Kelly Isley

Six Proven Strategies For Leading International Groups

Almost 15 years ago global teams were rare. Today, they are an important part of our business models.

Almost 15 years ago global teams were rare. Today, they are an important part of our business models. Further, successful leaders with experience in more than one country are increasingly considered as valuable as their specialties. Looking closer at trends and the global DDI study, CEO’s have named cultural competence as one of the top critical skills they want leadership teams to have. The surprising reality gap DDI uncovered: only 34% of leaders in the study ranked working with people from different cultures as a true strength.
If these statistics leave you wondering what’s new when it comes to leading international groups, follow along as today’s experts (already in the 34%) share how they are working in wildly different cultures and getting things done.

Words That Work
In his HBR article “Communication Tips for Global Virtual Teams,” Paul Berry, Founder & CEO of RebelMouse shares what he has learned in his 15 years of managing remote teams. Here are four tips that I have personally adopted:

Live and breathe your email and make sure the team does too
The only way I’ve found that works is when everyone on the team keeps their inboxes open and checks emails as their absolute highest priority. Without that we operate blindly to each other since there is no tapping someone on the shoulder as there would be in an office.

Give the benefit of the doubt
My team has huge cultural and language differences (although everyone does have a working knowledge of English as the basic way we communicate). We all were raised with different ways of approaching projects, handling conflict resolution etc. It’s essential we forgive each other constantly for odd grammar, odd behavior and instead try to make the beauty of building something together lift us above any confusion.

Over communicate
Especially as part of a startup, it’s sometimes hard to understand where we are going and what we are building. Asking questions all the time helps. I want people to always be inquisitive while also working on the little pieces of concrete stuff that we definitely know. If a question doesn’t get answered because of email overload, I like people to ask again or bump up the thread so that we make sure everyone is on the same page.

Be intentionally positive
It’s way too easy for things to sound negative in an email. Without tone, body language or anything else, it’s extra important to make sure emails don’t turn into hurt feelings. Sarcasm and deadpan humor can come across the wrong way (especially because humor doesn’t always translate across cultures). But being friendly and approachable – even if it means using lots of emoticons – is always welcome. I try to encourage my team to be overtly friendly in their emails, even if it means they sound less “businesslike.”

Are You Too Blunt?
INSEAD Professor Erin Meyer reminds us we need to be aware of culture differences early on and certainly when giving feedback to global team members. In Professor Meyer’s book, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, she guides business leaders through this often treacherous terrain.
If you are preparing to give feedback to a multicultural group consider Professor Meyer’s advice shared with Roy Maurer at the Society For Human Resources Management:
What is constructive feedback in one culture may be quite destructive in another. In countries like Russia and France, people give positive feedback more implicitly and negative feedback more directly than in the U.S., while Americans tend to tell others what they’re doing well before bringing up something negative. To many Europeans, this American style of wrapping negative messages in positives seems false and confusing. On the other hand, in cultures that value indirect negative feedback—including many emerging markets such as Brazil, Southeast Asia and many Middle Eastern cultures—Americans come off as way too blunt. So we have to recognize the importance of giving frank feedback in the Netherlands and gentle comments in Thailand.

Enjoy A Happy Holiday
Because different cultures perceive vacation time very differently, it is wise to consider these three tips adapted from “Managing Vacations When Your Team Is Global,” by Melissa Hahn and Andy Molinksy:

Make a master team schedule. Include the major holidays in your team’s countries and any other dates when people will probably be out.

Create a work coverage plan. Ask your team to suggest ways they can cover for each other when you’re short-staffed. Have simple processes for helping people catch up quickly after they’re out.

Adjust as necessary. If you find yourself with too much work and too few people, tweak vacation dates or project timelines as needed.

By creating a global vacation strategy, you and your team members can take holidays and days off without letting work slip through the cracks.

Next Steps
Do you have tips or resources that have helped you work in different cultures and get things done? One final resource worth mentioning is the global holiday calendar from Time & Date. It’s a handy link for anyone getting ready to create a master team schedule.
Many thanks for joining the conversation and sharing insight with the audience via the comment section below.


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