It can seem as though the world is getting smaller. We each have access to technology that can connect us to people from various countries and cultures from across the planet. A similar shift is occurring in business’ approach to employment. It is now more practical than ever before for companies to build international teams.
There are certainly benefits to engaging in this practice. Your company has access to a far more diverse talent pool, which means your collective staff benefit from sharing a variety of skills and perspectives. This is also an aspect considered to directly contribute to your business’s ability to innovate in your field. Not to mention it can help you to operate more appropriately in a global marketplace, with collaborators who understand the cultural business nuances of their part of the world.
However, there are challenges in keeping internationally dispersed teams connected and cohesive collaborative units. We’re going to dive into what it takes to maintain a global workforce, and what strategies you should be employing to get the most out of this approach to business.
One of the main reasons global operations are possible for even small companies today is the range of reliable technological tools. As such, you need to install platforms and protocols that are most appropriate.
Some areas of focus here can include:
There is no shortage of communications tools available. However, it’s important to make choices that ensure it is easy and effective for your staff to stay connected to one another. This is unlikely to be the case if you take a buffet approach; a selection of different products for different communication types. Rather, it is wise to choose a platform that provides your staff with the ability to easily engage with the right kind of contact for the situation — messaging, video conferencing, audio calls. The more convenient and accessible you can make your communication methods, the more your staff will tend to engage with them.
● Project Management
If you’re going to run a cohesive international team, it is vital to make sure everyone is on the same page throughout a project. As such, you need to utilize project management software that is visible and editable by everyone on the team. Platforms like Asana and Trello work on a card system, which allows each member of the team to see the tasks that comprise a project and the status of each. This not only makes actions visible, but it also helps each member to understand their place in the process and collaborate more effectively.
Part of your strategy here should be to create protocols whereby the product of your tasks is connected to your project management software. Enable staff to create and share documentation, including strategy plans, via the cloud. Many project management tools are compatible with the cloud, and documents can be attached directly to cards. This means different staff working on the same task can connect to one another’s efforts.
One of the most important elements that must be in place to maintain a cohesive international team is mutual respect. Unfortunately, it can be easy for staff in each geographical location to consider their own cultural approach to work as the correct one. As such, there are opportunities for clashes between members of international teams, which can affect the efficacy of your business.
As such, you need to make efforts to create and maintain a process of intercultural inclusivity, awareness, and communication. This is not just an essential aspect of positive collaboration, it can also be an enriching process for everyone involved. It empowers international colleagues to share the experiences unique to their socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and work together to create a blended routine that utilizes the strengths of each. This begins by being aware of the barriers to effective intercultural communication — ethnocentrism within the organization, language barriers, even the anxiety those from certain backgrounds may experience. Then you can set about a course of change. This might include cultural education, possibly providing language courses for yourself and your staff, and just being open to talking to one another when issues arise.
Aim for Agility
There is a tendency in business today to stick rigidly to certain ideals and procedures. However, while it is important to maintain values, being set in your ways is not something that tends to be effective when keeping your international team connected. When you understand part of what makes your global team valuable is their diversity, it becomes clear one of the traits your processes need is a certain amount of agility.
This begins with flexibility. While you may be running your business from your base in the U.S., the remainder of your staff may be scattered around different time zones. Be fair about setting meeting times and deadlines. You don’t want your staff across the other side of the globe to burn out because you insist on meetings at times when they should be sleeping or being with their families. Establish a rotating schedule, and even consider what is most appropriate for the location of staff taking the lead of key tasks at a given point in the project.
However, to know how to respond in an agile fashion, you also need to maintain an awareness of the direction of your business. Flexibility is good, but it’s damaging if you make decisions that detrimentally affect your business. Taking time to educate yourself on business analytics can help you to be agile in a practical way. In essence, it allows you to take raw data that you’ve collected on the various aspects of your business and translate them into more consumable and actionable visual formats. This allows you to make changes that are in the best interest of the project but also makes it practical to communicate decisions and priorities to the rest of your team. Indeed, the visual nature of this can help overcome language barriers that may be present.
An international team is a great tool in making sure your business is competitive in the global marketplace. However, to be successful here you need to keep each member meaningfully connected. This includes utilizing the right tools, but also concentrating on cultural communication and maintaining a sense of agility.