This is the second in a series of blog entries summarizing my recent guest lecture at Boston College's Carroll School of Management. The first excerpt is here.
After laying some foundation about the variety and difficulty of global technology teams, I spoke about the importance of selecting the right people to manage a global effort.
Without naming names, I referenced the dozens of great "local" managers I've known through my career who failed utterly in their efforts to manage globally distributed teams.
I spoke particularly about one manager who worked for me - a star in my organization, highly effective, liked and respected by his staff - who in less than a year destroyed a highly functional global team, taking productivity to near zero and creating a massive attrition problem for the person who ultimately replaced him.
The issue wasn't that manager's commitment to the global team. It was that his skills as a manager and a leader no longer applied in the new global context. He didn't adapt or develop new skills to face the challenges of managing a global team.
Particularly, he was no longer able to do "management by walking around," he no longer had the benefit of a team that was capable of sharing tacit knowledge, and he no longer had instant rapport and cultural affinity with all members of his team. In short, he was not a great manager once the rules of the game changed.
I wrapped up the object lesson by stating that it's easy to be a great manager when you've got a great team, all co-located, all knowing exactly what their job is. Adding challenges to this mix is something great managers will overcome. But average or bad managers will not be able to overcome this. In short, globalization may be the straw that breaks the camels back. But it's still a straw.
Being the info-graphic addict that I am, I had a pie chart to make my point.
Most people who begin managing global teams see their world like the graph above. They believe that 80% of the problem is the "offshore team" component. In a globalized world, this view is just wrongheaded, and it will doom this manager to failure.
A better view of the world comes from analyzing successful managers who build or manage great global teams. They aren't more culturally attenuated. They don't have better tools. They don't have magic pixie dust that makes cross-cultural communication easier. They just learn and adapt their management style to new situations. That is, great managers can metabolize the new challenges of a global context because they are great managers. They will inevitable see the world like this:
In this view, the "offshore team" component is maybe 20% of the problem space. I've spoken with knowledgeable experienced technology executives who will argue that it's even less than 20%. Either way, it's not the big piece of the pie chart. The big piece is "I manage." What does "I manage" mean? It means taking responsibility, while delegating authority. It means building a team. It means telling people what you expect of them, and holding them accountable to achieve it.
I'll talk more about this in my next excerpt from this talk.