16 mins read time

Leading Virtual Teams on Enterprise Level, new Leadership styles and the safety of communication

On this episode of the Virtual Frontier, we’re joined by Christian Klein. Christian is the senior advisor for PeopleManagement.org.

Christian spoke to us about leading virtual teams from an enterprise perspective.

Listen to the episode below:

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Full episode transcript below:

CHRIS REEVES

Hello, and welcome to the virtual frontier, the podcast about virtual teams created by virtual team. I’m Chris, and I’m part of the team here at Flash Hub. On today’s episode, we have Christian Klein. Christian is the Senior Advisor for people management.org. Christian spoke to us about leading virtual teams from an enterprise perspective. So here is Episode 13, of the Virtual Frontier, featuring our guest, Christian Klein.

DANIEL GUAPER

Christian, after all those years of working in large corporate structures and companies, you have decided to transform yourself and your activities. Why don’t you tell us a little bit and our audience about the personal career paths you took and your very personal change process over all those years?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Thank you, Daniel, for your nice introduction, for sure. And I would like to let you know a little bit about my personal career. Well it started many years ago with law studies. And after finishing as a German lawyer, I started my professional career at Daimler, where I passed my Well, they the apprenticeship years, I call it always, were I really learned Human Resources work, and human resources work means the whole process from recruiting until the retirement. So what was has been quite nice four years. And after that, I had the chance to, to go to Argentina, with my family. And this was an important career step for me. In reference to well, learning intercultural management, the exposure to a totally different culture was a great experience for me and my family and my children. And so, one of the highlights that stage was the merger, Daimler Chrysler, where we had to combine three different cultures, the German culture, the Argentinian culture, and the North American Chrysler culture. So different companies, different environments, different people culture. And this was a great challenge on the one side, and a great experience on the other side, that we really reached. Working together, I call it working together,

DANIEL GUAPER

Wow, thats great, so you have a lot of experience, already working with remote and distributed teams all over the globe, with different cultural backgrounds, and in big enterprises, like you told with Daimler Chrysler back in that time.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Exactly, exactly it was really, for me the time something absolutely new. And you must, must see that, at that time, the technology we had in the background, we didn’t have internet we didn’t have there was the beginning of the internet time. But we didn’t have all these nice tools like Zoom today or others. These communication tools didn’t exist at that time, we had video conferencing, which was very difficult to do and not like we do now via laptop seeing each other that totally different and was a great experience to have people around the globe together connected by telephone line not seeing each other and with very low technology level. But we made it

DANIEL GUAPER

That’s great. And after an after Daimler Chrysler after Argentina, you I think you move back to Germany, right?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yes, I relocated back to Germany, my assignment in Argentina ended. And I relocated to Mannheim region and changed the company’s so from a huge Technology Group, Automotive Group to family owned midsize group, also global group, but size wise, much smaller. working directly with the executive board being involved in important decisions as HR, or vice president HR we named later was also create change one side and very important experience for me. And I did it many years.

DANIEL GUAPER

Right. But but then but then there came like a few years ago the decision any you took a complete different path in your career, right?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yeah, yeah. Sometimes they come times to, to change direction to do something different. And I started to share my vast experience and my global experiences with other companies, smaller companies, companies from other branches. I work now with biotech with medical technology, not not so much with the chemical industry i did over many years. And this is also a new experience, which, which is a lot of fun.

DANIEL GUAPER

I can imagine that. Yes. Cool. Let me ask you something about regarding about your wide experience that you have in the traditional industry sector, would you say that the big traditional enterprises from today are fit for the future. I have like just an example from the announcement that did Deutsche Bank in the last week that they are going to right now fire over 18,000 people in order to get themselves fit for the future. But to me, it seems like more an act of desperation and step that they have should have taken maybe many years ago, or the strategy would have to be adapted many years ago, whats your thought on that?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yeah, well, you have booth you have some traditional enterprises, which are fit for the future, and others, which, like you said, they they should have done it many years ago, the restructuring or the new, refocusing on different products or different markets. And so it’s difficult to say Generally, the traditional enterprises are not fit. This is not true, but some of them are not fit. That’s for sure. And for me, when I read the newspapers, that 18,000 peoples are laid off this, from an HR point of view, this hurts, because it’s something went really wrong, when you have to do something like that. And many companies, it’s a sort of reflex that they, when they have to cut costs, they directly cut headcount, instead of looking to other alternatives to enhance productivity, well, if you have to cut 20% of your whole population, then something is really then then something must have gone really wrong. And this is for sure. Not a reflex this. I believe that they have thought about all other alternatives before.

