Avoiding Global Burn-Out

Apr 24, 2006

Rajesh Setty

Globalization initiatives within companies have risks and rewards. The current thinking within companies is that the rewards are higher than the risks. Hence the momentum on globalization is growing.

However, what seems to not get enough attention is how this is affecting the lives of people whose teams are dispersed across the globe.

When global projects are not managed properly, the biggest price is paid by the family members of those on the ground.

A friend of mine works for a large company in the Bay Area and has team members in Israel, Australia and India. He not only has a busy schedule during the day (his normal working hours) he is also busy in meetings during the night.

His sleeping patterns are awry and sometimes he has to make an appointment to spend quality time with his family. Another friend has at least three evenings in a week booked for conference calls with the offshore team.

There is a joke that globalization has a 24/7 advantage—meaning both parties need to be awake 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Remember that when it comes to work/life balance, working just on a local team is always easier on the people as compared to working with global teams.

So, there may be a hidden incentive for people to not make the offshore initiative work if that failure can lead to forming just a local team. As an organization, you are up against odds if you don’t care about the people that are involved in the globalization initiative.

Now, if you are one of those people on the ground, you are a few months away from a burn-out unless you do something different.

Here are some things that you can focus on:

Get the right team in place. This may sound like a cliché but it is an extremely important point in case of globalization projects.

If the team composition is not right, meaning if the right people are not at the right spots, there is no point in trying to fix other problems. Focus on getting the right people on the bus and checking out wrong people quickly.

Learn to build long-distance relationships. Big problems can come up if all the team members are not on the same side of the table.

If there is a feeling of “us” and “them” it can easily lead to finger pointing and eventual sabotage. Everyone on the team has to make an effort to get on the same side of the table. There are no water-cooler conversations possible in a virtual setting so you have to go out of the way to get closer to the team members.

In-person visits will definitely help them to bond better. When appropriate, try to visit the offshore teams or get offshore team members to visit your location. Nothing can replace a handshake.

Naveen Lakkur of Start2Lead says that, if managed well, long-distance relationships can easily turn into long-term relationships and hence provide a major competitive advantage.

Develop cultural sensitivity. Global teams by nature are filled with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Developing cultural sensitivity is no longer a luxury. A simple act of knowing what holidays are observed by your global team members and being sensitive to them while making your project plans can go a long way.

What may seem like an non-offensive action or a comment in your culture may be totally unacceptable in another culture. And also, it’s just not what you do but what you don't do that may be a cause of concern.

Investing your time and energy to learn about other cultures will produce superior returns in the long run.

Practice “Stand-alone” communications. Whether you are sending an email/document or leaving a voicemail, try to make it standalone and self-contained.

This means the message should include all possible information for the other party to take the necessary action. Incomplete messages will lead to a dialogue and while this is okay with local teams, the time difference between team members in global teams can cause un-necessary lag in the project.

Also, train the other team members to practice “stand-alone” communications. You never want work to stop because you have to wait for someone on the other part of the world to wake up and give you the information that you need.

Get access to the right tools and infrastructure. You should have all the necessary tools and infrastructure to operate from home when required.

Many times family members are okay if you are at home and taking care of some business. You should have home-access to all the information related to all your projects, contact numbers of all your team members across the globe.

Commit to follow the process. First, it is important to ensure that you have the right processes set in place.

This part is actually very easy as most people know what processes are required. The difficult part is the second step: to follow the process day in and day out. This requires a big commitment and discipline from every single team member.

Quality and process initiatives always have a cost associated with them. It is good to pay that price. If you don’t, you will pay a bigger price for not participating in those initiatives.

Having the right attitude. The mindset with which you and your team members will engage in a globalization initiative will directly influence the amount of stress and pain you will go through during the project.

Your attitude has to be to enjoy this journey and make it work. Your journey has to be the reward. The second part of this is focused on your ability to quickly learn from your globalization initiatives and apply what you learned to improve any and all aspects of your current and future projects.

Set the right expectations at work and home. Lastly, I have to say that your work and life will change and you have to adapt to live in a “flat world.”

It is important for you to set the right expectations at work—letting them know how you are going to take care of you work commitments while still having a life.

It is also important for you to set the right expectations at home—letting family and friends know that you are no-longer working in an 8am-to–5pm job and some compromises have to be made on all fronts.

Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur, author, student and teacher. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of CIGNEX Technologies, which he co-founded in late 2000. Setty’s latest book Beyond Code (Foreword by Tom Peters) was published simultaneously in U.S. and India. He maintains a blog at


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