How to Manage a Global Team: A Q&A With Intel's Asha Keddy
When you think of Intel, you often think of the tiny chips that power your PC. But soon, you’ll likely think more of your mobile device.
That’s thanks to Asha Keddy and her team in the Mobile Communications Group (MCG), a growing division that’s putting Intel on the map in the smartphone business. Asha, the General Manager for Standards and Advanced Technologies in the mobile area, and her team work on figuring out how phones and other mobile devices best connect up to wireless technology and how we can make that communication even easier and more standardized as more mobile devices are used around the world. It’s no small task—or small team: Asha leads over 120 people spanning seven countries across the globe.
So, we figured she’d have some pretty good advice to share. We sat down with Asha to learn from her experience managing huge projects, leading huge teams, and bringing a huge company into the future.
Why is moving into mobile so exciting for Intel? Why is it exciting for you?
Mobile is exciting for Intel because mobile is everywhere. People always have their phones with them, wherever they go. One of Intel’s missions is to “create and extend computing technologies to connect and enrich the lives of every person on earth,” and working with mobile is a huge part of that right now. It makes things happen where they couldn’t before—it makes it possible for us to work in countries like Africa and Thailand. So much of the world is revolutionized by mobility.
And it’s very exciting personally because the area that I focus on—which has to do with how we transmit data through the air—is at a revolutionary tipping point. Before, we worked with very traditional network circuits like GSM and 2G. But now, we have so much competition and networking is changing to where we aren’t able to keep up with the capacity and the demand that consumers need as we move toward implementing 4G and embracing 5G. So we have to look at new ways to solve the problems. Even with traditional technologies like Wi-Fi, we’re thinking about them completely differently. We have to work from the ground up and look at the entire picture to find ways to improve the systems in place.
What advice would you have for someone leading a team on a project of this magnitude?
First of all, hire people smarter than you. My job isn’t to solve the problem—all the work is done by the team, not me. So one of the best things I try to do is hire people smarter and more talented than me. The more you make your team better and your job redundant, the more opportunity there is to grow and do even bigger things. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s very true.
Second, there are a lot of smart people in the world and at other companies. It’s a very competitive world and, as I try to remind my team, if you’ve thought of something good, at least 10 other people have probably thought of it, too. It’s important to figure out how to put the brains together and foster communication and collaboration—that’s when you’ll get something really good. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s important not to get self-congratulating, but to actually figure out how to make things happen.
Third, necessity is the mother of invention. Whenever you have a challenge, human beings figure out how to deal with it. There are many times I didn’t know how I would do something—either in technology or in life—but when you don’t have a choice, you figure out a way. So, don’t be daunted!
You lead a team spanning seven different countries—no easy feat, to say the least! What have been the biggest challenges in doing this, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is that 60-70% of communication is through body language, and you miss that through virtual or phone conversations. One way I learned to deal with that is through over-communication. You have to be very clear and very specific when working with people from a distance. You also have to be sensitive that English is still many people’s second language, and make sure that your communication effectively crosses language and cultural barriers. Luckily, technology is really helping overcome these limits.
Fostering teamwork and collaboration is also a challenge. We’re working with different cultures, different styles, and different people—and getting folks to think about the bigger projects outside of their smaller teams or smaller countries isn’t easy.
I’ve found two things that really help me manage that. First of all, I always make sure the work each site is doing is congruent—rather than splitting one work item across sites—so each site can be fairly independent. Additionally, I ensure that the team leads and the organizational structure for the work are not solely determined by location. You put the people with the most relevant skills on the most relevant projects, rather than placing them in the closest location.
You’ve had a very successful career so far—in an industry that’s dominated by men. What career advice would you give to women just starting out?
I feel like many times women don’t ask for enough or have enough confidence. Last week, I went to a Zumba class at the local gym. The class started out as all women and then a guy walked in a few minutes late. One of the women had just stepped back to put her water bottle down and he just walked in, took her spot, took up a lot of space, and moved everyone else around—and he was late! It was funny because I looked around at all the other women and how they backed up even though they were actually on time.
Let’s not be shrinking violets. Let’s take our space and—not to be rude or anything—but know that we deserve it. There’s something very culturally engrained where we tend to ask for permission instead of forgiveness. And it needs to stop.
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