DANIEL GUAPER

But just…to follow up a little bit on this question, is this more cultural problem? Or is this a management problem? Because the this is this is a period that goes over decades, and not just the decision that was taken yesterday or two months ago. And they could have foreseen that, the process and that what’s what’s coming up in the market, right?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

From HR point of view, I believe that it’s a managerial problem, not a cultural problem. So looking around in the industry, this headcount reduction, you see it everywhere in the world, everywhere, where you have the more or less same manager education. So it’s a cost block, and you have to cut this costs down. And I believe that sometimes, or many times, it’s a lack of creativity. And it’s easy, no, it’s a three equal calculation, you cut down your personal cost, and you get closer to your desired level of profitability. To change processes to cut down fixed costs, is much more difficult.

And it’s not possible to do it short term. So the good ones, if you look at the manager cars, the good ones, they have seen it coming and they have this vision and view to the future. And they have done their homework before the situation got that bad.

DANIEL GUAPER

Right? Do you have a big company or big enterprise, especially maybe from Germany, just from what would you say they have foreseen and adapted in the right way? ,

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Well I can’t say it in detail. I know some companies here in Germany, and one of the companies I like very much as Bosch, for example. They always try to avoid headcount cuts. And I my impression, what I can read about is that they really have a vision, and they think into the future and try to prepare for all his journeys.

DANIEL GUAPER

I think Bosch company with a long history and special treatment for the employees right from the start of the company.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

They are traditional company and one of these old guys in the market. But on the other hand, they have quite interesting ideas and interesting solutions. And, for example, a few years ago, they changed their performance management, and in a very, very pragmatic way, and I found the solution they publishes, then, very interesting to all other companies,

DANIEL GUAPER

what would you say are the biggest obstacles for enterprises to keep up with this increasing speed of change, and that affects us all over the place, and change this mode from reactive defensive into something that is embracing the change and the unknown, especially in order to get fit for the future?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Well, in today’s environment, one obstacle is a cultural interpersonal imprint, you can see, for example, once you love to analyze every topic in detail and discuss endless, the different alternative solutions, then you will easily lose the touch to the top group. As an example, if you watch today’s students how they learn, compared to earlier times, during my studies, we had to go to the library to look into the books and to really to, to search different opinions. And so we had to go through piles of paper, discussing legal problems. Nowadays, the students, they can Google the problem, and they get a priority list of five, five books to read or five articles to read. And then very, not very easy, but very fast, they can get to the core of the problem. And so the student who still goes to the library and goes to the books and the articles and the student will will lose contact will lose the liaison to the top group, time wise. And this is a little you can compare it to the companies, if you still work with the old tools. If you really go into every detail and go through all the documentation and try to find out the last true to turn, then it may happen that you too slow. You’re simply too slow.

DANIEL GUAPER

Okay, I understand that. So so I think you talked about the entrance in the beginning of our talk about this new leadership styles and approaches that did you need to in order to proceed and progress. As we have this omnipresent environment of changes, that is the only consistent that we have today. What are our new styles of leadership and skills that are requested from persons in company or employees in a company,

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Command and control is out. That’s also if you try to continue command and control you’re absolutely too slow, you never will speed up with a modern companies. And they and this is the leadership which is required today or they the topic which is required today is trus. Everything works only with trust, the whole networking thing works only with trust, without trust a network, especially a virtual network will not work. So the leadership skill, which is requested is the skill to create trust. On the one side. On the other side, you need to sort of error culture. Mean that not the minor error directed lead to the situation that you are fired. So certain error culture to work with. And yeah, the being able to speed up with your competitor competitors, and you’re only able to speed up with your competitors, if you trust your people. That’s my personal belief. That’s why I am telling everybody that they need to learn to trust each other.

DANIEL GUAPER

Yeah trust and transparency are important key factors. We’ll ask you later on a little bit more in detail about that. As an executive coach and constellation consultant, you help leaders and …. executive coaches to find answers and solutions in order to succeed. What is your personal and professional approach to that?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Well, every case, our every coaching situation is different. But very often, it’s we have the situation that we are in the meeting during the talk, we we are like opening a drawer, you haven’t opened for many time. And so looking into that drawer, very often we find surprises and we find things which can be very helpful for the for the creation of the future situation. So in that sense, I spent many time with my co cheese, looking into that draw, and searching through and taking out some goods, looking at putting back taking the next one looking at putting back until we have found the one the helpful one. And so the important thing is to take that time to discuss and to look at and to really analyze what is helpful and what not.

