A growing number of businesses are hiring international teams, either because their workforce is dislocated over multiple Countries or because they deal with international clients. Or, sometimes, simply because they value the human and professional advantages of working with people from different backgrounds. While there are definite perks to hiring an international team, however, it would be naive to deny the challenges that a diverse workforce presents. Managing an international team means creating synergy within a group of individuals that might speak different languages (or share different levels of mastery of a common language), and have different cultural boundaries and expectations. Basic HR management simply isn’t going to be enough. And yet, when they work in harmony, international teams have been proven to achieve the best results.
Find common ground
An international team is a simpler concept on paper than it is in reality. Difficulties may arise from the fact that each team member needs to negotiate their relationship with all the others, accounting for cultural differences. This might easily lead to misunderstandings and ultimately division and disappointment within the team. Groups might form, reflecting national identities, fragmenting the team’s unity and hindering its productivity. How do you work around that? You find common ground, or rather, you create it. For all the contemporary talk of fluid hierarchies, when you start managing an international team you should aim at having a solid and well-defined structure to support it. The company’s goals and roles need to form the defining elements of a new “territory”, around which the whole team can build a shared identity.
Keep multiple channels of communication open
This is particularly true for teams that work together remotely, with members in different countries. It is easy to feel disconnected from co-workers you never meet, to make assumptions and to get impatient over cultural differences that can’t be negotiated through face-to-face interaction. In order to overcome the difficulties that might derive from miscommunication, you will need to provide as many channels for team communication as possible. Use online task management systems with internal messages, schedule periodical conference calls (and do use video for those: it’s nice to know what your co-workers look like!). If time-zones make regular live-chats complicated to organise, use messaging groups: people can catch up on threads relatively easily, but also mute notifications for a few hours when they clock off. If your employees don’t have many opportunities to hang out together, try to organise at least one big company gathering a year. Fly your employees and collaborators over and provide a framework for them to interact and get to know each other.
You should never forget (or allow your team members to forget) that diversity is something to be treasured, not feared. Don’t make your employees attend cultural awareness classes like it’s a chore and, most importantly, don’t wait until someone behaves insensitively to do that. Rather, provide every national group within your team with the opportunity to share the best of their culture with their colleagues, allowing individual and cultural differences to emerge naturally and to become part of the fabric of your professional environment. Create learning opportunities for your employees, engage them and encourage them to listen to each other and to cherish the enriching experience of learning about a different culture while sharing aspects of their own.
Organise international team building events
Go overboard with the team building. Seriously, pull out all the stoppers and invest in incentive travel/team building projects that will help your team members find creative ways of using their individual and cultural differences to work together towards a shared goal. Travelling together is always an educational experience. Your team will bond over their own common ground much more easily once they are, literally and metaphorically, on foreign ground.