Global teams are critical for an organization’s need for expansion, productivity and innovation. In spite of this importance, few organizations know how to train for required awareness and skills needed to succeed. Here is a roadmap to succeed based on hundreds of team-building programs around the globe and follow-up research my company has conducted over 30 years.
Conduct an organizational audit
Be sure to answer the following questions:
• Are your international teams dealing with issues of trust, respect, and competency?
• Are your team members from many different countries and cultures?
• Has your organization launched global project teams?
• Are you developing a shared vision to span the globe?
• Is your company initiating international policies, standards. and practices?
Do a training analysis
Global team members are focused on fixed targets and do not recognize the impact that their different attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions might have on their teamwork. Invisible cultural forces profoundly affect the team’s goals as well as day-to-day functioning. Each team member’s style of thinking and communicating is significantly affected by their cultural upbringing. Issues of leadership, power and control, decision making, trust, and respect take on different meanings and significance in international teams. Here are some key cultural factors:
Communication style. At a global team meeting of a major Dutch organization, which was to focus on expansion into China, there was little initial discussion by the Chinese. After a small amount of cross-cultural coaching, the team facilitators started calling on the Chinese, and the Dutch were amazed to learn how much insight their Chinese teammates had. The chances for misunderstandings that destroy trust are extremely high in global teams.
Openness to risk taking. A team of sales executives from four airlines were in a strategic alliance meeting in Paris to discuss the cultural alignment of their organizations. The U.S. team came prepared to recommend a new fee for luggage for those traveling in coach on transatlantic flights. The French airline executive immediately demanded the research that proved this would be profitable and not cost the airlines lost revenue due to passengers selecting other airlines. The Americans were frustrated by the French refusal to try out the idea. The French executive believed that if the company lost even one Euro on the new fee, he would lose his job so he could not approve the fee without concrete evidence. The plan was vetoed. The Americans had no idea that their openness to change would be questioned by the more analytical and risk-averse approach of the French.
What is important to each country. An American medical device company wanting to build a new facility in Hungary used a U.S.-centric assessment process to select the plant manager. The Hungarian team members immediately vetoed the choice, because the person selected was over 50 years old—which in Hungarian culture meant he was someone who might be tainted by a Communist management style.
Prepare for success
To succeed, you must keep a number of factors in mind:
Virtual success factors. An well-designed and delivered global team-building program can have extraordinary results if done right. The key is not to do a typical team-building program that fails to address the unique factors facing a global team. In addition to the cultural factors mentioned above, you must focus on the virtual nature of the teams’ interactions and communications.
Trust. Global teams need more time to get acquainted and develop trust. Before any team-building program, create a team Facebook page or LinkedIn group that contains the professional and social profile of each team member. This should include photos, titles, and personal information, such as favorite hobbies. Global team members should always meet in person at the beginning of a team’s formation. This initial time should be spent getting to know each other on a personal level. It should not be an itinerary of business plans. One of the biggest causes of global team failure is not bringing a team together in person right from the start.
Global team communications plan. Create a team communication plan that includes a global calendar and be sure to include all holidays celebrated by each team member. Doing this will reduce the number of people not attending a virtual team meeting, since everyone will be aware of each other’s schedules and cultural holidays.
Inclusivity. Neuroscience has made us aware of the reasons for our unconscious biases, and these biases are particularly significant in global teams. For example, individuals are less trusting of a message delivered by a person with an accent versus the same message delivered by a person without an accent. Unless we make a conscious effort to mitigate our unconscious biases, we will not be able to benefit from each team members potential.
Do you have best practices to share? Leave a comment, below, and join the conversation.
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