Monday, March 17, 2014

5 Keys to Building a Successful International Team

My blog posts won't be all embarrassing stories, I hope, but I am embarrassed to admit that for a long time I did not know what the acronym EMEA meant. I knew it included Europe but I wasn't sure what the "MEA" stood for. It seemed like something everyone already knew, and that I should know, so I didn't ask. I just kept operating under the assumption that it was basically London and some other places, possibly Germany and France. It turns out EMEA describes not only London, but all of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. If you take a look at a map, it is actually quite a large and diverse territory. And while I am admitting my old international ignorance I should admit that I once agreed to go to Helsinki, Finland with 48 hours notice. But I didn't know where Helsinki was. For that matter I didn't know where Finland was. It wasn't until I was on the plane looking at the international route maps in the back of the United magazine that I realized it was right there next to Argentina. Fortunately, in the intervening years I have had many opportunities to put my international ignorance behind me, traveling and working with some great international clients like Nokia Siemens Network, Lloyds TSB, Deutsche Bank and many others to build an international Customer Success team.

Recently, HireVue has embarked on our own international journey by hiring an EMEA leader and planning our first UK office. Darren Jaffrey joined HireVue in February and is an amazing leader who brings a wealth of experience in building and growing teams to support EMEA. HireVue is fortunate to have him on the team, and as we build our international teams to support Darren and our HireVue EMEA explosion, we should keep in mind the following keys to success:

Adaptation  When I first started working internationally I brought the bias that many first timers do: "This is how we do it in the U.S. so it is the right way." Whether it is vacation time, leave policies, or meeting etiquette, working with an international team is just different. It can be a wonderful and enlightening experience if you bring an open mind and a willingness to learn from your team.

Learning  I should have known where Finland was. I should have known what EMEA meant. Many of our international customers are better informed about working across borders than we are. Many people we will hire will have worked with a U.S. company before. Building an international team requires abandoning assumptions and embracing different cultures and practices to make your team feel like they are part of something bigger.

Personal interactions  Today we leverage HireVue Live to have face to face conversations with our international team. Working remotely can be an isolating experience. Working remotely in a foreign country can be even more so. Bringing personal interactions into team collaboration encourages learning and helps to make your international team real to everyone involved.

Sharing the burden  In addition to a large body of water there are several time zones between here and there. Building a cohesive team requires sharing the burden of time shifting. For U.S. employees that means taking your turn working very early to balance the times when the international team works late. It is an important balance so international teams don't feel penalized for being outside of the U.S.

Keeping the fire lit  Starting an international team is cool. It's a big deal for a company to reach a point in their growth where they can establish and build a team based in EMEA and APAC. But that sizzle can wear off in time and it is easy to forget that the same continuous business evolution that happens in the U.S. also happens in EMEA. It is important to remain diligent in learning, adapting, and sharing ownership.

It is easy to assume that everyone has a basic understanding of geography, has traveled internationally and understands the common international business acronyms and practices, but it is not always true. It is not uncommon for U.S. based employees and companies to operate under a set of false assumptions about their international customers and teams. Building an international team can be extremely rewarding if you embrace the opportunity to adapt, continuously learn, evolve your team and processes, and share ownership of making it work to keep the fire lit and the sizzle on.

About David Verhaag

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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