Leading a Global Team: How to Communicate Effectively Across Cultures

April 24, 2020 Lydia Adams

business man and woman laughing in front of computer

The global economy is here to stay. In today's environment, many mid-size businesses are working with internal or external teams offshore. Whether using outsourcing with a business process outsourcing (BPO) partner to cut costs or simply collaborating with overseas internal resources, communication and cultural understanding are key. Learn how to communicate effectively when leading a global team across cultures below.

If you’ve ever worked across continents, you’ve likely run into some cultural differences between you and your team. Whether it be communication, work style or business etiquette, many global business people have found themselves unprepared, or in some cases, confused while working with counterparts in other cultures. To help, we’ve compiled our top tips, gathered over 35 years of global business experience, to ensure that you get results when working with teams overseas.

Read More: Make Productivity a Priority: Keeping Remote Teams On Track

Listen First & Show Respect for Cultural Differences

Many times, Americans are direct in a business setting, while other cultures put more value on collaboration, or even avoiding conflict.  You may want to soften your tone and approach with your offshore team by giving less direct statements and asking them their opinions. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand. And, above all, show the utmost respect for their country, culture and values.

We asked our own Matt Wood, VP - Client Services to share his advice after years of working with and managing teams offshore. A veteran of recruiting, retaining and managing people (as well as directing client programs), Wood has done it all and believes that listening first makes all the difference.

"Open communication, listening and learning from each other are critical for all teams. This is no different for an overseas team. Managing employees in both India and the Philippines has given me such an appreciation for what we can learn from other cultures," Wood said.

Watch the Video: Why Our Listen-First Approach Makes All the Difference

Make Expectations Clear Upfront & Head Off Misunderstanding - Leading a Global Team

In the U.S., we often take agreements, appointments, and deadlines for granted assuming that, once stated, they will be fulfilled. However, in some cultures, agreements are more flexible, and deadlines are not as strict, which can lead to possible misunderstandings.

Going over expectations in detail up-front can help, as will drawing up concrete responsibilities and timelines. Get buy-in from your full team in a collaborative setting to make sure all information is presented and everyone is on the same page.

This process of clearly showing expectations not only helps those teams and individuals you work with but has the potential to help you as well. In our rush to meet deadlines, and with our American cultural expectation to just get - it - done, sometimes we can skip steps in between, leading to unnecessary and time-consuming rework. We can learn a lot from our overseas counterparts who show us that a well-planned project will run more smoothly and efficiently if all concepts are communicated upfront.

Prepare for Outsourcing the Right Way: Download the Outsourcing Implementation Matrix

Ask for Honest Feedback & Respond Right Away

As a manager, you want to hear the input of your team, but in many cultures, giving honest feedback is considered rude. Because saving face is paramount to a healthy working relationship in several cultures, you may find your team being silent or, worse, agreeing with you when they don’t actually agree. Make sure to let your team know that you value their feedback and build trust so they feel comfortable being honest with you, especially while in a public setting like a meeting or on a conference call.

"Sometimes team members might feel uncomfortable sharing honest feedback in a group setting, which is why that trust and relationship with individuals are so important. My team members know that my virtual door is always open for them to bring back any thoughts or concerns," Wood said.

Just like in a traditional in-office environment, responding to employee feedback is also extremely important when managing an offshore team. Consider giving yourself a deadline to respond to team member concerns and questions, within 24 hours for example, to make sure they feel valued and respected.

Learn More: Investing in Your People: How to Gain Workplace Efficiency By Focusing on the Needs of Your Team

Leading a global team

Use Technology to Bridge the Gap

When working with counterparts offshore, nothing is more important than communication, but the phone can sometimes leave much to be desired. There are many ways that technology can help you communicate effectively and bridge barriers. Whether your company uses Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype or something else, the key is to employ some technology to stay in touch.

By video-chatting and screen-sharing, you can ensure that your team fully understands and can execute your direction. It also gives the advantage of reading body language and facial cues if language presents a barrier. Remember, if you’re using traditional email to communicate, set up a call or video session regularly so that any confusion can be sorted out.

Weekly video check-in meetings are a great way for you to "see" your team members, monitor their progress and get to know them even better.

Read More: Rethinking What An Office Looks Like - The Rise of the Virtual Team

Learn From & Engage Your Team Members - Leading a Global Team

The best way to approach your global team? Learn the way they work best and adapt your skills to fit their style. Grow culturally and increase your awareness through research. Ask your team questions about what is important to them, and how they define success.

And, no matter where they are in the world, engage your team with authentic interest and a people-first culture.  Find out about their lives outside of work to further build common ground and discover a new perspective on their lives and values.

Get the eBook: Employee Engagement - The Definitive Guide to Retaining Top Talent Through Company Culture

"Engaging the teams you manage is so important and even more so when you're across the globe. I have found that motivation soars when I communicate freely with my team, praise and recognize their efforts, and take a genuine interest in their daily lives," Wood said.

 

The global economy is making our work more varied, interesting and successful than ever before. If you are looking to build your team with global talent, contact us. We've been building efficient offshore teams for our clients for decades.

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