Today is the first remote meeting of your cross-cultural team. You have proudly organized the team composed of members from different cultures and are now ready to let the creative juices of various cultures come together for stimulating and exciting new ideas.
Unfortunately, only five minutes into the meeting, some members are talking over one another while others are remaining stone silent. The meeting is getting out of control and your computer screen is revealing the faces of frustrated and angry team members.
Perhaps what you didn’t take into account were the vast differences that exist between the various cultures of our world. And when bringing these differences together in one, remote meeting, the potential for miscommunication is real.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for the challenges that are inherent in cross-cultural teams. Understanding and being ready for these challenges will help you create teams that can collaborate productively. That way you can reap the benefits of the international perspectives that your team will provide.
What Are Cross-Cultural Teams?
Cross-cultural teams are teams composed of members from different cultures. In addition, the members of the team are likely to be from different countries with different first languages as well as customs and experiences unique to each member’s background. While the different cultures involved will provide new and varied ideas that benefit your company, they also bring with them many challenges. Those challenges can interfere with work relationships. Taking these factors into account is the first step that managers need to consider if they want their cross-cultural teams to be productive.
What Are the Challenges of Managing Cross-Cultural Teams?
Of the many challenges of managing cross-cultural teams, these three are among the most common:
Language is the first consideration. You will have team members who speak different languages and you may need to agree on the official language used for all communication. Or, alternatively, have translators in the team to facilitate the conversation. In addition, different cultures communicate in different ways. For example, while some cultures are outspoken and share ideas without being prompted, other cultures are introverted and wait until they are called upon to respond. Without this understanding, some members of the team may be very willing to voice their opinion without being prompted while others may wait until you ask them. Keep this in mind during your interactions so you can be ready for the differing possibilities.
Different Approaches to Problem Solving/Conflict Resolution
When problem-solving, some cultures take a collaborative approach in which members brainstorm solutions and come to a consensus. Other cultures may want to research and gather information before coming to a solution. Still, others are more comfortable letting the manager make the decisions. Prepare by incorporating these differing styles into your interactions, avoid frustrations and allow all members to feel comfortable and productive.
Different Work Styles
While some cultures appreciate a collaborative, group-minded approach, others may prefer working individually. Also, some cultures may be available quite readily even outside working hours. Others may adhere to strict boundaries and only answer to work-related issues during working hours. Knowing in advance how the cultures view work styles will help to avoid misunderstandings.
What Challenges Do Remote Teams Add?
Your cross-cultural team’s members will most likely be in different countries and in different time zones. This presents a whole new set of unique challenges. You as the leader must find a way to not only know your team but to monitor their progress while seeing them on a limited basis.
First and foremost are the technical difficulties we have all become familiar with while having so many of our interactions remotely. Some members may have a weak Wi-Fi signal leading to delays when interacting or slowdowns in downloads. This also can create issues during remote calls with drops and connection delays.
When speaking on a remote call, some members may be reluctant to turn on their camera or to speak into the microphone because of cultural communicative norms. Don’t get frustrated by this. Be open-minded and realize that it may be cultural. Patience is the key here as certain members will need time to adjust to different cultural norms.
Even if the camera is on during a call, it’s difficult to see non-verbal clues like body language which is a vital part of cross-cultural communication. Some team members may rely on body language since they use non-verbal clues to better understand others when words are just not enough. Without the non-verbal clues, the team members will need more time to understand and process what is being said.
Equal access to data is another important consideration.
Do all members of the team have access to the pertinent data and resources needed to complete tasks as a team? A shared database where everybody can access the same information is vital to making team members productive. They will also feel like they are included.
A final remote challenge is the different time zones involved. Team members in different countries are working in different time zones. That adversely affects collaboration and the ability to resolve problems in a timely manner. You must take time zone differences into account and adjust expectations accordingly.
What Are the Best Practices to Managing Cross-Cultural Teams?
While there are many challenges to managing a cross-cultural team, with proper planning and execution, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Some ways to make your cross-cultural team more productive include:
Understand the Structure of Your Team
Know what countries your team members are from. Learn about the cultures so you know what to expect and are ready for any difficulties that might arise. Recognize the norms and practices of the different cultures without resorting to stereotypes.
An important part of any team is building and maintaining trust. Your team members must be able to trust each other in order to function productively. Making all team members feel valued and respected is one of the best ways to start.
All team members must be on the same page and have a clear understanding of your expectations. Norms are different across cultures. So creating norms that take into account characteristics of the different cultures on your team is helpful. In addition, you should send the norms to all members as early as possible. That way they can read, digest, understand, and adjust to the norms that are foreign or uncomfortable for them.
Find Ways to Build Bonds
Creating healthy relationships among your team is a great beginning to fostering productive working relationships. Having your team fill out a questionnaire about their interests can help you to group members with similar interests together. Members sharing common interests can help them to form healthy cross-cultural working relationships.
Be Ready for Bumps in the Road
While best practices will make teams work better together, you will make mistakes. You have to be ready for the cross-cultural miscommunications that will inevitably happen. If you address any conflicts quickly and without judgment or favoritism, the trust you’ve built will make the conflict short-lived and easily resolvable.
Managing cross-cultural teams is a challenge. But with the right preparation and knowledge, you can foster teams that are happy and productive. The possibilities of getting multi-cultural viewpoints that enrich your company are well worth the investment of time in preparing for the challenges.
eCore focuses on the remote workforce and can help you with solutions and guidance for your cross-cultural teams. Using a combination of innovation, technology, and talent, we simplify business processes and increase efficiency. Contact us today for all of your remote team management needs.