DANIEL GUAPER

Do you have some some for our listeners some practical tips, how they could start to work or evolve personally and maybe professionally, those new skills for themselves, and maybe for using them inside their company.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

We’re talking about trust, there are some scientific studies, how to create trust and how to be trustfully. And well that there are some well will some some stages the steps to take. And, for example, show respect and be interested in the ideas of your people. It’s so important. How can you trust someone who does not show respect towards you. So if the leader is showing respect, if he is interested in you and your ideas, that’s a good first step. The next is do not pretend, do not lie. So and never think that your people in your team, your teammates are stupid. Your people are much more intelligent and much more.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

They have much more sensitivity for things going wrong that you might think about. So do not pretend. And very important. Keep your promise. Don’t come up every day with a new promise and never keep it. So if you want to be trustful, then that someone trusts in you, then keep your promise. Then there comes a little overlap with the transparency, it means share your knowledge. Only if your teammates have the feeling that you don’t hide something,

Once they have the feeling that you share everything, they start trusting, you know, unfold your targets and one of the next steps and the most important, communicate, communicate, communicate. Once you do not talk to your people and your people does not talk to you, how can you create trust, it’s mankind has to talk, we have to talk to share information and to make clear also your ideas, your vision to understand each other.

Well, and last, accept and admit that you are not unfailing. So if you take these most important 10 steps, then there’s a big chance that people start trusting you and that you are a trustfully leader. Okay.

DANIEL GUAPER

Very interesting. Because we I think we have to this topics of transparency and trust, at several times in all podcasts and webinars as well. And it’s very interesting. It is each person like have, we have a general understanding of what is it about trust and transparency. But if you when you go to the details, what everyone is really understanding about it, it’s getting always like diverse, you know, it’s a wide topic.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yeah, it’s difficult to to to say well, you have to do this and then will happen that. So people are different and someone can try to respect all others, and you will never reach to be trustworthy person because of I don’t know, something what does not work. But together with transparency, trust plus transparency, then you have the chance to get real strong leader. And transparency. Well has directly to do with it not pretending not lying. unfolding. The targets your targets. That’s all part of transparency. Yeah, and have no hidden agenda. Because if you think that your agenda stays hidden, you’re wrong. Hidden agendas are always detected.

DANIEL GUAPER

Sooner or later.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Sooner or later. Yes. And then once you have lost trust, it’s hard to rebuild. And it’s nearly impossible to rebuild

DANIEL GUAPER

trust by or to rebuild it like the weight the same untouched way it was before.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

DANIEL GUAPER

I think we talked about that before in our prep talk.

We spoke about like safety and communication and why this, this is so important inside the company. Do you have ideas? What can be done to optimize such safety, especially in virtual and distributed working teams?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Well, the the sender of the information has to make sure that the information is really received correctly. It’s not the one who receives it’s the one who sent. So taking the case that I sent you an information verbally? You do understand whatever? Well, it’s not your task to make sure that because you don’t know if it’s correct or not correct. So I have to make sure. And my, I have an example I love very much and eah, good. Go to YouTube and look at these 747 landing in Los Angeles, whatever. There’s nice YouTube videos, and look at the communication how the pilot communicates to the airport tower. And so the airport tower gives a command. And the pilot has to repeat that command, making sure that he understood rightly. But it’s not that we can copy one to one in, in, in the daily life, daily business life this way of communication, but at the aircraft, it’s about people life, it’s important that the command is understood correctly. And it’s only an audio command there’s no, WhatsApp craft for whatever send with. It’s only audio. And that’s why they repeat both sides. In that case, both sides make sure that they have understood correctly. But the tower finally has to be sure that his command arrived correctly. That’s why the pilot has to repeat and send back and say well, whatever aircraft number blah, blah. So it’s not the doing we have to copy but looking at the concept. Yeah, is the sender has to make sure that his command his information arrived correctly. How you do well, this is how you work together. So you can ask for confirmation by email, you can say please repeat.

Please tell me what did you understand? What are you going to do now? Or what’s your plan? Now, after I have told you that you have to do this and that? So there are different polite ways to make sure that the receiver gives you an answer about what he received, or she received as information. Yeah, but that’s it’s so important. And looking at the the virtual teams or all teams we have now the global teams, there are only a few people talking mother tongue

DANIEL GUAPER

Now we’re talking not talking mother tongue, we are talking English, and we both are Germans, but we want to have our audience worldwide understand.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Exactly. I have experienced so many teams. Fellow from India, from the United States from South America, from France, from Spain, all together. And speaking English, it’s the lowest denominator. So but out of this group of 10 people only tow have been mother tongue, speker English. And yeah, then it’s so easy to miss understand. Specifically, if you have people together from different cultures, not only the different languages, different cultures. And yeah, and in addition, if you have only audio and no video, you can’t see the other person, the gesture and the eyes blinking or whatever.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

The misunderstandings are provoked so easily. That’s why being responsible for the group with a team of being responsible for the information transfer, you’ve always to make sure that information received correctly. That’s the sender my understanding its the sender who has make sure the information is received correctly.

