At some point during the evolution of many successful startups, the founders consider establishing a presence in a foreign country. For most companies, there are significant benefits to expanding internationally, including the sale of products and services to a new market, the development of a global perspective and the morale boost that comes with opportunities to travel and build global relationships. However, developing and managing an international team is not a trivial endeavor and any founders considering such an effort may wish to keep the following suggestions in mind:
Build and execute a comprehensive technology plan.
One critical consideration in adding a foreign team is how to optimize communication through technology. Little promotes feelings of isolation or detachment among foreign colleagues than the absence of clear, regular communication with other offices. And waiting to tackle the question of how and when to communicate until after your new teammates are sitting at their desks is too late. Fortunately, there are lots of useful ways to interact with remote colleagues — from expensive, high-powered videoconferencing systems to live interoffice feeds via Skype. By giving thought early to what technology makes the most sense for your team, as well as how and when to structure your use of that technology, you will overcome among the most potent obstacles to successful international growth.
Don’t neglect face-to-fact contact.
This use of technology is vital to helping an international team feel connected. However, not even the most advanced technology can yet fully replace the benefits of physical interaction. For this reason, despite the obvious time and expense required, you should do your best to make cross-office travel a regular practice — for yourself and your company’s employees.
At Consero, the events business I co-founded, we entered into a two-year lease on a townhouse in Dublin at the same time that we launched our Ireland office. This enabled us to send multiple employees to visit our new Ireland colleagues right from the start, and we have sent U.S. staff to Ireland consistently for short visits ever since. We also periodically send colleagues from Ireland here to the U.S., so that every employee at the company gets to experience the benefit of an international team, regardless of where that employee works, or whether he or she has the time for or interest in international travel.
By keeping the employees in different offices interacting face-to-face, you can maximize the odds that they develop the kind of rapport that supports global growth, as well as provide your team with an experience that makes them value their employment experience even more.
Export your culture but let the office develop its own character.
For offices in different countries to feel like part of the same entity (rather than independent businesses with the same ownership) it is critical that common elements of the corporate culture permeate each of the offices. From a shared sense of the company mission to common aesthetic elements, replication of cultural hallmarks help to bridge geographical distance between teams. However, you must be careful not to stifle any inclination of foreign teams to adapt the look or feel of their environment to their unique preferences. By embracing such interest, you will empower your foreign colleagues to exercise their independence and take ownership of their element of the company, while allowing your other offices to develop a stronger international perspective.
International growth is an exciting challenge for any business. The process of launching a new business in a foreign country is never easy but by considering the above suggestions, you may just find the experience less difficult than you expected.
As your international office continues to grow, your job will be to allow it to weave its way into the existing structure of your organization. This requires a deft hand as well as the devotion of some dedicated time and energy; making sure to integrate your new team well will better your entire company now and in the future.