Global Team Management: It's a Small World After All

More and more CIOs find themselves managing global virtual teams. The European members of CIO's Executive Council have pulled together a playbook of best practices.

By Richard Pastore
Wed, January 23, 2008

CIO — We seem to have reached a point where virtually every CIO is a global CIO—a leader whose sphere of influence (and headaches) spans continents. The global CIO's most common challenge, according to CIO Executive Council members, is managing global virtual teams. The council's European members, representing Royal Dutch Shell, Galderma, Olympus and others, commissioned a globalization playbook that collects and codifies best practices in this and other globalization challenges. Some of its findings are presented here.

In an ideal world, HR policies across the global IT team should be consistent, fair and responsive. Titles and reporting structures (if not compensation) should be equalized. But as Jay Crotts, CIO of Royal Dutch Shell Lubricants, points out, "The world may be flat but HR terms and conditions are not." Global consistency must allow for and align with local laws and cultural norms. Not an easy task. In addition, the cost of living varies considerably by region. So from an HR standpoint, a one-size-fits-all model is unworkable. Besides the struggle for consistency, CIOs must find ways for remote teams to stay connected to the heart of the business.

Best Practices for Remote Management

Obtain local HR expertise. Companies must have a local HR person in each country to deal with local laws. "Hiring, firing and training obligations must be managed very differently in each location; you need someone with local expertise on the laws and processes," says Michael Pilkington, former CIO of Euroclear, the Brussels-based provider of domestic and cross-border settlement for bond, equity and fund transactions.

Create job grade consistency across regions. Euroclear is moving toward a job evaluation methodology from The Hay Group, an HR consulting organization, that organizes job types into vertical categories, such as managing people/process, product development, business support and project management. This provides a basis for comparing and managing roles and people across locations. For instance, someone managing 100 people may appear more important to an organization than a single contributor. But if that single contributor's horizontal grade (in terms of impact on the company) is very high because of some special expertise, he or she may be equally valuable. Grade level is not the same thing as a title; people's titles are much more subject to local conventions.

Manage dispersed staff as portfolio teams. ON Semiconductor has IT staff that support sales in Slovakia, where ON has a factory; in Hong Kong, where ON has a major sales office; in Shenzhen, China, where a customer service center is located and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at its regional development center. ON overcomes potential disconnects by having a single sales IT portfolio owner, based at headquarters in Phoenix, who sets objectives and distributes work to the members of that team no matter where they reside, explains CIO David Wagner. The same portfolio technique can work with IT staff dedicated to any global corporate function.

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