Globalization has become a key growth driver for many organizations—and it’s a trend that will continue to increase. Research by The Hackett Group has found that companies are hoping to expand globalization of their brands, products and service lines by up to 30% in the coming years. To compete successfully in the global economy, organizations need service leaders who can interact effectively on an international scale.
Today’s connected business environment has created a misconception that technology has bridged some of the cultural barriers. But while many of us interact with people from around the world on a daily basis through social media, customer forums, email and web conferences, managing diverse teams requires specialized leadership skills to communicate effectively, and appropriately, across cultures.
The following are a few practical tips to improve global communication and team building.
Communicating across locations. Regular interaction through conference calls is important, but it can be tricky when you add different cultures to the mix. Unfamiliar management styles, individual behaviors, local traditions and expectations create a communication filter.
To make sure that the information you’re conveying is understood, it’s important to learn about the cultural nuances of the countries and/or regions where your team members are located. In some cultures, people may speak more (or less) in meetings, or they may need to be invited to speak. Also, be sure to understand the types of wording to use to make sure the message is not lost. For instance, idioms and jargon may not be understood by people from diverse backgrounds, and if English is not the native language, your listeners may not comprehend the use of a particular word.
Video conferencing can help, says international business expert Melissa Lamson, president and CEO of Lamson Consulting LLC. Being able to see the other person or people you’re speaking with makes communication more personal. It also helps when participants can put faces to the names that they interact with on a regular basis. “It will dramatically increase your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues and to gauge whether people are involved in the conversation,” she adds.
Managing diverse employees. There are three main issues leaders need to consider when managing diverse employees, Lamson says: direct versus indirect communication, hierarchy and time.
In Western cultures, many managers tend to prefer a direct communication style that is concise and to the point with less risk for misunderstanding. However, cultures that value respect and courtesy often communicate in a more passive, indirect style to lessen the possibility of offending the listener. Managers need to be aware of these communication styles and the impact on the message. For instance, in some cultures, when someone says, “yes,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree. It might just mean that they heard the speaker. “Be aware of what ‘yes’ means, and make sure that you know the right questions to ask to get a full answer around commitments, deadlines or agreement,” Lamson says.
Similarly, attitudes toward hierarchy differ by culture. “Employees in some cultures have the expectation that the manager will take charge and will come to them to initiate assignments and tasks,” she explains. Others require a flat hierarchy in which they work autonomously and they will come to you if they have questions or issues.
Finally, be aware of attitudes toward time. “There are many cultures that feel as though urgency and deadlines are flexible, while in other cultures, people get very nervous if deadlines aren’t met,” Lamson says.
Practical Pointer: Provide your global team with tools to improve their cross-cultural knowledge. Internal newsletters, intranets and social media tools can help staff to share glimpses into their lives with their colleagues around the world.