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Stephen Miles is the founder and chief executive officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a vice chairman at Heidrick & Struggles and ran Leadership Advisory Services. With more[…]

As leadership teams become more globally distributed, CEOs need to be more creative in the ways they foster a sense of unity and cohesion among them.

Question: How can CEOs create a sense of cohesion amongst a globally distributed team?

Stephen Miles: So a lot of leadership teams are becoming much more globally distributed. People are leading parts of the business in functions around the world and what CEO’s have to grapple with is how do you create a sense of team, how do you create a sense of cohesion and leadership that isn’t sort of- that is better than the individual because in order by definition to be a team you need to be doing more than each individual member of that team and companies need that, so from a CEO perspective a couple of things are really important.

First you need to come together in person and create the team and what I always coach people on is new member equals new team. It’s not old team with new member and it’s a really subtle thing, but it really matters for CEOs, so when somebody new joins the team you need to get together in person and define how are we going to operate, how are we going to communicate, how are we going to make decisions, how are we going to share information, how are we going to support each other and you build this sense of cohesion, so when then you distribute yourself around the world wherever that happens to be you can operate effectively because you’ve done the work upfront to create the connective tissue to allow a team to form and allow you to be better than each individual. The mistake people make and the mistake many CEOs make is they say old team, new member and they don’t do the investment in the team and that new member often struggles, derails or fails because they never get to join the team

So you can take this to the next level, anybody who runs a team in any company anywhere. So what does this mean for them? A couple of things. We were talking earlier, but you run globally distributed leadership teams when you operate in the same building anymore because nobody talks to each other. They just instant message and email each other even when their offices are next door. So what does this mean? What are the implications for you as a leader? What this means is you have to create opportunities for people to engage with each other, so if you look at sort of the modern technology companies they create space for people to spend time in person together whether it’s their cafeterias, whether it’s having a gymnasium, whether it’s creating 10% of your time to think, but what they do is create environments that allow people in a normal way to converse with each other, share ideas and spend time with each other face-to-face. It really matters. As powerful as email and instant message is it’s more powerful to get together and spend time with people and brainstorm. It really helps, so I think A); the environment in which you operate your company and team in matters and can you create opportunities for people to socialize and spend together. B is creating some discipline around how you lead your team. So do you have team meetings? Do you bring people together? Do you use technology? Both Hewlett Packard and Cisco, Hewlett Packard has Halo and Cisco has Telepresence. There is this beautiful modern era of video conferencing that is as good as being with the person or almost as good.

Secondly, you can take it down to the average person if you will. All our iPhones now have FaceTime on them, so you can actually have face time with somebody and you can make a real connection, so I think using technology to create a sense of team and sharing and ownership again enhances it, but that is combined with always new team, new member. You have to do the pieces around building a team, creating trust, creating cohesion and making people belong and feel like they belong to something, so when you’re away from each other whether it’s you’re in Africa and I'm in New York or we’re in the office next to each other you still have this ability to effectively lead the team and get the most out of them. 

Recorded January 12, 2011
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd