July 9, 2021 | Expert Insights

How To Grow A Global Team During A Crisis

Nikki Hawke writes for Forbes on the challenges of forming a global team during the pandemic.

Nikki Hawke, Chief Marketing Officer at Hivestack, manages a global team responsible for brand, communications, acquisition, retention & salesforce enablement.

This article was originally published in Forbes

When I stepped into my role as global CMO of Hivestack in August 2020, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience — not because of my role or title, but because the status quo had been thrown out the window earlier that year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s funny to think back and realize that I never met my peers or my boss, had a welcome lunch or walked into an actual office. I logged onto Slack, our platform and my email and got started. I also never sat in a boardroom to have my first team meeting; instead, I sent out Google Meet invites from home. Marketing at the worst of times requires collaboration and creativity. Brainstorming on Zoom is an entirely new experience for many leaders.

My remit was to build and scale a leading global marketing team as quickly as the company was scaling, build brand awareness, drive revenue, launch employee marketing and facilitate customer growth — globally. My life, like many others', was now taking place strictly behind a screen, and the circumstances of building a brand, hiring and growing a global team during a pandemic were going to be my biggest challenges as a leader.After almost a year at the helm, I’m proud to say that Team Pink (my nickname for our team) is now 10 people strong across North America, Europe and Asia. There are always challenges when you're working to build a successful team, but there are even more when you’re scaling rapidly during a pandemic. Here’s what I learned along the way...

Culture is everything.

At the beginning, there were three of us. Although our trio was capable of punching above our weight, the company was scaling fast, so strategic planning was crucial for us to proactively reach our goals and avoid becoming a reactionary team with limitations. For us, finding the right talent involved assessing both experience and cultural fit. Our fundamental values as a company were clear, regardless of where people came from, which validated the idea that positive, smart, driven people often attract those who are like-minded.

If you’re going to build a well-oiled team that can navigate a rapidly changing environment, high-pressure situations and tight deadlines, they shouldn't simply share a common vision and goal; they should also share deeply rooted fundamental personal values. You can get two wildly different results when your team cares about the work and when they care about succeeding as a team.

The human side always wins.

It’s no secret that people thrive when they feel supported, respected and appreciated. The one thing the pandemic has taught us is the power behind “the little things.” Mental health checks have been key since most of us are not interacting socially the way we used to. As a leader, being understanding about a person’s personal situation or struggles, fears and anxieties isn’t going above and beyond — it’s doing the bare minimum. That is a key differentiator between simply being colleagues and becoming allies.

Forming real relationships with your team can sometimes take you out of your comfort zone, but you'll likely realize that you share similar stories, whether happy or sad, that link you together. Fostering empathy is one of the best ways to foster collaboration, communication and trust. Here's why:

• Open doors breed honest conversations. Being vulnerable isn’t a sign of a weakness; it can be an invitation that helps build trust.

• Laughing is good for the soul. This has been said a million times before, but it bears repeating: Just be yourself. If you’re quirky, if you love to laugh, if you know a good joke or if you have a funny story ... share it. These are the moments people remember.

• Take the time to communicate. I rarely jump into any conversation by getting straight to the point. Don’t miss the opportunity to find common ground and learn more about the person in front of you.

• Reward people with what they need. More than ever, people can benefit from time to recharge, so offering personal days and mental health days is a great way to say "thank you."

It's important to move as one.

Some people believe it’s better to leverage the 30% rule and only focus on certain initiatives to create confidence in their growth strategies. I can’t say I disagree, but the benefit of a global agile team is having a 24/7 support system. If you have honest conversations, strong relationships and like-minded people with shared goals, you don’t necessarily need to give up on important opportunities. There should be no discrepancy between your global team and regional team if support is given and received on both sides.

In order to achieve this, transparency is key. Using project management software that gives everyone a macro view of tasks and projects and using collaboration options can accelerate communication across time zones. Another important strategy is prioritizing team meetings where everyone is given a chance to participate. Don't only focus on key updates, but also take time to celebrate big wins, encourage peer-to-peer recognition and have open conversations about growth and learning opportunities. Finally, don’t just use team messaging platforms to discuss work-related issues. Our team has a mental health channel where we are free to share ideas, suggest ways to unwind and keep each other accountable for our wellness goals.

Many leaders think the best way to achieve success is to hire the best people and simply get out of their way. I think that is a fairly simplistic approach and also misses the point that one great person can do a lot, but a group of great people who have a real bond between them can do almost anything.

If you want to have the best chance at scaling successfully, you should find a balance between championing culture and people with demands, expectations and pesky time zones. Forget perfection. If you create harmony between all of these moving parts, you could truly have the winning combination to scale your team through anything: even a pandemic.