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With work moving from in person to virtual due to COVID restrictions and international expansions, it is more important than ever to be aware of potential cultural differences within teams. Communication can be a challenge no matter the individual backgrounds of people, but with different locations, time zones, and communication channels in place, there are even more risks for distributed teams than simple language barriers. Here’s what you can do to create cultural awareness in your company.
Hiring talent from all around the globe opens businesses up to a whole new world of potential. Not having to limit yourself to national boundaries allows you to work with the most skilled and talented workers no matter their location, and even enables you to explore a new market with experienced local professionals. However, managing a global team is a challenge you need to be prepared for - and not only in regards to different time zones and locations.
If your team consists of workers from different cultural backgrounds, you should consider investing into trainings with a focus on cultural competence and communication to avoid anyone feeling left out or even offended by something another team member does. This can not only help everyone efficiently collaborate and increase team performance, but also potentially makes everyone move closer together and create a healthy and open team culture.
The first step to cultural competence in a global team is to create awareness for different sensitivities and mentalities. Here are a few tips on how to achieve that:
If your team members are working in different locations, it might be a bit hard for them to get to know each other and engage in more casual conversations. But you can only identify and understand potential cultural differences if you talk to your colleagues and compare experiences.
That’s why you should encourage social interactions and leave time for some non-work related smalltalk either before or after a meeting. Setting up a lunch system where each team member has a virtual lunch date with a randomly chosen colleague might also be a good way to get people talking and break down cultural boundaries.
The easiest way to identify potential pain points within your team is by having someone point them out themselves. But it requires a certain level of trust for employees to feel comfortable to reach out to you with their problems.
Establishing a regular 1:1 feedback meeting can help ease into these conversations, as your employees are given a dedicated time slot to share feedback and talk about what is important to them.
Another option to create cultural awareness is by holding a mandatory training for all employees in which a trained professional addresses the importance of cultural competence and shares tools and tips on how to engage with one another.
Understanding that there are some differences and how to navigate them is the first step for your team members to have a more open exchange with each other and create a comfortable working environment for everyone.
While some cultures allow for a rather direct approach when it comes to interpersonal conversations, others might feel attacked or disrespected when confronted with a problem. In these cases, a mediator can help you maintain team harmony.
They talk to all parties involved in the issue and identify possible solutions for it. This eliminates the risks of misunderstandings and helps create more awareness for culturally sensitive conversations.
This can be extremely helpful for virtual meetings with team members from different cultural backgrounds. If you have employees whose first language is not English, you might want to remind all the native speakers to be aware of that and reduce their talking speed. At the same time, you can normalise the process of asking questions in between to ensure everyone can follow the discussion.
Additionally, if your team is located in different time zones, you might want to consider holding your meetings at varying times to not always favor one time zone and create awareness for individual working hours.
Finally, people from some cultural backgrounds might think they are obliged to reply to messages even if they were sent outside their working hours. Make sure everyone understands the expectations around response times and also respects the down time from people in different time zones.
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