshop will help the team better understand how they are all different, yet will work together toward the same goal.

Install Team Rules: The team needs to agree on a series of team rules that dictate how the members will communicate, interact, and resolve differences. This becomes the basis for team dynamics. An example of a team rule – all e-mails within the team must be answered in 24 hours or less. Team rules will help insure proper behaviors are followed, and provide a clear path to resolving conflicts. Jane can then enforce the rules by following the guidelines set fourth and agreed by the team.

A Well-Crafted Communication Plan: Jane and the team will build and implement a communication plan that regularly updates the organization on project activities. This action will help to promote interest, buy-in, and continued support for the project. Global communications are complex given the different locations, languages, mores and cultures involved. Jane needs to develop an approach that reaches the different levels and locations of the organization with a message that envisions future success.

Create Central Repository for Team Information: The members of the project team need to have access to the most recent project information – anytime, anywhere in the world. The team will spend a lot of time in virtual meetings where they’ll review key project documents and schedules. It is vital the documents being reviewed are accessible by all, and they must contain the same information. Nothing is worse then being in a conference call where team members have different versions of a document. Data accessibility and consistency will help make virtual meetings more productive.

So, how did Jane fare with this project? Was her team able to meet their company’s goal to jump over the competition? Well, the conclusion of this story will have to wait for another day. But, if Jane follows the actions above, she and the project team will have a good chance of being successful.

What other insights do you have for leading global project teams?  Please leave your comments.


About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Project Team Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to How to Lead a Global Project Team

  1. g2-63a5f8baeaab0a49ec054996fbc36547 says:


    In such of configuration, it would be interesting to know whether each local team will get a PM and then Jane will manage those PM across the globe or if she will have to manage each team members directly (or at the least the Team Leader).

    The localization will have obviously an impact on the schedule, but they key point to check is to look at the concurrent task running in different place. If the project is developed in US and the tested in India it is going to be easier and more efficient than if the development team is split across US and India for instance (leading to a bigger number of alignment meeting and other similar issues).

    Looking forward to know how it ends up ^ ^


    • Jeff says:

      Adding additional levels of management could impact the working schedule of the project, so I think having a PM at the different locations would be negatively impacting to the project and Jane.

  2. John Alleyne says:

    Hi Dale,

    Very good article and I fully agree. I have had the chance recently to lead a Global Mining Company IT project. I found that establishing and maintaining effective relationships with various Snr Executives (Project Steering Committee and Global Practice Leads) was certainly the key to the project’s success. The stakeholder identification, documenting in the Stakeholder Matrix, defining and approving the Communication mediums for the various stakeholders was crux to our survival. Also understanding the cultures and working with various countries was always a challenge (communication barriers/styles/interpretation)…

    I find all of your articles to be excellent and can be applied in IT Project/Program Mgmt.


    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you John for taking the time to read and comment. Stakeholder id and planning is one process that gets over-looked a lot. Yet, it’s critically important to most projects. Project time spent in this area is a good investment. Thanks and kind regards. DM

  3. Richard Chan, PMP says:

    The PM needs to build a “cause”. State the reason for the roject existence early in the project as this will instill a sense of purpose – why the project existed. Talk to sponsors and key stakeholders to understand the strategic significance and strategic objectives. Rally the team around the vision, strategic significance, etc.. During kick-off meeting, set the right momentum and keep it going. The idea of appointing a team lead in each region is good. If possible, the PM should travel to various region to establish initial contact – nothing beats face-to-face communications to build rapport and understanding. Understanding the culture differences is an important part for the global PM.

    – Richard, PMP

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you Richard for your thoughts. Creating a “cause” or at least a common vision is an important element in leadership. People need something to follow (that they can understand and relate to). This is a great place to start. Thanks again for reading. DM

  4. Ron Johnston says:

    Dale, I whole heartily agree with the need for an effective communication strategy. Having been in Jane’s position, and again currently, navigating the multitude of time zones from North American, Europe, Asia, and Australia requires a defined plan to ensure the PM is touching base with all the teams on a regular basis.

    Ron Johnston PMP

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you Ron. Managing a global project is not easy – but, a well executed communication strategy can help to bring people together and keep them moving in the same direction. I appreciate your thoughts. DM

  5. u1023036 says:

    Very interesting topic.. It has given me more ideas concerning my project….

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