The Rundown on Leading International Teams

December 13, 2021
Silvan Krähenbühl

Is going international on your entrepreneurial plans? In today’s ever-expanding global networks, staying rooted may make you feel like you’re falling behind the pack.

Pushing for expansion can be the next best move for your business — from contextualizing it in a fast-moving field of influences to giving your product large-scale exposure, it’s easy to see why internationalization is the way to success. But leading task forces beyond borders, when done wrong, can bring unwanted fragmentation to your setup and vision, and undermine the prosperity you so wished for. 

Here’s a quick backstory from Gymhopper, my first startup. Even though we were Swiss-based, we grew our entire technical team from the ground up in sunny Lisbon, Portugal. Moving beyond, we expanded our operations to Austria, Denmark, and Sweden. These developments (as well as some unplanned mistakes along the way) gave us a broader understanding on collaborating and handling cultural clashes from day one. There’s no voice quite like that of experience, and that’s why today I’m clearing up some challenges and perks of counting on international support for your enterprise. 

Big Leaps, Bigger Risks

  • Complex organizational structures. Branching out often translates to more expansive task allocation through less immediate communication channels. As collaborative cloud solutions are revolutionizing the world, getting your message across has never been so effortless. However, you may still find yourself lost in translation in the small details, such as public holidays.
  • Unexpected paperwork. Coming across different legal frameworks definitely asks for added research so you don’t start off on the wrong foot. Besides, handling fees for additional employment bureaucracy, social security and IRS can really weigh on your budget.

The Upside of International

  • Knowing your markets — from the inside out. A local connection to diverse markets is what really makes your business skyrocket in the global village era. This is especially true if you are providing a sales-reliant product in a competitive setting. Closing deals becomes a breeze once you have the chance to meet potential customers in-person — and get the chance to woo them with your cultural awareness while you’re at it.
  • Hiring, the smart way. If you come from Switzerland like me, you may find yourself surprised at how cost-efficient it can be to hire abroad.
  • Endless talent pool. By choosing to source internationally, you can secure the best possible talent for your team, since you won’t have any geographical limitations. After all, an awesome product/market fit won’t stand on its own if you don’t staff the best of the best.

Hitting the Nail on the Head

Now that we’ve been through the pros and cons of international teams, it’s time to tell you my recommendations on how to minimize risks when pollinating your tasks:

  • Great leaders don’t smother. Responsibility is something all leaders look for in new hires, and naturally so. But you should also learn to let your hair down a bit and give your team some freedom to accomplish tasks as they deem fit. Playing helicopter is not only exhausting, but also virtually impossible wherever international branches are concerned. As long as the job gets done, having the occasional night owl in the office won’t take a toll in your company — it’s the output that matters.
  • However, don’t get too comfortable. Granting freedom shouldn’t mean adopting a laissez-faire attitude. Always communicate clear expectations and shared values across the board.
  • A top-down tree structure keeps the boat floating. The EOS framework is still my go-to reference for these matters. To keep communication smooth, trust your key agents to make the connection. For example, your Head of Sales & Marketing should be the one in touch with the managers of regional sales teams. Then, those local leaders will pass the message on to their employees. Weekly meetings of 60-90 minutes should be enough to keep the channel flowing.
  • Remote is good, but personal is best. Regular check-ins are an efficient way to gauge progress and hit your best KPIs, but don’t forget to visit the remote teams personally too. What is their overall level of satisfaction? Do they feel represented and heard? Are there any conflicts you can detangle? A dash of diplomacy goes a long way in maintaining integrity. 
  • Culture matters. Give room to social activities that nurture healthy bonding. COVID-19 sure has made drinks’ nights a bit different, but implementing those distractions (such as casual video chats or even game nights!) can make someone’s day feel brighter. Always make these events completely voluntary, since not everyone is comfortable babbling about their personal motivations.

Final Message

All in all, I believe life-changing opportunities don’t come easy. It’s always up to you to decide whether your company’s structure and values can be safely scaled up, but I sincerely hope this post has given you some food for thought. If you remember to stay flexible and imagine the potential new horizons can bring to the table, a diverse team may just be the right solution to take your vision a step further.

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