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At a recent panel discussion I moderated on the topic, A Business Case for Diversity, the panel discussed the importance of the strategic value that global teams offer, and the challenges that business leaders face as they strive to leverage technology and communication platforms to conduct business globally. Clearly, we can acknowledge the upside of working in global teams – as our local U.S. team sleeps at night, there could be a global team working diligently elsewhere in their normal business hours, maximizing productivity literally round the clock. However, managing and working with global teams present geographic, logistical, linguistic, as well as cultural and diversity considerations. Within the diversity aspect, the role that women play in global teams can vary from culture to culture; as a business leader, you have an opportunity to draw participation from women on your global team. Being unaware of communication, cultural and other nuances could challenge team relationships and project execution. It is essential to have in place a strategy that builds cultural and other diversity awareness, builds understanding and collaboration through team building, and builds communication and active listening methods to avoid confusion and conflict.
Consider the following best practices:
1. Make global teams on both sides aware of the overall objectives, the scope of the project and deliverables. Make all sides aware of the process and the desired results. Further, why is working globally essential to the project’s success, and is this purpose clear to your local and global teams? How will your global team positively impact the organization’s success and how will you communicate this benefit to all teams?
2. Understand labor and employment laws in your global team’s country. Your company’s Human Resources and Legal departments may be able to assist in building this awareness. By educating yourself on any labor and employment factors, you can identify potential legal risks.
3. Wherever possible, bring the teams physically together. If this is not feasible, at least ensure that your local U.S. project leader visits your global team. Learning about the offshore work environment can help transition global team interaction as well as identify any potential project limitations. Conversely, if members of your global team are able to visit, be sensitive to any logistical, cultural and dietary concerns.
4. Be flexible to working with your global team’s time zone. Your willingness to meet the other team half-way on logistical grounds helps establish your good faith. However, be aware that a subordinate contractual relationship between global teams can sometimes establish who accommodates whose time zone.
5. Begin the project by building cultural awareness. Educate each side about respective cultures, traditions and holidays. Kickoff with a global team building activity using video conferencing or a Skype call. Find ways to discover and exchange fun facts about each person through virtual games. Talk about hobbies, holidays and other personal interests to find common ground. Encourage women team members to share as women from some cultures may tend to be quieter, particularly in mixed gender settings. Team members with shared common interests can be encouraged to follow up to further strengthen their relationships. Consider having women from the local U.S. team proactively reach out to their women peers in the global team; or, if there are no women on the local U.S. team, leverage your position as business or project leader to reach out.
6. Get to know your teams’ behavioral styles. Using personality tests such as Myers Briggs can identify any possible conflicting behavioral styles. Consider having a communication workshop to help your teams be better equipped at handling any differences. When necessary, remind women team members that you seek participation from all members.
7. Foster good multicultural communication best practices.
(a) Educate yourself and local U.S. team members in basic greetings in the global team’s native language. Most can easily learn common phrases such as “Please”, “Thank You”, “You’re welcome”, and “Goodbye”. Cultural differences may be diffused simply by showing people from other cultures that you are willing to understand them and communicate in their language. In fact, your willingness to stumble over foreign phrases may help lift any language or cultural barriers from non-native English speakers as they communicate in English as a foreign language.
(b) Speak English slowly as non-native English speakers may have difficulty following fast English speech. Use standard, grammatically correct English – avoid idiomatic or colloquial phrases that have origins in local U.S. popular culture. This is of utmost importance as people from other countries may be unaware of idiomatic expressions that have no cultural reference elsewhere. Avoid using phrases such as: “meeting minutes”, “wild goose chase”, “stay tuned”, “hold on”, “foot in the mouth”, “knee jerk reaction” and the like.
8. Use meeting facilitation best practices. Email detailed meeting agendas and important points prior to a meeting as this provides an opportunity for your global team members to digest the discussion topics in written form. Most non-native English speakers are stronger in written rather than oral communication so a written preface presents an advance opportunity to prepare for a meeting. After a meeting, send out detailed meeting notes to summarize the discussion and indicate action items, deliverables and persons responsible for deliverables. Additionally, consider providing follow up opportunities such as using online discussion boards to make communication and interaction easier for your teams.
9. A final women-oriented best practice: when conducting meetings, call on your women team members to elicit their participation. Some women may not speak up unless called upon, so use your empowerment as a business or project leader to build open communication across genders.
Global teams, when managed effectively, can prove to be a significant competitive advantage. Following global communication and other remote project management best practices ensures your success in working with global teams, and enables these interactions to become profitable business opportunities for your company.
ABOUT the AUTHOR: Radhika Emens is CEO and Founder of Tanjah Partners, a global marketing consultancy focused on helping companies bridge global markets. Radhika is a global marketing strategist who enjoys working on and solving business problems. She has worked in companies of various sizes and industries, and as an entrepreneur. She has a diverse background in developing marketing programs, and looks for ways to cross-pollinate ideas, systems and critical thinking processes across industries. She has an MBA from Chapman University, CA and an B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, PA. Born in India and raised in Morocco, she speaks 8 languages, and is passionate about all things global.