DANIEL GUAPER

And from what I got, what would you explain right now, crucial is like, always have this feedback loop, like really to make sure what I have sent out is understood and what action is going to be taken afterward. And this is actually going to be implemented right away.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Yeah. Yeah, in, in our German culture, we sometimes feel not polite, to ask did you understand correctly what I told you. It’s, so it’s a language thing, when to make sure that your question or making sure that the receiver received correctly, sometimes its a bit delicate. But in my opinion, there’s no other way? .

DANIEL GUAPER

Correctly. Especially as we are entering this new world of working more and more with distributed teams all over the globe and virtual teams that enter maybe in traditional companies, what would you say, to a traditional manager or to a traditional company in order to get fit for the future? Why should they care to have a strategy in place? And how to implement to work with remote teams or virtual teams all over the globe? Why is it important?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

In actual times, the need and the the delivery are not distributed even. So, it means that maybe there’s capacity or skill need or knowledge need in Mexico and the respective person or you find this skill in France. So in earlier times, you had to relocate this person from France, Mexico, at extremely high cost and taking much time to relocate. First, you do not have that time anymore. You can cannot wait months until person A has moved to Mexico. time wise, second cost wise. to relocate someone or expatriation is extremely high cost thing. So there’s no other way. Because we have no even distribution of skills of knowledge and capacity. That’s it.

DANIEL GUAPER

But how? How would you approach a manager that is maybe still working in like more, more or less an isolated environment in his company? Should have, but should be able to work with virtual teams or distributed teams, but it’s still not aware of it. Or there may be concerns or she doesn’t like it? What would you tell a person like that and how should they start to work with virtual teams.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

There are two simple calculations. We can sit together and then we make a three even calculation about cost cost of relocating someone. And we can make a simple calculation of time needed to relocate someone or to get that specific knowledge to the place where where you need it. So the the analog no way it that respect is by far more expensive and time consuming as digital way to bring people together. In that case, virtual teams, you have a cost factor cost saving, which is enormous. Plus the time saving, cost saving itself. It’s unbelievable. I and yeah. The most managers will have no other alternative in the future. Yeah, and I’m, you know, I’m also supporting companies structuring their recruiting process. You have the situation that in some regions, nobody wants to move there. Nobody wants to relocate. We don’t talk about international transfer. We talk about local or regional transfer from region A in Germany to region B in Germany, you have a lot of people, they don’t want to move or they don’t find affordable living. Now, we are starting to experience that you need to know your working location is around Munich, many people cannot afford a rent around Munich. So there are many factors which are stopping people not to move, which are stopping people to move from region one region B. But once you need that knowledge, once you need that skill, you find alternatives. I believe strongly in virtual teams. And like we both we communicate perfectly. And we both communicate to around the world.

DANIEL GUAPER

Yep, sure.

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

There are many jobs, you cannot replace virtual teams, for sure. But all knowledge workers can work in a virtual environment easily. But and then some steps back of our talk. This works only with trust. If you don’t trust your people in your virtual network.

Forget about you will never able to control the virtual team. command and control is not possible. Which is ok for me. And good. Because command and control is 20 century. It’s not 21st century.

DANIEL GUAPER

Completely right.This was a really interesting talk, I had a lot of takeaways like about new leadership styles that you talked about, especially about the advantages that that companies and people can have while working in a distributed and virtual teams. And especially that background that you brought in with your huge experience with HR and this long history.

DANIEL GUAPER

I am Let me ask you a closing question. How can our listeners get in touch with you when they want to reach out to you and speak to you in person? What are good ways to get in contact with you?

CHRISTIAN KLEIN

Well, very easy. Modern tool is LinkedIn. So if they’d like to contact me the shall do it via LinkedIn. And are you find my contact data. And yeah, we will find the time spot to talk

DANIEL GUAPER

We’re going to put you’re gonna put your LinkedIn contact on our podcast, so people are can easily find you. Great. Thank you very much, Christian, for this interesting talk. Thank you all for participating and taking your time today. Thanks to our audience, and we see you in our next episode here on Virtual Frontiers.

CHRIS REEVES

I’d like to thank our guests Christian client for joining us today. You can find out more about Christian and leadership for a networked world at www.people-management.org where you can just click the link in the show notes. You can subscribe to the virtual frontier or leave us a review at Apple Podcasts Google Play Stitcher or anywhere else podcasts are found. If you want to learn more about virtual teams as a service, visit flashhub.io. On behalf of the team here at Flash Hub, I’d like to thank you for listening. So until next episode, keep exploring new frontiers.

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