4 Tips for Building the Right Teams for Global Expansion

TechGC
August 29, 2022

When you’re in global growth mode, having the right teams externally and internally is one of the most important parts of achieving your business goals. How do you build alignment internally within existing teams, and how can you ensure that the people you bring on to help you expand are right for the job?

This topic was discussed extensively during our recent Going Global forum, where David Lancelot of Adevinta, Celaena Powder of Seismic, Navine Karim of Guayaki, and Matt Margolis of Lawtrades shared their insights, tips, and war stories. 

Read on to learn how to prepare your team for expansion, along with what to look for when bringing on new internal and external counsel:

Don’t Underestimate the Investment Required

Business leaders often get excited about planting their flag in other territories without thinking through all the complexities that come with it. While it’s never fun to be a bad GC who gives everyone a reality check, you need to ensure that your team is aligned on the amount of investment – both now and in perpetuity – that will be needed across teams to make your expansion plans a reality. 

One important question to ask your team is if it makes sense to maximize your company’s local market impact before attempting any expansion plans. For example, many companies have expanded into multiple markets only to find out later that the USA was their most important market. Some companies need to expand globally for their growth numbers – but many do not. 

In terms of resource deployment, leadership is often much more eager to dedicate resources to sales, marketing, and other departments. Additionally, businesses will often operate with a stop-start motion or jump around jurisdictions frequently during expansion efforts. This can be extremely challenging for legal, so be sure to get buy-in early on resource allocation for legal so that you’re able to scale your team up or down as needed. 

Building Trust Across Cultures Requires New Skills

When you venture into new geography, you may think that your major challenge will be learning how to operate within a different context. But that’s only half the battle. The real work comes when you take those skills and use them to build trust with customers, partners, and team members across cultures.

Keep in mind that intelligence about a culture is not the same as respect. For existing people within your team and new people you may hire, you should focus on seeking out individuals who have the soft skills that are necessary to respect different cultures and build trust in new jurisdictions. 

When interviewing potential hires in your current jurisdiction, dive deep into their curiosity about the world. Do they speak another language? Outside of work, what are their hobbies? Ideally, you want someone who has proven that they’re comfortable and excited about engaging with cultures other than their own. 

If you’re hiring someone who lives in the area you’re expanding to (as a foreigner), ask them about how they’ve engaged with the culture around them. Have they invested time in learning the language and meeting people outside of expat circles? Or are they culturally isolated?

Candidates who have proven to be curious about the world outside of their work life are the people who will help you build trust across cultural lines. 

Building Internal Counsel Teams

While you might be used to partnering closely with leadership, don’t assume that foreign candidates will have the same understanding of how in-house legal operates within your business. They might be accustomed to being buried in the org, siloed away from other departments. Below are a few qualities you can look in order to avoid hiring the wrong people: 

  • Candidates who have unconventional legal experience or who are willing to learn how to operate within a non “traditional” environment.
  • Long-term lived experience outside of their home country, along with an understanding of how to partner with people across cultures.
  • People who have the confidence or experience level to challenge leadership when necessary.

Additionally, you should have a process in place for quick offboarding if you hire someone and they’re the wrong fit, but keep in mind that this may not be possible in certain jurisdictions with minimum trial periods or other safeguards in place for workers. 

Once you have the infrastructure set up, it makes sense to send people to other jurisdictions for knowledge sharing and team building. One TechGC member even has a program in place for swapping lawyers across jurisdictions when other team members take their parental leave.

Building External Counsel Teams

With foreign external counsel, you’re not looking for an ivory tower law firm – you’re looking for a business partner. Here are a few tips for getting what you need when engaging with external teams: 

  • Smaller firms are often more agile, while larger ones will likely be more traditional. 
  • During your initial engagement with a firm, take note of how formal their interactions are with you. If getting simple answers takes multiple steps and requires that you get through layers of formality, move on.
  • Ask for recommendations from firms you’ve worked with since they already understand how your business operates.

When you’ve brought on an external team, make sure to onboard them just like you would a full-time employee with product demos and an overview of your company culture and values.

Miscommunication is easy across cultural lives, so always communicate clearly and ask lots of follow-up questions. Be upfront by telling external teams exactly what you’re looking for – and if things aren’t working, provide direct feedback in real-time so you can course correct.

Want to learn more from fellow GCs and legal experts about building global teams? Apply to become a member of TechGC today. If you’re already a member, be on the lookout for an email with information about our upcoming Employment and Executive Compensation forum on September 30th!

TechGC
TechGC is an independent, invitation-only, community platform of over 2,500 General Counsels of leading venture capital funds and high growth technology companies. TechGC's growing DeputyGC Program also contains over 1,000 members with senior in-house counsel from leading growth and venture firms. Our mission is to drive innovation, education and mentorship in the technology and legal industry while also creating a strong peer group and community whose members support each other throughout their lives and careers.