As companies grow and expand their global workforce, managing an international team is becoming a new trend. Did you ever feel overwhelmed by international team management? Or faced difficulties and felt lost? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Working with people from around the world can be challenging. Both domestic and international teams face the same problems. A lack of clarity regarding team objectives, issues with setting goals for individual team members, insufficient basic knowledge and skills, and so on. On top of that, an international team presents extra issues as a result from differences in culture, communication, language, and geography. So, even if you have advanced team management skills, things can be tricky sometimes.
Although it can be challenging, an international team also offers many benefits. Examples of this are diversity and the chance to develop your global mindset. Become an expert in international team management by learning the reasons why it can be hard, and how to deal with issues.
When your team is international, each member brings different values, social norms, and assumptions of behaviour to the group. In some collectivistic cultures informal contact with colleagues or making decisions together are highly valued in terms of team bonding. However, the need for consensus might not be as critical for someone from an individualistic culture.
To minimise the risk of misunderstanding, it’s best to acknowledge any cultural differences, especially in terms of work culture. Before taking their behaviour personally, think about whether it is caused by cultural differences. In some countries, friendliness and socialising with colleagues are basic manners, but this might not be the case elsewhere. Being on the same page regarding norms of behaviour is very important. Also, things like holiday leave, overworking, business-related ethics and practices can differ. Conflict among teammates can always happen even with prevention. But there’s an effective way of resolving conflicts, with or without cultural differences.
According to Project At Work, 33% of people in international teams find communication challenging. High-context cultures (such as Japan or Greece) leave a lot of information and messages unspecified. It is expected that others understand the meaning through context, non-verbal cues, and between-the-lines interpretation of what is actually said.
In low-context cultures (like Germany or Sweden), messages are direct and specific. Individuals in high-context cultures look for meaning and understanding in the things left unsaid but communicated through body language. Those in low-context cultures place emphasis on communication via accurate messages directly with written or spoken words.
Define a clear structure right from the start to avoid misunderstandings. When you assign tasks, decide what should be included in the information: deadlines, crucial points to know, what is expected from their performance etc. Also, regular meetings can help everyone to stay on the same page. Update other members’ tasks, obstacles, plans and so on. As a manager, you need to know what is going on in your team and keep an eye on the big picture. This way you will notice when problems come up.
Time difference, video conferences, lack of contact. These can all be difficult when your teammates work in different countries. Not only can these cause misinterpretations. It takes more effort to build trust among teammates without face to face contact. You can set a regular meeting at the same time of day that works for all parties. Knowing that everyone has the space to express their opinions can help create a sense of safety.
Remember that because of time differences, you may not get an immediate response. Think ahead and send messages in a way that works best. If you’re expecting a reply by the next morning, it’s better to send a message before you leave the office. Skype, Zoom, Trello, Slack and Google apps are just a few communication options. With so many new forms of technology, getting in touch with anyone in the world is much easier than before.
By Eunkyung Cha