Multinational organizations have had to learn quickly how to do business in a new way. Gone are the days of local monocultural teams working independently. Global teams are now the norm with employees from many cultures coming together virtually and physically to work towards a common goal. While many organizations have quickly adopted global working, they have not all necessarily provided the support and training to ensure that global team working actually works.
Making a global team work
1. Recognizing that we don’t all work in the same way
Savvy multinational organizations recognize that each country does business differently and employees from different cultures work differently.
Having said that, it is possible for employees to come together and share common corporate values and recognize common organizational cultural characteristics. There just might be the need for local fine-tuning.
2. Understanding each other
Switched on companies also recognize that to gain the most out of their global presence, they must also function well in each of their markets.
Recognize the importance of getting to know remote colleagues on a personal level as well as on a professional level
This includes the need to cross-pollinate ideas and practices that may be very different from one place to another. Recognizing cultural differences and celebrating them is one of the key steps to making global teams work.
A Harvard Business Review article highlighted the issue of global teamwork and collaboration. Major challenges such as collaborating across multiple time zone and ensuring technology works for all were identified.
Remember that if the technology does not work for everyone then effective global working is impossible.
3. Take into account language and cultural barriers
Cultural and linguistic challenges often lead to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings often serve to emphasize the differences between people and, if organizations are not careful, foster an attitude of ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
If organizations are not careful, then it also leads to the ‘them’ group being looked upon with suspicion and distrust.
It is important for organizations to recognize the dangers of developing an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture and put measures in place to minimize these problems.
People are regarded as less as one of ‘them’ and more like one of ‘us’ when others get to know and understand them better. If organizations are not careful it can also lead to the ‘them’ group being looked upon with suspicion and distrust.
4. Get to know your colleagues
When team members are based in the same office, this generally happens organically, such as the classic ‘water cooler’ or coffee machine conversation where significant business and social information is informally exchanged.
Being in the same offices also humanizes colleagues, especially through activities such as small talk and sharing lunch. We get to know each other better.
Members of remote global teams miss out on these significant exchanges. We know much less about them. Good global organizations strive to recreate these opportunities within the parameters of different locations, languages, and cultures. The HBR article calls this the ‘mutual knowledge problem’. It is a key challenge to help make global teams work.
5. Overcome the mutual knowledge problem
Break down the mutual knowledge gap and make your global team work. Here are some ways you can achieve this:
- Remove the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mindset
Focus on what is common amongst all colleagues regardless of their location. This often starts with a shared objective of a task or project
- Remind all team members of the advantages of a global team
Highlight the reasons why working across different geographies is better for team members and the organization as a whole. It might be because knowledge, skills or language and cultural knowledge do not reside in one location, and the task or project may not succeed without global collaboration.
- Hold regular meetings
Hold regular meetings to exchange information to enable the task or project to progress better. Identify what this information should include. Encourage colleagues to include ideas that may not be expected without fear of rejection, even if the idea isn’t adopted.
- Take the time to get to know your colleagues
Recognize the importance of getting to know remote colleagues on a personal level as well as on a professional level. Make time to do this. Many organizations celebrate birthdays and often incorporate different cultural festivals and other traditions into their corporate calendar.
Ask personal questions, but learn the boundaries between welcome interest and an intrusion of privacy.
- Recognize that the best person to turn to may be on the other side of the world
Recognize that the most familiar or most conveniently located colleague is not necessarily the best person to turn to for advice or to rely on as a subject matter expert. The right person may be located remotely. They may also be a little bit more effort to work with, but will make the best contribution to the overall success of the project.
- Make your working life tangible
Explain your working environment to your remote colleagues. Challenges like transport, noise, sharing of resources etc may be very different from location to location. Understanding these differences leads to dealing with them more effectively if they are not a surprise.
We are all ‘us’
Working in global teams has its rewards and challenges, both for the colleagues involved and their organization. Thinking globally means thinking smarter. Making all members of a global team feel a part of that team, no matter where they are located makes all the difference. Everyone should be regarded as an ‘us’ and not a ‘them’.