How to Build a Global Team
We are living in a highly connected world. In the old days, companies can only recruit talents in the local area. The further away you live from your company, the bigger of a problem it is.
However, technology and advances in communication technology has made our lives easier.
Today, you don’t just work with people in your state or city. You work with a guy from Mumbai, another in Munich, and a third one from Vietnam. It’s a wonderful experience to be able to interact with so many people from so many different cultures. But that’s exactly where problems arise.
How do you deal with the differences in time zone? What if you need to get an answer from someone in your team immediately but in their time zone it’s midnight?
How do you deal with the differences in communication styles? People from Western cultures tend to be more direct and honest with their thoughts, while people from Asian cultures tend to be more reserved. These opposing values might not seem like a big problem at first, but when things get heated, those minor miscommunication can hinder your team’s progress significantly.
This is a reality of today’s workplace. So, you might ask yourselves, why do managers even want to add a foreigner to your team?
Why should we even have a global team?
Global workers are remote workers, and remote workers are extremely productive. According to many researches before and after the outbreak of COVID-19, remote workers have always performed better than their office counterparts, if properly managed.
Global teams also have an amazing potential to increase sales, enhance creativity, reach new markets and so much more. If your company wants to establish a multi-market presence in the global worker’s home country, they can even be your consultant. They know their country. After all, they were born and raised there. They will bring a lot of refreshing perspectives to your company that you couldn’t otherwise have had.
That’s not to mention the increased level of engagement that remote workers bring to the organization. Thanks to the freedom and flexibility that’s inherent in being a global worker, they can allocate their time in a way that suits themselves the most. They can work whenever they want, as long as they get things done. This newfound sense of autonomy gives the worker higher control over their life and work.
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And, sometimes, it’s also about the cost and the “because others also hire them”. Tech supporters have always been Indians for so many reasons. It’s almost an iconic job for people who are looking to break into the tech industry in India. If companies want to be cost-effective without making any compromise on the service’s quality, having a global virtual team is the way to go.
However, that doesn’t mean hiring globally is all sunshine and daisies. Don’t expect your team to magically thrive and become a market leader if you don’t take into consideration the interpersonal problems that go with hiring globally. Conflicts, disappointment, miscommunication, frustrations can easily happen, and nobody knows why it happened. Everyone is just being themselves.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. We want to bring the world together. The great “global” manager knows how to make their global team truly global. They know how to leverage the strengths of each individual, how to reconcile the differences in culture, and how to minimize the friction that these differences cause among their employees.
Keep in mind, building a global team is easy. All you have to do is add a few foreigners to your team. Maintaining a deep bond between them is the hard part. Their culture is deeply-rooted and programmed in their behavior. To accept new cultures is to open their mind, to embrace the differences in values, to respect other employees’ cultures while still maintaining their own cultural integrity.
Read on if you want to find out how people from diverse backgrounds can come together and work towards a common goal. Here are my top tips to build a global team, after having worked with people from cultures all over the world for decades.
1) Understand the culture of your team members
All things start with an understanding of the problem. As soon as a global employee joins your team, you have to welcome them and accept that their culture might not be the same as yours and your other team members.
From the very first moment of the meeting, cultural trip wires can already happen, especially in communication. First impressions are important, so make sure to make your global members feel welcomed in a way that they normally would in their home country.
How do you know what is the right thing to do? It’s wise to do some research. There are many aspects to a culture, but in a corporate context, you should do some research on:
- Communication style
- Attitudes to giving and receiving feedback
- Perception of hierarchy in the workplace
- Perception of power in the workplace
- Perception of other cultures in the workplace
- Attitude towards time and schedule
It’s very likely that you will encounter some “stereotypes” of other cultures. You might think that “not all people are like this”, but once you get to interact with people from those cultures more, you will find out that they do have some characteristics of their stereotype. We shouldn’t generalize, but it’s good to set up some expectations when interacting with other cultures. Once you get to know the person better, you can then adjust your behavior to suit their individuality.
If you don’t have enough experience working and managing a global team, consider finding a higher-level manager who knows how. Most, if not all, mid to high-level managers in global companies have worked with at least dozens of foreigners in their life, and they probably have the insights you need to build your global team.
To have a clearer vision of how your team operates on a cultural level, grab a piece of paper and a pen, then note down all of the characteristics you discover about their cultures. For example, if your team has a Mexican, a German, and a Japanese, it’s wise to expect that the Mexican and Japanese will be a little bit more reserved when communicating, while the German is more likely to be direct and upfront. You can also anticipate that the German and the Japanese are more serious with time and schedule, while the Mexican is much less so.
