Expert Strategies On Managing Cultural Differences In Remote Teams
No one can deny the fact that managing cross-cultural and virtual teams effectively could bring ample opportunities – deep knowledge of products and their markets, how to deal with culturally sensitive customers and the 24-hour working pattern. However, these advantages can be eclipsed by the obstacles arising from teams working virtually, ending as the team bottleneck. Cultural bottlenecks are common in managing agile teams. The need for managing culturally diverse teams is very significant and challenging for remote team managers.
Image Source : Sandglaz
“Multicultural teams have greater potential for misunderstandings and conflict, which are
exacerbated if team members are dispersed geographically and across time zones.” Annette Sinclair & Robertson-Smith of Roffey Park Institute
Since effective management of culturally diverse teams become crucial for team building and globalisation of an organisation, we asked a few remote team managers and agile experts how they manage their teams working across different cultures. Their responses are here. It was interesting to see a wide range of tactics, thank you, everyone, for co-operating the best as you can!
On reaching out to the experts, these are two main questions which I asked and either of the questions was answered;
Share 3 strategies/advice to managing cultural differences in global teams
The one thing that even experienced entrepreneurs might forget to do or not do enough managing global teams
Role of Feedback : One of the differences in how people work is the way in which they like to give and receive feedback. When we work with a diverse group of people (whether they come from different countries or not) we should be on the look out for those times when our feedback is not leading to improvement or even change.
Ask people how they want to receive feedback: in private, in writing, over the phone?
Do your best so that receiving constructive feedback is not seen as losing face but as part of the team process.
Ask for feedback yourself, to reduce the perception of “boss knows best”. People who have absolute respect for people further up the hierarchy might not question your feedback or ask for clarification – and hence, might not act on it.
At the end of each conversation, ask them what they will do differently as a result of your chat.
Be Intentional : My advice is “Be intentional”. Team members working remotely won’t accidentally bump into each other in a virtual hallway. Instead, you need to make the accidental intentional. Set aside 15 minutes every day to video chat with someone on your team. Rotate through your entire team to make sure you get to know all of them. Talk about your favorite TV show, or the movie you saw in the theater, or the big game last weekend. Find a non-work related connection, and you will build trust and empathy.”
Managing cultural differences in expert teams: My 3 top tips
Don’t “manage” differences – Delight in them, celebrate them and find out more about them. The rich diversity of your team is part of what makes it successful. Spend team time exploring the differences in how individuals approach their work.
Build effective interactions – Ask a lot more questions about your team members’ beliefs, values etc, and listen to the answers. You may well discover that there are great differences between two individuals from the same culture – and similarities between individuals from different cultures.
Set clear standards – Have clear standards of acceptable behaviour, regardless of culture. For example, if strict timekeeping is important to your team and its work, it’s important – even if part of the team is based in a “manyana” culture. Make the standards clear and expect people to abide by them.
Video is king - I’ve been working on virtual/remote teams for 10 years and experienced that communication with ‘visual contact’ is key. Maybe not directly related to managing cultural differences, however, differences can only be managed if there is discussion and debate. Seeing somebody is simply more effective than ‘voice only’.
2. Often cultural differences translate into differences in values. Values may come from a wide variety of sources.Which country, social status, religion we are ‘born with’ we don’t choose, personal values arise through our life experiences, it all does leave a mark on our values. There are several ways to understand people’s values, and motivations:
One may use the Management 3.0 Moving Motivators game. Playing the game gives insights in a) what drives people and b) impacts of changes on those motivations. You can play this game with a group via a video call, where everybody shows their cards on camera and the impacts change decisions have on those. Or there’s a Virtual Icebreaker game that can help with this (it’s an online version of the game).
Another way that I find very interesting is as well tool supported. The tool is called ThanksBox. It is a peer-to-peer recognition tool: say thanks, congratulations to your peers. However, it allows you two interesting features: You may insert your list of defined company values which the people can than select and add to the ‘Thanks’. That provides you an insight with which values are ‘best fit’ to your culture. Additionally, the tool allows to generate a ‘word cloud’ from all the text on the cards. That specifically may help to understand reasons why people say thanks and as well surface ‘candidate values’ that seem better aligned with your culture.
1) Weekly meetings with video help team see each other and interact with each other, not only share the work they’ve done in the last week but also any happenings on their end of the world so others can learn what life and work are like for them.
2) Time Doctor to manage productivity given different time zones.
3) Asana to manage tasks and team projects where asynchronous communication is necessary when working on opposite times.
All of these tools along with proactive efforts in hiring the right people who are open to learning about different cultures and practices are what make it possible for the Mailbird team to be successful with a distributive team. Most of the people we hire share the same love for travelling which helps a lot too, so despite any cultural differences people on our team and extremely open and welcoming to learning about each others cultures which make for a really great cultural fit.
Points to remember!
Remember to respect time zones
Set clear expectations for availability
Respect and recognize national holidays
Take some time to learn from your international team members about how they work, communicate, what makes they feel comfortable, uncomfortable and help them with those learnings to develop into an even more drive and amazing team member that is motivated and cares about the startup as much as you do.
Understand communication barriers and how things may be interpreted differently within the diversity of cultures of your team, and if that is the anticipated outcome it would be worth it to explain the meaning behind what you are communicating or doing.
Understand that different people deal with criticism in different ways, and this s not just due to cultural upbringing but down to the nitty gritty being of a person.
Understand that communication is more than ever important when working with remote teams so be sure when you communicate something that the rest of the team acknowledges and understands what you exactly mean.
Be sure expectations are clearly defined and again reiterated back to you from each team member.
Communication can be the biggest barrier, so be sure to take the time to know how to communicate with team members from different cultural backgrounds. You need to get everyone on the same page, working hard towards the bigger picture, the bigger vision.
Meet each other to build relationship – An obvious one for me are exchange visits where people meet and get to learn each other. A replacement that is being used more and more in remote working is Hangouts, Skype calls, chats or emails. People meet virtually and start to work together based on trust that they *assume* is there. Which is what I do, for instance when writing the book with Luis Gonçalves, translating our book and for articles for InfoQ. I never asked for trust, or gave trust, I just assumed that it would be good to do it. And then success followed.
Starting from trust in remote collaboration takes a different mindset. You start from the assumption that people want to do things together where everyone will benefit. You assume people to be honest, open, you start from the trust which is confirmed by openness and behavior, the things people do. This requires a major shift from thinking of trust as something that you give or earn. Trust is there already, use it!
One thing not to forget is that people all over the world usually are good by nature. They come into work to do a good job. To do something that they feel is valuable. To work in the best way they can. As an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever is needed to enable people to do their work. Trust them to get the job done, listen to them and take them seriously. Treat them like you want to be treated.
Use video conferencing and telepresence robots like our Kubi telepresence robot to have face to face communications
Meet the Kubi!
Learn about the cultures that you work with such as how they greet each other, what are the important holidays, and show a genuine interest to learn about them
Seek to find similar interests between your team and the global teams to facilitate a friendly conversation in addition to the work discussions.
But, number one is making sure that there are clearly defined goals and expected outcomes from the distant teams.
We all know that expert advice is always good and that is the same reason I have pulled together all these. Nothing is better than getting directly from the horse’s mouth. Remember, remote work is evolving at a faster rate and companies are turning to virtual teams.
Hugo Messer, the CEO of Ekipa is a Remote Team Expert. Hugo has been building and managing teams around the world for over 10 years. His passion is to empower people spread across cultures, geography and time zones to collaborate. Be it offshoring or nearshoring, he knows what it takes to make a global cooperation work. To know more about Hugo and his global team building programs visit www.hugomesser.com
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