One of the most valuable opportunities a global company provides its employees is working within an international environment. Understanding how different cultures think, interact and learn more from each other has always been an intriguing experience for me. Even though you might have a globally spread team, you still want them to be a TEAM OF ONE. This will benefit your business and team goals.
I have worked with or led people from more than 20 countries. During the last few years of my career, as a Business Development professional, I have set up new businesses and negotiated deals with international clients. All this gave me great exposure to different cultures. As a manager, I also indirectly managed team members in the Asia Pacific and European region. Thanks to this, I learned that managers operating in an international environment should follow these 4 habits to excel at leading multicultural teams while building trust and harmony for its members.
Make Extra Effort
Make an extra effort to let your employees feel more comfortable with you. This doesn’t mean, however, you need to change your leadership style completely. Such change might appear biased to others. A simple gesture of flying to a satellite office and spending more face time will pay great dividends. If you are in the same office, it’s much easier to build rapport than when your employees are in a different location.
Respecting your employee’s schedule helps to communicate trust. If you need a deliverable from an employee from a different location, what would you do? Let them know what you need and that it’s okay for them to do this the next day. Agree on a specific hour/date so it matches your needs. I learnt this from my boss when we were working in different time zones. He would always make it very clear when he needed me to finish a particular task.
It made me feel more trusted and happy that he cares about my work – life balance.
Communication 1 – Assumption 0
Different cultures have different expectations. Sharing feedback, asking questions, challenging decisions and hierarchy are all “difficult” topics. What might seem as a lack of enthusiasm for your culture (or a too aggressive way to express a certain point of view), could be an employee’s way of showing respect to you (or simply sharing feedback).
Asian cultures mostly find it disrespectful questioning a leader’s decisions. For example, how strongly you disagree is a common cultural difference. In Israeli, German or Italian cultures disagreements can be voiced forcefully. Most people will feel that such strong debate is positive to the team and organization. Learn and improve these behavioral aspects of people from different cultures through effective feedback.
Taking things for granted impairs the communication. A leader brought up in the American culture would expect certain responses from his team members which wouldn’t be the end case in a multicultural team. Be prepared to explain things rather than assuming you have clearly communicated all your points.
Invest your time to learn the business culture of your team member’s country. Take things one-one and discuss how you can meet them halfway. It is important for the employee also to be proactive and follow your company’s culture. Make it clear during your meetings that you follow fixed delivery dates or meeting times. If necessary talk to them in private that this is what you expect out of a task or set a deadline earlier to review. Never assume and always communicate with your counterparts.
Use Neutral Language
Humor, sarcasm, and criticism are different based on a set of culturally determined beliefs. Business decisions, goals, and challenges are universal. This demands your team’s focus regardless of individual differences. Appropriate use of language to communicate business related variables is key to success.
That being said, it’s not practical for a leader to take different tones while speaking to team members. Especially if it’s a group forum. Tackle this challenge by using neutral language while speaking to a group. Stick to facts and lose your analogies. It helped me when I started using “We“ rather than “You“ while setting expectations with my team members.
Try to avoid making jokes about or criticizing other cultures or politics if you can. If you are eager to know, then ask your team members rather than making statements. Ask them directly if you would like to know more about their culture and show them that it intrigues you. Team members will realize that you don’t have preconceived notions. You are trusting them with information.
Build One Team
It is one team with a global presence. You share same goals, vision, and objectives. Make this clear to your employees by setting similar processes across the team for sharing feedback, status updates, and critical issues. Set Up a bi-weekly or monthly department call to create a forum. Use it so people can appreciate achievements, share experiences. Clarify member’s responsibilities and make it transparent to everyone in the team. It is very important to make sure that every team member understands what value others bring to the team. Mutual respect helps create a better team environment based on trust and appreciation.
As a Manager, it is your responsibility to provide face time between your team members. There are a lot of subtle elements that are understood better through face time. Do business meetings together with your team members and let them take the lead. Organize team events for your team to come together. Build that personal rapport with each other. Show proactivity in setting up team events. Offer democracy to your team members to choose and suggest various activities. Communication flow becomes so much more efficient by bringing everyone together. Even after the team members return to their offices after the event concludes.
The market for talent is a global one, even for small businesses or start-ups. Not only do international employees add value to your work but also provide a new perspective that can help your business adapt to new trends. The capability to lead multicultural teams is an essential skill for next generation leaders.
Have you had experiences leading international teams? Do you feel the above mentioned 4 habits to excel at leading multicultural teams are relevant? Do you work in a multicultural team or office and want to share your feedback on ways to improve current communication? What makes you feel valued as a member of an international team?