How to Build Teams with Cultural Depth for Global Success

More and more companies operate teams crossing time, cultural and communication differences to achieve meaningful workplaces for employees which in turn maximizes productivity. A new report from Signium says that it is essential to implement strategies that enable teams to get the best out of their diverse collaboration. Didier Busard joins Hunt Scanlon to lay out how to create teams with cultural depth for global success.

April 15, 2024 – Cross-cultural remote teams have become a common phenomenon, professionals collaborate from wherever they are all over the world thanks to the power of technology. This has made it possible for the rapid growth in global business. A new report from Signium’s Didier Busard explains that more and more businesses operate in teams crossing time, cultural and communication differences to achieve meaningful workplaces for the individual and maximum productivity for the company. “While these teams offer numerous advantages, they also present unique challenges,” Mr. Busard said. “Therefore, it is essential to implement strategies that enable teams to get the best out of their diverse collaboration. With different perspectives, solutions can be more comprehensive.”

People typically relate to each other based on the norms of the culture they were raised in and consequently much of the potential business productivity of these virtual teams can be lost via misinterpretations, unspoken assumptions, and sometimes even traumatic interactions due to differences in how people approach work, according to Mr. Busard.

Mr. Busard says to invest in inter-cultural skills. “Language and time-zone differences are the most obvious hurdles to working as part of a multicultural virtual team,” he said. “However, some of the most common frustrations quoted are lack of participation, lack of engagement, low-context communication, and lack of ownership issues, all subject to the individual’s frame of reference and even whether everybody has the same understanding of collaboration. Many organizations have invested in intercultural skills to better manage virtual teams, however, their investment has not done enough to ensure teams get the most out of technology. While technology develops at a fast pace, human development is not moving quite as quickly.”

Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab Inc., a fully remote organization since inception in 2011 and now one of the largest in the world, said: “We invest in working practices that enable asynchronous communication, and we’ve committed to educating and supporting other companies through the global transition to remote work that started during COVID-19 and continues today. The handbook first system is embedded in the way we work.”

Related: 6 Steps for Creating an Inclusive Workplace Culture

“Within GitLab, our handbook, which is more than 2,700 web pages and available to the public, is a big part of what enables us to work asynchronously,” Mr. Sijbrandij said. “When an employee has a question, they can almost always find the answer documented in our handbook, without having to tap someone on the shoulder.”

Effective Communication

It is essential to establish clear communication channels and protocols, Mr. Busard explains. Regular video conferences should be conducted to allow team members to observe non-verbal cues that improve their understanding. Collaborative tools, such as project management software and instant messaging platforms allow for real-time communication and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Team members must know who to approach with a problem. Leaders must be introduced early in the onboarding process.

Didier Busard is a leadership consulting partner for Signium in Belgiun. His trajectory encompasses pivotal roles at Cobac, where he navigated operations, financial analyses, and risk management, culminating in his appointment as General Manager at Codarec. Following this, Mr. Busard contributed significantly to Euler Hermes International, eventually assuming a pivotal position on the board for human resources. In 2017, he brought his wealth of expertise to the Brussels Signium Team, where he currently operates across the Benelux, offering strategic insights in the expansive domain of leadership consulting.

“At Signium we understand that the human key components of trust and employing effective communication strategies remain key,” Mr. Busard said. “Our leadership consulting services aim to help leaders enhance their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, enabling them to build strong, cohesive teams that can effectively navigate intercultural challenges and achieve success. For example, non-violent communication, which emphasizes the importance of expressing oneself honestly and empathetically, leads to stronger cross-culture relationships and more effective teamwork.”

Accommodate Cultural Sensitivity 

Each member brings a unique cultural perspective to the team, and trying to understand and respect these differences is crucial for effective collaboration, according to Mr. Busard. He notes that team leaders should promote cultural sensitivity by providing cultural training and resources to team members.

“This can help to reduce misunderstandings and conflicts that may arise due to ethnic differences,” he said. “Encouraging open discussions about lifestyle practices and cultural norms can also provide a platform for more inclusive and respectful communication. Embracing diversity brings together different perspectives and ideas leading to innovative solutions. Encouraging team members to share their unique insights and experiences can enhance creativity and build a positive team dynamic. It’s also important to recognize individual achievements and milestones, regardless of cultural background to help reinforce a sense of belonging within the team.”

Related: Managing Cultural Friction Along The M&A Deal Cycle

Mr. Busard also explains that the C-suite must communicate their accessibility and support but at the same time make it clear that their time available is restricted. It makes sense to stick to your time zone and be effective within these parameters, in other words, to have clear boundaries.

Communicate Clear Goals 

Clear goals and expectations need to be established so team members have a shared understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and objectives. “Regularly reviewing progress and providing constructive feedback can ensure that everyone is aligned towards achieving common goals,” Mr. Busard said. “This can be as granular as daily meetings: reporting on the previous day and the working hours that lie ahead; weekly and monthly meetings – all building on each other. Build in a quarterly review to evaluate what did we do well and where could we have done better?”

Equally if not more important than outcomes is accountability, which promotes a sense of ownership among team members. Nick Francis CEO and co-founder of HelpScout a company that provides customer support to teams via email with an integrated communication platform, said: “Generally, running a remote business requires more operational rigor, and that shows up in meetings. This means putting in the work to prepare for a meeting, recording, and documenting all that occurs in the meeting, and sharing back the recording, notes, pitch deck, and any other related materials.”

Build Trust with Anecdotes  

Trust is the bedrock for effective teamwork, without which working together effectively can be severely compromised, according to Mr. Busard. “To establish trust, team members should be encouraged to share personal information and experiences, allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s backgrounds,” he says. “Regular team-building activities, whether virtual or in-person when possible, should be organized to establish rapport and strengthen relationships among team members.”

“Optimizing performance in cross-cultural remote teams requires a thoughtful, comprehensive approach, consider all the advantages and adapt the workplace to accommodate differences,” Mr. Busard said. “At the same time celebrate the power of global teams and provide a framework that communicates across borders, remember to add the human connection for the essential trust element crucial in collaborative teams.”

Related: How Job Seekers Can Assess Company Culture

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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