Archives For Global teams

While cultural misinterpretations can make for a good laugh amongst friends, the same mistake in a business setting can permanently damage your reputation with colleagues, employees… or clients.

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As the world becomes “smaller”, the need for strong cross-cultural skills continues to increase at an alarming pace. Whether you work in your home country with people from other cultures or you live in a culture other than your own, doing business with people having alternative worldviews is always a challenge.Technological advances in transportation and communication may make logistics easier, but the challenge of cross-cultural communication remains constant. As you consider how to work with people different from yourself, consider some basic tips that you may find helpful: Continue Reading…

Poor management, communications breakdowns, unsuitable or badly integrated team members, ill-equipped staff, personality clashes — there are many reasons why virtual teams fail. Not surprisingly, despite years of research on how to do virtual teams better (not to mention the development of great technological tools), virtual teams still fail at an alarming rate – varied research results suggest that failure rates for virtual teams may be as high as 70%.

While virtual teams create the opportunity to bring together the best and most appropriate individuals based on their expertise and skills, it is often the inability of these individuals to work together towards a common goal (in a virtual context) that results in failure. In order to perform well, virtual teams have to work harder and use distinct methodologies, processes and behaviors to build communication, trust and a sense of team cohesiveness. But what happens when they don’t? Usually… epic failure!

From my experience, here are a few of the key reasons virtual teams continue to fail in a bit more detail:

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Did you know that an estimated 70% of international ventures fail due to poor cross-cultural interactions?  When individuals from different cultural backgrounds or environments don’t understand each other, it will inevitably lead to failed projects and suboptimal results.  Culture forms the way we think and act – across all spectrums – often causing members of virtual teams to perceive reality very differently across boundaries and borders.

Although cultural diversity has high potential for negative outcomes, it also has enormous potential for growth and renewal that will facilitate extraordinary results. Always keep in the forefront of your mind that your virtual teams likely have more talent and potential than other types of teams by the sheer force of their diversity – the question is, will they be able to leverage that diversity for individual, team and corporate success?

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While a vision develops a picture of where the team is going and creates a shared sense of going somewhere specific together, your team charter will help you to more effectively collaborate across boundaries and borders, set expectations, design performance management systems and provide a mechanism for evaluating your virtual teams. However, the charter is not the end of the process. The charter is the launch point for creating useful dialogue that will ultimately facilitate the team creating it’s mission statement – the coming together of the virtual team’s vision and charter.

The vision, charter and mission are critical for all teams, however when leading virtual teams they become vital to your success. Because you work with teams that do not work in a shared physical environment with cues acquired through daily interactions, it is critical that your charter provide explicit guidance on overall expectations.

The formation of a charter is the most effective when developed by the team, creating a joint focus and buy-in to the overall contents of the charter.  Work diligently with your virtual teams to develop each area of the charter. Similar to how the vision provides a desired destination in living color for your virtual teams, the charter will provide a clear road map to guide them toward that final destination. In addition, by working through the components of the charter together, the team will be focused on their joint objectives and common path. It provides a significant opportunity for you, as their leader, to help your dispersed teams come to a common purpose, ensuring everyone has a shared understanding of where they are going and how they will get there as a team.

The formation of the charter creates a graphic, detailed picture of the vision – clarifying roles, boundaries and communications processes.  The most important aspects of the charter are:

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Human Resource policies have a critical impact on virtual team success. They need to support geographically dispersed teams by integrating and aligning them to recognize, support and reward the people who lead and work in virtual environments. Here are a few ideas to think about when preparing to shift your organizational culture to support virtual teams:

Securing Systems Support

When a virtual team is formed, you, as a virtual leader, and HR (along with IT) need to partner to consider the technologies teams will need to be successful. Options must be assessed, justified, approved by HR and made available to all virtual team members. Coordinate with Human Resources to ensure training on how and when to use these communication technologies is provided to every team member.

One of the most important things you can do for your virtual teams is to ensure that they have the technical support they need for working remotely.  Never forget that IT should be supporting the business – not the other way around. HR policies should dictate that every team member has equal and immediate access to systems, technologies, training and support. As the leader of geographically dispersed teams, you need to partner with HR and IT to make sure formal standards are set for technology, ensuring everyone has the same access to hardware and software applications, as well as intranet and internet connections. If there are tools and technologies that your teams need to be successful, but HR policy doesn’t support what you need, inquire into the business justification for the omission. Build your business case and/or identify alternatives. Do the research to find out how to alter HR policies and initiate meetings with HR and IT to discuss how to get your teams what they need.

Once you have established what you need and have developed the formal standards and budgets necessary, make sure you negotiate the full support of your Information Systems Group. It is essential that they are fully prepared and equipped to support your teams as they work across boundaries and borders.

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Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular, understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice, tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Please feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Be sure and check in next Thursday as we begin a series on Leadership Lessons From Around The World!