As noted by businesses large and small across the globe, remote and cross cultural teamwork presents both immense opportunity and challenge. First and foremost, as a leader, you’re tasked creating a dynamic and supportive environment where your team can thrive.
Every person brings something unique to the table, so the secret to success is celebrating the individual expertise, perspectives and values everyone brings. This boils down to effective communication – in other words, bringing everyone onto the same page.
Here are a few expert tips from leaders who are championing effective communication in their remote teams.
Managing a multicultural workforce: How to make teamwork work across the globe
Become familiar with their gestures and expressions
In Bulgaria, nodding means “No”.
In India, the famous head bobble can mean “Yes”, “No”, “Understood”, or sometimes “No, but I don’t want to say it”.
In the Philippines, people often use pursed lips to point in a general direction. This is to avoid using fingers, while also using less effort than lifting an arm.
Furthermore, in a TEDx Talk about multicultural remote teams, the CEO of Prodigy Finance explained how he discovered the phrase “just now” doesn’t actually mean now in South Africa, as he waited for 20 minutes for a call that never came. Similarly, in Spanish, when they say “now” they’re translating it literally from their own language where it really means “sometime in the future”.
These are just some examples of cultural expressions that can cause confusion during a conference call – leading to the inefficiencies and avoidable conflicts that hinder your teamwork.
“While it’s a good idea to be aware of certain business norms, being open-minded about your team members and how they prefer to work and communicate will help you manage them better and avoid misconceptions.” – FastCompany
Streamlining team communications often begins simply with getting to know your teammates. The more familiar you are with their gestures and expressions, the more you can get everyone onto the same page.
Meeting with them personally can be of great help, but for now, you can simply make sure you don’t leave anything to assumption. Always ask exactly what they mean or have them confirm if you understood them correctly before moving forward.
Over-communicate to ensure understanding
Understanding each other’s expressions is a two-way street. It’s essential for them to also become familiar with your own preferred ways of communicating.
For every team discussion, start and conclude your meeting with a clear outline of key talking points. This best practice is used by organisations of every size and type to boost understanding, engagement and efficiency.
Clarity ensures everyone walks away with clear action points and a sense of priority. At the end of the discussion, you could even go around in a circle and encourage every team member to pinpoint what they intend to do once the call is over.
However, culture plays a role in how people communicate conflict, confusion or other matters. For example, a recent Zoho article on multicultural management explores how many Asian cultures value maintaining harmony and avoiding confrontation in a conversation. This means they avoid saying things like “I don’t understand” or “I can’t do this alone”, meaning that you may not know when they’re in need of further assistance.
If you suspect a particular team member isn’t entirely clear on what you told them, simply follow up privately after a conversation. Reassure them that it’s okay if they need clarification. You may even mention other team members aren’t totally clear on it either so they don’t feel singled out.
Reshuffle roles to aid teamwork
Facebook has always prided themselves in their ever-growing multicultural workforce – after all, scaling a high-performing workforce is no easy feat! One way Facebook achieves this is by reshuffling roles and assignments to ensure each team is comprised of people who work well together. Another strategy is to let their multicultural managers choose which team they want to work with. This allows them to flourish amongst the cultures that present fewer conflicts with their own, which in turn significantly benefits communication and productivity.
Conflicts due to cultural differences are a very real issue and can even lead to a team member walking away from a company. Circling back to Prodigy Finance, the CEO found that his North American and Dutch team members tended to interrupt their co-workers during conference calls. While this was normal in their own cultures, it drove their other teammates insane.
For this reason, setting ground rules together as a team is a good starting point for streamlining communication. Regularly reviewing your roles and team structures is crucial for minimising grey areas and pairing up likeminded team members.
Taking the next steps
Whether your business comprises two or 200 employees, effective communication defines your success. In businesses with remote and local teams, a proactive approach to communication becomes even more crucial. Tools and rules can only reach so far – it ultimately takes a more human effort to foster effective communication and understanding between multicultural remote teams.