In an increasingly globalized world, leading global teams have become an everyday reality for many organizations. “Diverse international teams are an asset in the global business environment. While effectively managing global teams is particularly important for multinational companies or companies with business interests in foreign markets, even companies that operate in only one country can benefit from using international remote workers,” says Sam Silverman.
With the talent shortage seemingly increasing in Canada, many companies are drawn to hiring employees in countries where they do not operate commercially. However, managing a team across borders presents unique challenges that leaders must tackle to ensure success. From overcoming communication barriers to embracing cultural differences, there are several key considerations to be aware of when leading teams in international settings.
5 Challenges (and Solutions) of Managing Global Teams
1. Communication Barriers
Language differences, time zone variations, and technological limitations can impede effective communication channels. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and delays in conveying critical information can hinder team cohesion and productivity.
“Good communication among coworkers drives effective knowledge sharing, decision-making, coordination, and performance results. But in global teams, varying levels of fluency with the chosen common language are inevitable—and likely to heighten social distance. The team members who communicate best in the organization’s lingua franca (usually English) often exert the most influence. At the same time, those who are less fluent often become inhibited and withdraw,” according to Tsedal Neeley.
Establishing clear and consistent communication protocols is crucial. Technology such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaborative platforms can bridge the geographical divide. Encouraging open and regular communication, setting expectations for response times, and fostering a culture of active listening and feedback will help mitigate communication challenges.
2. Cultural Differences
Cultural diversity can enrich a team's perspectives and ideas, but it also poses unique challenges. Different cultural norms, values, work styles, and communication styles can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and reduced team cohesion. Ignoring or dismissing these differences can impede collaboration and limit the team's overall effectiveness.
Building cultural intelligence is essential for leaders operating in a global context. As Indeed recommends, “prioritizing inclusiveness may mean making conscious efforts to be respectful of others' cultural beliefs. Consider researching communication patterns in other nations to better understand how to convey messages respectfully. Another option is translating company policies and updates into several languages to promote widespread understanding.”
3. Trust and Relationship Building
Building trust and strong relationships are essential for effective teamwork, which becomes more challenging when leading teams abroad. Limited face-to-face interactions, physical distance, and diverse backgrounds can make trust-building complex. Trust deficits can lead to reduced collaboration, motivation, and loyalty among team members.
“Many leaders try to roll out the strategies, processes and systems they used before, ignoring the local nuances of their new environment. The one-size-fits-all approach fails because instead of spending time connecting with people, leaders fail to recognize the need or added value of involving their team in their plan for the mission. When people aren’t being heard or involved in the process, there’s a lack of trust in the leader, and they won’t commit to the organization's vision. They won’t be inspired to take ownership or accountability for what they’re asked to do,” says Liesbeth van der Linden.
Leaders should prioritize relationship-building efforts and create opportunities for team members to connect personally. Regular virtual team-building activities, informal video calls, and virtual coffee chats can help foster camaraderie and trust. Additionally, recognizing and celebrating individual and team achievements, providing regular feedback, and showing empathy and support are crucial for building strong relationships.
4. Time Zone Challenges
Especially in Canada, which has multiple time zones, scheduling meetings, coordinating work, and ensuring effective collaboration can be daunting. Team members may have to work outside their regular hours, resulting in potential fatigue and work-life balance issues.
In conversation with Jill Fagan and Lisa Nistor for the “Your Network is Your Net Worth” panel discussion, Jill shared the unspoken rules for working or managing teams in different time zones. Watch the video to find out how she addresses this.
Adopting flexible scheduling practices can alleviate time zone challenges. Leaders can strive for overlapping working hours that accommodate different time zones while ensuring reasonable workloads. Project management tools, shared calendars, and asynchronous communication methods can enable teams to collaborate efficiently, regardless of geographical distance.
5. Adapting to Local Regulations
Operating in different countries means navigating various legal and regulatory frameworks. Understanding and complying with local labour laws, tax regulations, and employment practices can be complex and time-consuming.
“Legal compliance is an ongoing area of development as local laws can change yearly whenever new legislation is passed. International HR managers must be able to keep up with these changes and adapt as needed. Lack of awareness or training can lead companies to violate regulations by accident—a financially and reputationally costly mistake,” warns HR experts at Oyster.
Seeking legal counsel or partnering with local experts can help leaders navigate local regulations effectively. Staying informed about legal requirements, maintaining open lines of communication with legal advisors, and ensuring compliance with relevant laws are vital for minimizing legal risks and fostering a positive work environment.
Leading global teams present unique difficulties that require proactive solutions and effective leadership strategies. Leaders can foster a cohesive and productive international team by addressing communication barriers, embracing cultural differences, prioritizing relationship-building, overcoming time zone challenges, and adapting to local regulations. With the right mindset, cultural intelligence, and a willingness to adjust, leading teams abroad successfully can be achievable.
For more about how to leverage technology to manage remote work teams effectively and how to address the current skills gap in today’s labour market, watch our interview with Kevin Eikeberry, founder, owner and leader of The Kevin Eikenberry Group.
Is there any other aspect that you think is essential when managing global teams? Tell us in the comments section below.
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