Think about what team and leadership mean for you. How should a team be organised? What does an effective leader do? Now look at your answers again? Happy? Probably. The challenge when you go international, when you start working in an international team, is that people will probably answer the same questions very differently. And these differences – different expectations, different beliefs, different behaviours – if they are not managed, can become a significant problem.
The first step to manage the difference is to be aware of difference. So let’s take a look at two very different beliefs about team and leadership – both common, and both valid in many contexts.
Model A, which many people prefer, is all about structure, clear roles and responsibilities as a way to be efficient and effective. A is responsible for A’s tasks. B is responsible for B’s tasks. And C is responsible for C’s tasks. A does not do the tasks of B or C. Neither does B or C do the tasks of the others. And everything is held together by a clear leader, with clear decision-making authority, often with more expertise than the team members, so the leader can give the right advice to guide A, B and C to think in the right way. As I said, it’s about clear roles and responsibility. Clear leadership. Structure delivers efficiency and results.
Model B, which a lot of people also like, focuses more on flexibility. Roles and responsibilities should overlap. Individuals should collaborate and cooperate. People should share tasks. They should be creative together. And yes, there is a leader still, but this person is very small, at the centre, ready to coordinate only if necessary. Importantly, much more important than leader is leadership, shared leadership. Everybody in the team is responsible for leading, not just the formal leader. It’s all about collaboration, agility, creativity and shared responsibility.
When people who believe in Model A and Model B have to work together, life can become difficult. The structured person sees the flexibles as chaotic, unstructured and inefficient. The person leading at the centre, almost invisible, they’re weak and incompetent. For the flexibles, the more structured approach is old fashioned, lacking trust in team members, and simply too rigid to meet a dynamic reality. These negative perspectives of the other – I hear every day in my working life as a coach.
So, what can do you? Three things.
- Firstly, share these models with people in your international team. Discuss and make people aware of the different models. Identify other models if you can.
- Secondly, ask people to say which model they prefer and why. It’s important to both understand others and take time to respect their beliefs.
- Thirdly, design and draw your own team model together. Co-create the international team you wish to be. Display the model in your work space and take time, from time to time, to review the model, to check if you are really living it, and think about how it may need to change to meet new challenges.
Don’t assume your model of team and leadership works when you go international. Design and create together the way you want to work together. I think this will help you achieve success internationally faster.