How To Avoid Culture Clashes When Managing A Global Team
Companies that employ a global workforce are uniquely placed as leaders of cross-cultural learning. They become weather vanes for people to learn about other places and people and drive innovation across borders.
But in some companies, clashes between remote, global team members can occur when the hard work of creating a diverse, equitable team falls to the wayside.
How do you define a cultural clash?
A culture clash can seem like a dramatic, potentially ruinous state of team dysfunction. Still, in theory, the term relates more to a misalignment of values, direction, or workplace purpose that arises, quite organically, within global workforce teams that contain individuals with very different beliefs about what constitutes appropriate work.
And these clashes can be incredibly varied. They could manifest as divides in attitudes towards gender roles within work or approaches to specific workflows. Some of it could be clashes with unconscious bias and how it's dealt with, or some people in some parts of the world simply refuse to work at odd hours to factor in other time zones.
But these clashes shouldn't be feared - in fact, they should be welcomed, as the only way global teams can learn to work in harmony is through understanding the pain points behind cultural misalignment and working as one team to rectify them.
The modern manager and inclusive workplaces
Naturally, this takes some hands-on management and open-minded teams. But modern workforce research has shown that regionally-based diverse teams operate more effectively and profitably than those with a mono-culture of people, so business leaders should tap into that!
Culturally diverse teams tend to perform better, create more revenue, and are more representative and inclusive in their communities. But creating diverse teams takes time. It takes hard conversations with internal stakeholders and real cultural, community and personnel outreach work. Some people and companies don't want to have those hard conversations.
Often, this avoidance of cultural "clashes" can be why whole teams remain homogeneous - fear of cultural differences can be an enormous burden on companies and teams.
So, how easy is it to avoid cultural clashes in global teams? The trick is - don't avoid them, but work towards creating a communicative culture of alignment that works for everyone.
Prioritize and simplify communication
Good, effective, continual communication is your single most important tool for remote teams against poor remote performance and cultural clashes.
Good communication practice - typified in performance improvement methodologies such as continuous feedback - builds the structure in which global team members can anchor their workflows. This, in turn, creates collective understanding and better cultural alignment.
Communication is your not-so-secret weapon against team unalignment.
Just by talking to people more, you get to know them and their expectations better - it's the easiest way to align teams and avoid cultural clashes with no fix.
Make respect your foundational behavior
It doesn't really need repeating, as every company with remote or off-shore elements should already be operating by this one specific tenet. Still, every remote team member should work with respect. This should be a top-down, experiential, lived-in state of behavior that should be the DNA of any global team.
Respect, in regard to remote team management, means a whole host of things, including operating with empathy; encouraging active listening; respecting other people's religion; respecting other people's place of work and history; compromising on team meetings and workflows around time zones, and making an extra effort to check in continually and feedback information, data, performance reviews, and project updates.
When "48% (of workers) deliberately reduce their performance" when disrespected at work, it's vitally important that managers and business leaders create cultures of respect at work, especially in global teams.
Acknowledge and celebrate your differences
It may seem like saying "we're all one big family" is the right thing to say to teams spread across time zones, but the simple fact is - not everyone is the same, and those differences, rather than being minimized or ignored, should be celebrated.
Acknowledging cultural differences is the clearest commitment to respecting your remote team's individual cultural and community beliefs and attitudes. It's an evident mark of respect and willingness to allow different team members to include their culture and society within their employment.
Doing so gives everyone a chance to learn more about where each team member is from. Knowledge is power, and that power builds friendships, and those friendships build team advocacy and loyalty.
Create cross-border meaning and align company purpose
As any business leader knows, company purpose is like a lightning rod for staff - it becomes the cultural flag your team rallies to and the focus of your business efforts outside of hitting a profit margin.
Company purpose is also one of the most critical factors in bringing new staff to your company and one of the most important anchors for staying at your company.
Coupled with that is the simple fact that people who share the same values gravitate to the same companies. Together their shared love of company purpose will create business alignment, no matter the time zone or distance, reducing cultural clashes.
Make it personal, and maintain face-time where possible
A simple yet overlooked positive cultural aspect of remote team collaboration is consistently making people communicate face-to-face via video tools.
Relying too much on collaborative tools like Slack or project tools like Trello to keep in touch and up to date with work colleagues from different time zones is not enough to keep people culturally aligned. That takes conversation. That takes reading body language and understanding one another and how they converse and communicate in real-time.
No leader should ever substitute efficiency hacks with genuine relationship building. This is made exponentially better when people can communicate face to face via video software such as Zoom.
Face-to-face contact improves trust and builds those vital interpersonal relationships that power companies. It also means there is a lower chance of miscommunication, which between remote teams can be an acute issue if team leaders and project seniors are not on top of communications.