The challenge for managers of multi-cultural teams is to build an atmosphere of camaraderie, mutual respect, effective communication, and productivity despite differing worldviews and physical environments. In essence, as a manager or team leader, you must take a disparate group of people and cultures, and developing culture that is a culmination of the best of each culture and strength but the individual team members bring with them.
Leaders can facilitate building a team culture by doing the following:
Providing Resources for periodic one-on-one meetings.
If the project is going to last for more than a year or is highly complex, budget for periodic one-on-one meetings For at least the functional leads. In addition, the project manager should plan to visit each of the other locations at least once during the project.
Facilitate an open discussion about being expectations.
During the initial meeting, after some teambuilding time, ask team members what kind of team they want to be and what they want the work environment to be like. This helps identify what the team member expects from themselves, each other, and you. Encourage team members to speak freely by using active listening and by incorporating suggestions into the team guidelines.
Be explicit with rules and expectations.
One challenge to working with other cultures is that the rules are generally implicit; that is, “everyone knows to do X, not Y.” however, in multicultural teams, behavior X might not be the same in situations why for everyone. For example, the importance of being on time varies from culture to culture, as do many other aspects of doing business. Making these expectations explicit in the beginning helps to alleviate potential conflicts.
Encourage social interactions.
People tend to be more productive when they feel a connection to their teammates. Fun, social interaction builds that connection and encourages proactive communication with other team members. Such interactions can range from checking in at the beginning of a meeting to an offsite team-building event. Be creative. One team we know, always collected souvenirs when traveling and send them to team members.
The biggest complaint in post-project evaluations is communication. It is impossible to over-communicate. Follow conversations with an email summarizing agreements and action items, and ask recipients to confirm his or her understanding. Identify potential challenges and opportunities, and plan as a team for the possibilities. Check-in regularly with the team because they do so helps maintain the team connection and keeps remote team members from feeling isolated. Random acts of kindness for members of the team will also help.
Recognize both team and individual efforts.
Recognizing a job well done is an important aspect of team leadership. It is important to provide recognition thoughtfully and carefully. The old adage “to praise in public, chastise in private,” becomes more important in virtual and multicultural teams. Be sure, when you recognize the efforts, that you shouldn’t leave everyone who participated in the activity for which the reward is being given. Leaving someone out even inadvertently will cause more problems than not giving recognition at all. Be careful how you recognize individual team members. You do not want to set up a competition between members. Whatever you do, do not cost one of your team members to lose face, especially in a public situation. If you have an issue with someone, discuss it privately, as you would do in a co-located space.
Provide a centralized collaboration tool for the team.
Place team-related projects and communications in a single collaboration/communication tool for everyone to access and interact. This will establish a common virtual space for everyone in the team.
How can you create accountability among the people in your virtual teams? Fortunately, there are many best practices from experienced virtual managers – working managers like yourself. Here are some of their practical suggestions.
As you read this list, choose a few items that resonate with your situation, and try them out with your team.
- Get senior support from the beginning
- Solicit people who have subject matter expertise (SME) and know what is involved
- Make sure your people have the authority to make decisions
- Be clear with your communications – clarity creates commitment!
- Set expectations up front regarding what needs to be achieved and who does what (i.e. have a clear definition of ownership) and provide deadlines so that everyone knows and is committed
- Have each person’s or each sub team’s deadlines roll up to the multiple-page plan
- Conduct regular reporting on tasks: Are they done? If not, why not?
- Have regular successive meetings set on the calendar even if you don’t have much to talk about
- Conduct one-on-one (1:1) meetings where you can ask softer questions: “What needs to be done? Who did it today? If delayed, why? What help do you need? How is that XYZ report we need coming along? What problems are you having with it?
- Check results regularly and create a feedback loop. Some virtual teams give daily status reports while other teams send emails at the end of the day to review progress
- Make one person own a core responsibility. Organize due dates around that person and make sure the person reports back
- Create a share point on the Internet or a shared drive on your servers, or find another tool that helps everyone stay informed and share data
- Integrate work tools to help clarify ownership on projects and enable virtual teams to make decisions quickly as business needs change
- If and when things don’t work out, don’t hide or blame someone else. Take responsibility; jump in and raise your hand
Accountability is about getting things done and following through. But setting guidelines for accountability becomes even more important for virtual teams because clarity creates commitment. And commitment creates dependability. Dependability builds trust, and behind accountability is trust – the energy that sustains our operations.
Trust is the foundation upon which accountability sits. And trust develops when team members realize that other members are reliable and can be held accountable. So, if you say you are going to something, do it!