In this modern digital economy, which makes it possible to interact with other people from anywhere on earth, it has become the norm for companies to build and invest in international teams. When employees are sourced from diverse geographic contexts, the result is more innovation and solution-oriented ideas than in homogenous teams, notes Harvard Business Review. But with these benefits also come various social barriers which can lead to conflicts and errors in interpretation.
For example, if your office is based in Chicago, but some of your team members are located in Tokyo, Brisbane or Munich, at times it will be difficult to find a rhythm of operation that works for everyone across the board. This does not mean it’s impossible and the tactics below can teach you how to maneuver the logistics and cultural nuances in order to form an international team that is both effective and united.
Understand the Differences in Time Zones
One of the most obvious issues that you will encounter with a team dispersed around the world is coordinating when to touch base. When a number of time zones must be taken into account, it’s hard to plan a meeting that is conducive to each person’s schedule. But while some concessions do need to happen, it’s inconsiderate to expect your team members to constantly be available at midnight where they’re located just because that is convenient for you in the US. So to track the current local time for all employees, use the world clock and international meeting planner resources from TimeAndDate.com.
Harness Trends in Tech to Your Advantage
In today’s era of hyper-connectivity, there are numerous software programs to eliminate the guesswork from virtual interaction, no matter how spread out the employees are. “Our team not only has international remote workers, but we also work with agencies and contractors in several different time zones. We use platforms that allow fast communication and collaboration. Whether that means communicating with stakeholders across the globe on WhatsApp or implementing the latest collaborative work platforms, such as Zoom, across our business, we are open to agile technical solutions that help us deliver growth faster,” adds Martyn Milford, Brand and Marketing Director at LIV Student.
Emphasize Teamwork and Cohesive Goals
Just because your team is distanced in terms of geography does not mean you can’t be unified by common goals and priorities. Make sure the focus of all interactions is to remind each other that you share one objective—to work together and produce cohesive results. This will strengthen morale, trust and camaraderie which minimizes the risk of silos forming between the employees. However, the unification of a team should not demand total assimilation which “confirms the values of a dominant culture because the minority group must trade off at least some of its values,” points out the Cultural Intelligence Center.
Create a Space for Diversity and Inclusion
People of diverse nationalities will respond to situations in the workplace based on their own unique perspectives that likely differ from yours. While it does not require much effort to be marginally aware of this, it takes an intentional leader to practice cultural sensitivity and model a framework of communication that is inclusive and respectful. Keep in mind that “individualistic societies such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most northern and western European countries […] value independence and self-reliance,” whereas “collectivistic societies such as most Latin American, African and Asian counties and the Middle East view themselves as part of an interconnected social network,” notes the Oxford Research Encyclopedia. Here are some nuances to be mindful of:
- Language and idioms;
- Holidays and customs;
- Business related ethics;
- Labor and privacy laws;
- Mannerisms and gestures;
- Communication etiquette.
So whether your team is spread across continents or even hemispheres, it’s still feasible to maintain a sense of common ground–no matter the distance and diversity. If you manage an international team in business, these approaches will ensure that everyone is connected, mobilized and engaged to their fullest capacity.