Global teams are a complex, diverse mix of personalities, skills, cultural values, and work styles. More than half of all organizations with more than 5,000 employees have virtual, global teams.1
To be most effective, especially during times of change, cross-border teams have to find mutually-agreeable ways to work together to meet common goals and overcome challenges.
Change initiatives vary in scope and size, but over the last 25+ years working with clients around the world, we’ve collected five key tips for keeping diverse teams across borders united during these uncertain times.
Strong, open communication and understanding of cultural differences are at the forefront of success in keeping cross-cultural teams aligned during times of change. Communication styles vary from culture to culture, as do notions of hierarchy and authority, which can add a layer of confusion. When working on a globally-dispersed, multicultural team, it’s important to have an open mind and nonjudgmental attitude toward others’ behavioral styles and preferences, to have an understanding that your preferences are also culturally-based, and to be open to learning from your colleagues across the globe.
During change initiatives, create multiple channels of communication, especially those that allow opinions and ideas to be communicated in a nonpublic forum on a frequent basis. Give all team members time to consider options being laid out and allow them to express their opinions in writing or anonymously. Note that some cultures and individuals need more time than others to accept change. It’s important to ask localized team leaders how they address this internalization on a cultural-level. Teams may become anxious if there is a lack of consistent communication or if it seems like change takes too long to develop.
It’s important for global managers to learn about all of the cultures and individual personalities represented on their teams in order to make the best decisions about communication preferences and, as a team, create agreed-upon communication guidelines that work for everyone. Thorough meeting minutes — whether face-to-face or virtual — are key to ensure team members are on the same page.
Acknowledge different accents. Encourage team members to be mindful of language differences and to refrain from using words with multiple meanings, idioms, or slang.
Cultural and linguistic differences within a global team give rise to the potential for misconception and miscommunication. Take, for example, a global team that includes Germans and Koreans. Many Germans are known to be comfortable giving direct feedback, whereas the reverse is typically the case in Korea, unless the dialogue is between senior and junior colleagues. Making note of these potential strains can help anticipate challenges and resolve them swiftly and effectively.2
Trust is challenging to create and sustain in any team, but in the case of multicultural teams, it can be even more difficult.
It’s important for global leaders to understand the cross-cultural makeup of their teams, not only from a communication standpoint, as mentioned above, but for gaining trust within a team as well.
Trust develops when members establish credibility by demonstrating their abilities and competence. Give team members the opportunity early on to engage in tasks that demonstrate their skills, or introduce team members to each other by highlighting past experiences and current expertise, and how that applies to current situations.
Be open and honest. Virtual Teaming Trust surveys and audits can be helpful tools for leaders to recognize trust concerns within their teams at the onset of new projects.
A powerful tool in aligning global teams is establishing personal bonds. Keep in mind that different cultures have different norms about relationship building.
When possible, give team members opportunities to engage in informal conversations if they are comfortable. It’s important to note that not everyone is equally at ease with, or open about, talking about personal lives; therefore use this strategy only when team members are receptive to it.
In some cultures, like the United Kingdom, it generally takes a long time for people to build friendships; in other cultures, like Brazil, it seemingly happens overnight. Keep in mind that various cultural norms may present barriers to developing deep, personal relationships — but an individual connection can be fostered. Perhaps team members from completely different backgrounds discover they both enjoy the game of cricket, or both have children the same age. The power of these personal bonds on a professional level, especially on a multicultural team, is impactful. Leaders must do their best to create conditions for these connections to form, even directly facilitating introductions between specific members who might have hidden commonalities. Particularly during times of change, the benefits of personal bonds will circle directly back to the team.3
Recognize your global team’s time zones and work together to schedule and coordinate activities in a way that maximizes the availability of your team. For example, take advantage of time zone differences by arranging work in a way that allows team members in “earlier” and “later” time zones to finish a piece of work sequentially. If more interaction is necessary, plan and conduct online meetings or online collaborative tasks with techniques suitable to group situations. For example, a facilitator can help make open-ended, problem-solving sessions more efficient.
Rotate times for conference calls so that everyone experiences and appreciates what it’s like to call into a meeting at 8 pm or 6 am. It’s a way of sensitizing all team members to the challenges of operating globally.
It is also important to understand that there may be technology proficiency challenges and how that may be affected by age and background.
In order for change efforts to succeed, it is important to take into account advice and suggestions from key team members at every location where the change is being introduced.
Change initiatives tend to flounder when partially or fully implemented before overseas employees hear about them. In ideal situations, leaders from regions where change is occurring should have a role in shaping the content and direction of change efforts.
When possible, create a project team with strong local leadership, which builds a sense of accountability and trust.
A constant within global teams is that the uncertainty of change can be daunting, but a global mindset, strong leadership, open communication, and trust can help keep teams aligned during these challenging times.
We encourage global team leaders and their colleagues across borders to discover and compare work styles through online learning tools like GlobeSmart, a key resource used by millions of executives to help support their global business interactions. GlobeSmart provides personalized advice on how to work more effectively together during times of change and beyond.
Do you have first-hand experience or advice on keeping global teams aligned during times of change? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment in the section below!
1 Solomon-Schell ‘Managing Across Cultures’
2 HBR ‘How to Build Trust on Your Cross Cultural Team’ by Andy Molinsky and Ernest Gundling June 28,2016
3 HBR ‘How to Build Trust on Your Cross Cultural Team’ by Andy Molinsky and Ernest Gundling June 28,2016