As the world continues to become more connected, global and virtual teams are becoming increasingly prevalent. According to a recent Economist report, 78% of us work or have recently worked in a global team.
And as more of us start to work in global teams, we start to run into unexpected problems. Global teams can span multiple countries, cultures, languages, and time zones, which can bring lots of new opportunities (and challenges) to the table.
So what can you do to make sure that you're taking advantage of those opportunities and avoiding those roadblocks? In this post, I'll share some tips to help you and your colleagues work effectively and happily together -- even when you're an ocean apart.
1) Develop a Global Mindset
It’s important to be open and aware of the differences that can arise between different countries and cultures -- even ones that speak the same language as you. Being globally aware will help you build a stronger working relationship with colleagues who are from a different background than your own, which can then help you all be more successful. According to the Harvard Business Review, having a global mindset requires:
- Intellectual capital: Global business savvy, cognitive complexity, cosmopolitan outlook
- Psychological capital: Passion for diversity, quest for adventure, self-assurance
- Social capital: Intercultural empathy, interpersonal impact, diplomacy
You can foster this mindset by actively looking for opportunities to spend time working in another office location or working with colleagues from other offices on cross-functional projects. These opportunities will help you develop and master the soft skills required to be an excellent global team player.
2) Be Thoughtful of Their In-Office Time
When you’re working in a global team, chances are you’re working with colleagues in different time zones than you. Most likely, they also observe different public holidays to you. Be thoughtful of these differences and make sure you don’t impinge on your colleagues’ personal time by emailing them outside of their office hours.
Here are a few ways you can prevent yourself from disturbing your global teammates when they're out of the office:
- Most laptops have a World Clock widget that allows you to display multiple time zones concurrently. Set yours up in accordance with your main office locations to ensure you don't try to engage your colleagues at inconvenient times.
- Use a team calendar to keep track of all the public holidays across the different team geographies, and send a reminder to your fellow team members the day before the public holiday.
- Also, schedule emails in advance with tools like Sidekick. This means you can sent out an email to be delivered during the recipient's office hours, ensuring you won’t disrupt their home schedule.
3) Minimise Cultural Nuances
Our day-to-day language is usually peppered with cultural idiomatic sayings and colloquialisms that can simply get lost in translation or create a communication break-down amongst global team members -- even amongst people who are from different countries but speak the same language.
For example, if your U.S. colleague says they need a project completed “from soup to nuts,” you could be forgiven for thinking they are reading a menu rather than saying they want the project to be completed “from the beginning through to the end.” Likewise, when your Irish colleagues talk about "having the craic" they aren't suggesting anything illegal -- they're merely proposing having fun.
Be conscious of these sayings, and avoid them if possible. Instead, use language that is simple and cannot be misconstrued or misinterpreted.
Similarly, be aware of differences in units of measurement. If your colleagues use the imperial system while you use metric, try to include the conversion rate if possible (e.g. 1 km = 1.6 miles). These nuances, although small, can create further divide when not managed correctly.
4) Pay Attention to Small Details
Bringing people from different cultural backgrounds usually means we'll encounter first names and surnames that we may not have come across before. So invest some time in learning how to correctly spell and pronounce the names of people you will be working with. Paying attention to this small detail will help build your relationships with your teammates, bettering your whole team's morale in the process. If you’re not sure how to pronounce a name, don’t be afraid to ask the individual for the phonetic spelling. Chances are they’ll be delighted that you made the effort.
5) Make Virtual Meetings Visual
Much of people's communication is non-verbal, so it’s important that, whenever possible, you try to make your virtual meetings more visual. Thankfully, nowadays, there are a myriad of tools at our disposal. Here at HubSpot, we use Cisco WebEx and Google Hangout for virtual meetings. Global teams should insist on a visual video meeting wherever possible (rather than just audio) to help build up a team rapport and minimise miscommunications.
6) Recognise Success
Not everyone likes to be praised and rewarded in the same way. Some people prefer to be congratulated in private whereas others are more comfortable with the public accolades and attention (and this may be further complicated by cultural norms).
So be aware of these differences and reward people accordingly. Don’t allow distance to be a barrier for saying "well done." At HubSpot, we use TinyPulse to help us send a "Cheers for Peers" message to someone else when we want to say thanks. Recipients will be notified privately almost immediately, and then at the end of the month, we send out a recap to the full team of all of the "Cheers" people have given their peers.
7) Celebrate Culture
When people work together in the same geographic location, celebrating national holidays is par for the course. But in global and virtual teams, this becomes a lot more challenging.
It may sting a little when remote team members get copied in on emails about the office party or photos recanting the fun had. So try to build team spirit by acknowledging each other’s national holidays and holding remote parties to mark the occasion. It also helps educate fellow team members about your traditions, culture, and holidays (which can help with developing a global mindset, too).
Here in HubSpot, we have offices in Dublin, Boston, Portsmouth, and Sydney. We make a conscious effort to celebrate each country's main national holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Fourth of July, and Australia Day across all our different locations. We also celebrate other holidays, like Cinco de Mayo, to help build up a feeling of cultural inclusiveness.
8) Make Time for Face Time
Nothing can replace face-to-face meetings, so make sure you factor regular trips into your team budget and schedule. Quarterly or bi-annual trips that share the travel burden across all members of the team will help build relationships and better foster a team spirit.
These face-to-face meetings also add a realness to team members that would not otherwise be possible. No longer is John just a voice on the end of a WebEx meeting or someone you collaborate with via email -- he's someone who you shared a laugh and a joke with, maybe even a friend.
9) Socialise Together
It’s often said that the team that plays together stays together. So, when you do get time for face-to-face meetings, ensure you factor in time for some social events as part of the trip itinerary. Dinners, drinks, and team events outside of the usual office environment will help break down barriers and build rapport in a way that is otherwise very hard to replicate.
What tips do you have for working effectively in a global team? Share with us in the comments below.