How to master the extreme politics of working in a global team

Jo Owen
Hand Holding Globe
If you can lead a global team, you can lead any team (Source: Getty)

Politics are not just for Westminster. Politics are the lifeblood of every office and every firm, for better or for worse. The worse form of politics is obvious: pointing the finger, claiming the credit, undermining colleagues. But there is another version of politics which is about making things happen through other people, who you may not control and may not even like.

To make progress, you have to find ways of aligning agendas, building trust, doing deals and influencing and persuading people. That is the better side of office politics, and is vital to success. Whether your politics come from the Dark Side or from the Light, there is no doubt that they are hard work and take up time.

Global team

Now imagine how hard it can really get. Your task is no longer to influence people in your office, who you can see. Your task is to influence people you do not see; they speak a different language; they are on different time zones and come from a different culture. You are disconnected from all the vital gossip which tells you who has what agenda, and who matters and who does not. You may never have met the key players. Welcome to your job of leading a global team.

This is extreme politics and extreme leadership. If you can lead a global team, you can lead any team.

For the last few years, we have been conducting research on how global teams work. The answer is: with difficulty. But as most people working in the City know only too well, working across borders is becoming more important every year. Globalisation needs the plumbing of teams of people working together across borders. There is plenty of help on how to make teams work, but no help on making global teams work.

Your challenge is greater because there is little trust between the centre and the spokes of the firm. The centre doubts the ability of the spokes to execute their agenda; the spokes see the centre as overpaid pen pushers who do not understand their needs.

Think local

If you are to succeed on a global team, you need all the normal political skills required on a domestic team: knowing which battles to fight; building alliances with key players; understanding the news flow; aligning agendas and influencing people. But all of this has to be built on two foundations which are especially important on a global team: trust and communication.


Building professional trust is hard in a global team. Within your office, your track record is known. On the global stage, you have to prove yourself all over again to new clients and new colleagues who may be wondering why you have the job, and not them.

On a global team, you need to build another form of trust: personal trust. Personal trust is about finding common interests, values and agendas. That is tough with people from different cultures with different needs and perspectives. Our research suggested that the best solution is simple: drink, or go hiking in Iceland. Whatever you do, meet your team and get to know them. Trust soars, and it also helps with your second challenge: communication.


We communicate more than ever, and understand less than ever. Technology is not the solution, and email is a plague. You cannot motivate people by email. If you want to communicate well across languages and cultures remember that you have two ears and one mouth: use them in that proportion. Listen more than you talk and you will find understanding soars and trust builds. Listening is your secret weapon on a global team.

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