After that, you can make changes if needed. For example, if the Japanese person has lived in the US for a long time of their life, it’s likely that they have absorbed a great deal of American culture and therefore are more upfront, direct, and confrontative.
2) Set clear expectations
To be a dynamic and thriving team in a geographically and culturally diverse context, everyone in your team needs to be on the same page. There should be no misunderstandings and miscommunications from the get-go.
In order to do that, you should set clear boundaries for your team members. Based on the “analysis” that you have done in the first step, you can create for yourself a policy that perfectly fuses all of the cultures and personalities together. There is no true formula for this, but in general, you must have some clear rules that tell people how they should work to reach the organizational goal.
This is when your “team culture” forms. It is not like any other member’s culture. It’s the collective culture of your entire team.
Should your team members multi-task while working?
How do you give and receive feedback in your team?
Do you take turns to say during meetings or simply let people say in a democratic manner?
What are your expectations on deadlines?
Are there any differences in the perceptions of deadlines among the team members? Do some members have a more serious attitude to deadlines than others?
What is your team member’s attitude to working in general? Does that attitude affect how others work?
Are there any members that value individualism over collectivism and vice versa?
Do you want a team that is more competitive or collaborative?
Most importantly, how do you want members to communicate and express their opinions? Do you want a direct, upfront communication style or a more reserved style?
These are all but a very tiny fraction of all of the cultural differences in business. After researching and understanding your team member’s expectations on these issues, you can create a culture that perfectly mixes these values.
Show them this culture, and let them know that it will take a while for them to get used to the cultural diversity in the team, but eventually, it will be fine. Encourage them to open up and embrace these differences, and see it as an interesting experience for themselves.
3) Observe and make changes if necessary
Interpersonal interactions are highly nuanced and subtle. As a manager, your job is to observe the way your employees work together and learn about them along the way. It takes time to learn how to be a manager, too.
Observe the water cooler conversations. Remember that 3/4 of communication is non-verbal. You’ll learn more about your team members by observing a few minutes of them interacting in real life than hours of communicating via phones or Zoom calls.
Once you discover interesting facts about your team, make changes to your management style and communications style to fit your team or your member’s culture. You can take a personalized approach by using different communication styles with different people from different cultures.
Take your time to learn more about the culture of your members and employees. Engage in conversations with them. Ask them. Find out more about their values and traditions. Try to get to know why they are the way they are. Your team members probably are going to appreciate you a lot for taking the time to get to know them on a cultural level. Who knows, maybe you’ll open your eyes to wonderful things you have never known before, too.
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4) Create plenty of opportunities for your employees to interact with each other
In other words, initiate intercultural casual conversations where people from all cultures can share his or her concerns and ideas. You can give constructive feedback for their personal development while creating a healthy environment where employees can connect with each other.
Encourage your employees to share interesting things about their culture with the team. Learn how others would do a certain thing in one way but not the other. Let employees express their opinions and expectations that are the norm in their culture. This is when your employees gradually establish a common understanding of each other, which strengthens their relationships and, consequently, boosts productivity.
5) Consolidate the understanding
Once a common understanding among employees has been established, you will see the power of a truly global and intercultural team. Each individual is powerful in their own ways, and they bring their strengths to accomplish team projects in the most efficient way possible, while effectively mitigating the conflicts that could have been caused by the cultural gap.
When conflicts do arise, don’t be afraid to intervene and address the problems immediately. If the root of the conflict is cultural, remind the employees of how they don’t share the same culture, and what is normal in one culture might not be so in another. Remind your employees to practice acceptance and empathy. Remind them that they’re working in a global team, so they should adopt a “global mindset”.
6) Act on the feedbacks of your employees.
Sometimes, as an employer, you might not have the best judgment, especially when it’s your first time working with people from an entirely different culture. Many leaders and managers have regular meetings where people can freely provide feedbacks on the management. If your employees’ feedbacks are valuable, consider implementing them in your management style.
After that, repeat the process. You begin at step 1 again, but this time you’re at a higher level of understanding.
You have gained a lot of knowledge and insights into how your employees behave. You understand that they were born in that culture. That way of life, upbringing and education has made them who they are today, and it’s good to embrace them as they are.
However, in the process of embracing differences, you always remind them that they’re in a team, and they should strive to develop their cultural intelligence for the greater good.
In the end, global teams have tremendous potential for you to reach international success. However, it’s only possible if you’re a thoughtful leader who can bridge the cultural gap and bring the members together. It’s a learning process for both you – the managers – and the team members, and it’s worth the effort you put in.
Have you ever had any experience building a global, virtual team with members from cultures around the world? Feel free to share your thoughts and experience with the community in the comment section down below!
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