International Workflows: How to Get Your Overseas Team on the Same Page
Our workforce is increasingly global, with outsourced teams reporting from foreign countries and remote workers getting things done outside of the office. While a global workforce creates numerous opportunities, it also creates dozens of new challenges.
Whether your international team consists of one or two people across the pond, or hundreds of employees in branches around the world, follow this guide to improve your cross-cultural understanding. This will help you deliver projects on time and manage your team more effectively.
Recognize the Differences Between Personality and Culture
Despite our advances in technology, actually engaging with your international teams’ cultures first-hand is still the best way for leaders to learn about what matters to those employees and contractors.
Ovidiu Voina, digital lead at HP, recommends getting out and visiting your international teams in person and trying to spend time in their countries.
“When I was in India I had lots of fun chatting with rickshaw drivers in super basic Hinglish,” he writes. “Most of them were asking me about my family and talking about theirs. This way I understood how important this is in the local culture and got to know that, in some cases, families decide one’s career choices.”
Understanding national culture is important. However, there is much more to a person than where they come from, the team at Dwellworks relocation services explains. Our cultures are created by the employers that hire us, our familial backgrounds, our friends and our interests.
Understanding the relationship between culture, people and how they work will help you tailor your management style to the needs of your team.
Clearly Define Rules and Expectations
When two teams aren’t on the same page, their projects are likely to fail. Picture a conference call with team members from across the world. While others interrupt and ask questions throughout, others sit silently and listen. A manager might take the silence as understanding, whereas the quiet colleagues are simply trying to show respect. Still, the call ends with their questions left unanswered, leaving them confused about the project ahead.
As the team at Ceridian points out, it is better to clearly define rules and expectations when working with international teams. Developing guidelines for conference call participants is just one example of how you can help people understand that they are encouraged — expected even — to speak up during this time.
“Unmet expectations can silently erode your business relationships if you’re not willing to dig into the root cause,” writes Natalie Hahn, cofounder of Dirty Girls Consulting.
Those unmet expectations pile up when teams lack the clarity to move forward with their work — but also when managers make assumptions about team performance. Teams will keep missing deadlines as managers try to solve problems themselves based on their assumptions rather than digging into exactly why their team members aren’t performing.
When in doubt, put it in writing. Creating written expectations in your team handbook will improve the onboarding process and make sure everyone is on the same page with what is expected of them.
Review How You Deliver Employee Instructions
The first step to improve your working relationship with your international team is to define your processes and project needs. As a starting point, Rudi Carstens, brand developer of TBAE: Team Building and Events, drafted a list of questions you can answer when explaining a project or necessary task. These will help you explain exactly what you need done and why it is important:
How do tasks tie back to company goals?
Why does your team need to do something?
What are the most important elements of the task?
How will the team know if they are successful?
Whom will team members talk to if they have questions?
Soon, your international teams will start to look for answers to these questions when they receive a new task, and they will let you know if they’re left unanswered.
Dann Albright at Hubstaff emphasizes the importance of setting expectations in regard to productivity. You can track productivity while easily seeing where teams aren’t meeting their goals. For example, if a team constantly misses deadlines, see what they are spending time on and adjust their instructions for better balance. Instead of demanding better results, you can get a better understanding of why those results aren’t being achieved.
Information Sharing Also Applies to Onboarding
Your onboarding process also needs to be as detailed and stringent with your international teams as your in-house employees. Whatever manuals, meetings and guides your local teams have, your international teams also need.
“When an employee gets hired at a new business, they’re often showered with training manuals, instructions, and documentation to show them how to do their job the right way,” writes Will Blunt, founder of FlypChart. “Skip this step with your remote workers, and you’ll end up suffering from inefficiency and confusion, at no fault of your employees!”
You can’t blame your out-of-office employees for not understanding your rules or company culture unless they explicitly have access to those guides.
Invest in International Management and Remote Training
Finally, remember that international leadership isn’t intuitive. Your managers are in for a steep learning curve, especially if you don’t help them.
For example, CultureWizard, which specializes in cross-cultural awareness training, surveyed 1,372 business professionals from 80 different countries to review trends in working with international teams. It turns out that managers around the world may be overestimating how well they lead their international teams.
While 96 percent of managers say they lead their international teams effectively or highly effectively, only 58 percent of employees who are led by international managers feel the same way.
It’s possible that this is in part due to a lack of team training. Only 22 percent of managers participated in some form of virtual team training, and just 34 percent participated in formal global leadership training. Essentially, many managers are being told to lead international teams without the tools and resources to guide their leaderships style.
Even if you only have one international team member now, the odds of your overseas team expanding in the next few years is likely to increase. Eric Siu, CEO at SingleGrain, reports that 20 percent of the world’s workers are already part of global teams. This applies to workers at large multinational firms like Dell or Apple as well as smaller companies.
Investing in training materials now — even for low-level employees who have basic contact with international teams — can help your company better navigate cultural barriers.
Overcommunicating Is Actually Just Communicating
As you create your guidelines and set expectations for your international team, make sure you are developing healthy communication habits that benefit all parties in your company.
Communications professional Anastasia Vladimirova at HURIDOCS, a human rights information and documentation systems provider, says one thing many off-site and remote employees miss is the small talk and little conversations that happen throughout the day. These range from small clarifications to funny stories at lunch. Choosing digital channels for these discussions, no matter how small, can help off-site teams feel included.
You might think you’re overcommunicating with your team, but you’re really just including them.
Along with including team members in casual conversations, take time to provide dedicated feedback and create channels for two-way communication internationally.
“Developing an affirmative, connected work culture in a remote context must be more deliberate,” writes Tricia Sciortino, COO of virtual solutions company BELAY. “Emphasize team appreciation, exercise employee recognition and provide ongoing feedback.”
While you may already do this with your in-house team without realizing it, it’s important to be mindful of the feedback and praise you offer to your international team members. Otherwise, your international team could be left in the dark about their performance and what you think about them.
Trust is Essential When Managing International Teams
Over time, your international team will grow to trust your managers and know that any information will be communicated clearly and in a timely manner.
“Without the full commitment of your teammates and the trust that the commitment is there the performance standard is already lowered,” say Bill Cornish and Paul Schneider at Kensington International.
Cornish and Schneider once worked with a water treatment organization that was declining due to fragmented leadership. Without trust in its leaders, the team members either weren’t performing or were leaving the company.
There are multiple ways you can analyze and track the trust within your international team. One example is WorldWork’s Team Trust Indicator, which uses a survey format to analyze different trust factors. Its goal is to identify reasons team members don’t trust management and to work through these issues. This way, international teams can feel more comfortable and confident working for their employers.
Trust will also help you become a better leader because it lets you focus on results rather than the process. Doing so, the team at Retro Digital says, allows remote teams to determine the best ways to work for them. It also saves you from having to dictate and check on a project every step of the way.
When your international team knows that you have their best interests in mind, they can give you their trust in return.
Your international workforce is likely to grow over the next few years. The habits you build today can set clear expectations and improve communication for future workers. Your employees will appreciate the effort and want to keep doing their best work for you.