Challenges in Managing a Cross Cultural Team

by Brick Jackson

With more and more companies outsourcing work and hiring employees in different countries at some point in your career as you move up the corporate ladder you are likely going to find yourself managing a cross-cultural team. While it may seem like a new and exciting experience at first as you get to learn about new people in other countries and their culture, you will soon find that there are many challenges when it comes to managing a cross-cultural team. Here is a look at a few of the problems you may face.

Cross Cultural Communication

Communication is key in the workplace and when you are in charge of a cross cultural team that can present your with many unique challenges in terms of the language, dealing with accents and the different meanings of words in different countries. When you are striving to provide a clear message of the work that needs to be done, you may find that projects you though were on track have veered off course due to a misunderstanding or due to differences in communication.

One way to combat this issue is to make sure you are always on the same page as team members. Anything that is spoken over the phone should be followed up with an email communication so they have the project plan in writing so they can verify what they heard. If people ask you questions on conference calls, paraphrase and repeat back what they said to make sure you understand their question.

Because you are not meeting face-to-face with people in a conference room, you have to be very clear and concise in your message when sending out email communications so don’t try to add in jokes or sarcasm that others may not understand or interpret the wrong way.

Another issue in communicating is dealing with time zone differences. If there is an important decision that needs to be made at a certain point in a project, you need to be sure that a chain of command has been established for contacts so the people with authority are able to make the decisions and the decision is not left to a lower-level employee that may not understand the scope of the work.

Cross Cultural Training

If you are rolling out a tool or new application that will require training, you need to consider how you are going to provide training for people that are located in different countries and in different time zones so they all get the same message and are able to use the tools in the same way. You need to consider the cost of sending someone out to do the training on site versus the cost of doing web based training or a Live Meeting where everyone is viewing the training in front of their computer. You also may need to do a train the trainer so you have several trainers in different countries unless you have a trainer on site that is able to work all hours of the day to cover the different time zones.

Managing a Virtual Team

Another challenge you will face is managing a virtual team. When you have staff on site, it is easy to pop into their office or cubicle to check how they are doing or to know they are at work and doing their job. When you have people in other countries on different clocks, the employee has to be very self-sufficient to do their job with no boss around. Consider how often and what types of communication you will need to have with your remote employees and how you can stay on top of the work they are doing in order to ensure that the work is getting accomplished.

Despite all of the challenges with managing a cross cultural team, there are several benefits as well. Because of overlapping time zones, you may have close to 24 x 7 coverage for your team so you are able to always get work done on projects or tasks throughout the day. You also have a team that has cultural differences so they bring many different backgrounds and viewpoints to the table which gives you different perspectives when you are trying to work through business problems to find a solution.

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