4 Tips For Managing Cross-Cultural Teams
As modern technology continues to advance, we’ve come to discover the traditional office setting is no longer always necessary. We can extend far beyond brick-and-mortar walls and connect with top talent all over the world. Hiring someone full-time just to fill a temporary role or ramp up an intense project may become a thing of the past, but hiring candidates across the globe comes with its own unique challenges.
Time zones aren’t the only tricky things to keep in mind on a daily basis; understanding how other cultures function is something that must be learned in order for a global leader to be successful. A global leader will need to navigate these intricacies while also balancing the complexities of their local team (as in, the members who live in the same country) whose lives will inevitably vary from their own team members’ lives. How will these cultural differences impact a global team? And how do global teams find out about one another’s work practices and cultures when they are distributed around the world and may never meet one another?
1. First and foremost, acknowledge these cultural differences, and be sure to honor and always respect them.
It may seem obvious, but the first step you need to take as a global leader is to do your research, understand what will set a team member apart, acknowledge these cultural differences, and set your team up in a way that keeps those differences respected. These differences can be language-related, daily culture norms, behavioral differences, and values.
There are six dimensions of value perspectives between national cultures: Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. Restraint.
You can make a clear list or create a spreadsheet that encompasses what each team member will require. Host a team meeting where everyone can share their cultural background and expectations about communication and working style so everyone is on the same page.
2. Create rules and norms for your team so everyone feels respected.
Everyone will need to contribute to the formation of the team’s rules and norms. This ensures everyone is committed to respecting these rules so everyone feels heard. Consider any issues that may affect operating procedures for timeliness of email replies, email/document templates to ensure clear communication, frequency of team meetings, structure of team reporting, etc.
Once this has been established, you’ll need to check in with your team regularly to ensure efficiency. Be flexible, and listen to your team’s feedback.
No, this doesn’t mean you need to micromanage everyone or be patronizing. But it can be easy to use certain jargon that can be misunderstood by those who do not have the same frame of reference or cultural background. If you’re speaking with someone of a different ethnicity, nationality or background, a certain word or phrase that is acceptable in your culture could cause a misunderstanding or even be offensive.
Even if a team member also speaks English, understand that nuance doesn’t always translate if English is not that person’s first language. Body language will also come into play during video calls or large company meetups. You cannot properly bond or connect with a team member if your subtext is misunderstood.
Use simple and clear language when communicating, and check that the other party fully understands what you said.
4. Nurture your relationship and earn trust.
If you’ve taken the time and made the right steps, you can create an environment where your team feels they can trust each other and can effectively collaborate on projects. Building trust doesn’t happen overnight, especially if a team member is thousands of miles away. It’s respecting differences and following through on the promise to maintain group norms that will create a team who knows how to communicate and function as a whole.
Video conferencing will be key for cross-cultural remote teams. This not only puts a face to the name, but it builds your team members’ relationships with their team leader and with each other. When we can see each other’s facial expressions and body language, we get a better understanding of whether or not our words have been received and understood.
While all of the above can be a challenge at first, if handled properly and with sensitivity, your cross-cultural team can thrive. Embrace all of your differences and the new perspectives a foreign team member can bring to the table, and you may even discover entirely different ways of doing things that might be far more effective than ways of the past. You can use all of this to your best advantage and leverage it to ensure the most success possible.