Mary Douglas is a Finance Director with a depth of experience of designing and implementing multi-disciplinary finance-related projects in blue chip multinational organisations. I invited Mary to share her ‘top tips’ on how to lead effectively in multicultural teams. These are based on insights she has gained as a leader and a team member from what worked well, mistakes made, or from passing comments by colleagues that have sparked a new way of thinking.
One of the biggest impacts from advances in technology during my career is that we now work in an increasingly virtual global work space where teams no longer need to be co-located. Working in this environment is interesting and exciting but can bring its own set of challenges. I have worked in varying complex teams ranging from corporate office global roles, regional Shared Services Centres to large multidisciplinary special project teams. At the core of all these teams has been the people I worked with and I believe how we interact with each other is the key to creating an effective and successful team.
1. It’s about people – put yourself in the shoes of the other person
I can particularly relate to putting myself in the other person’s shoes when I have team members visiting from another country on a secondment. I remember how I felt when I first moved to Jamaica and how I sometimes missed home at times of major celebrations. I try to think what it is like for my team members to be away from family for a prolonged period at a time of significant events. I have found that little gestures to celebrate these occasions really help with team morale.
From my shared service centre experience quite often a centre located offshore can be viewed as the anonymous ‘shared service provider’. Therefore it can be easy to forget how seconded staff may feel when in the UK. By showing an interest in the culture of team members from different countries it can help a team bond together and is a great way to expand my own horizons.
One of the most difficult times in my career was when I was so focused on achieving an outcome I forgot that my team members were people first. It was a hard lesson to learn as I hadn’t been thinking about the impact of my actions on them. Now I also consider how things may look from the other person’s viewpoint.
Whenever practical, I try to physically meet team members located in different locations at least once as these visits give me a greater appreciation of their working environment and the practical challenges they may face. It is interesting to finally meet people face to face and see how our respective preconceived visions of each other match up with the real thing.
2. Develop some short term goals to breed success and have a clear vision of what the team is trying to achieve.
When I have been in teams that successfully achieved some early goals it has created a great team bond that motivated us to want to deliver more success. I try to set some short term project goals so that we can deliver progress together at an early stage. I also think that celebrating success and taking time to look back and recognise what has been achieved is equally important as achieving the successful outcome.
I am someone who likes to know what my objective is within a project so I always try to provide a clear vision for my team of what we are trying to achieve and how we fit into the bigger picture. In several of my roles this understanding was a big factor in motivating my team to come together as a unit, think creatively and want to change things for the better.
3. Understand the reality of time differences
A simple comment made by an Australian colleague made me think more deeply about the impact of scheduling meetings to suit my time zone. Colleagues working in a smaller regional office often attend a lot more calls with a wider range of head office staff. This means that they have early morning and late evening conference calls most days. I now offer to schedule meetings during my Australian or American colleagues’ working hours and have rapidly built rapport by recognising that the world does not revolve around me!
I always structure the agenda for multinational conference calls so that items relevant to all team members are scheduled first and UK specific items are discussed at the end. This enables colleagues in different regions to drop off the call when they are no longer required.
Another chance comment on inheriting a new team taught me to avoid scheduling meetings on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon with people that have long distances to travel.
4. Don’t assume that everyone interprets what you say in the same way
My many travels have taught me to not assume that my colleagues will interpret what I say in the same way as me. I learnt the hard way that ‘yes’ does not always mean agreement or understanding. This is sometimes true in cultures where demonstrating a lack of understanding may be considered a sign of weakness and disagreeing with a more senior team member is not the norm.
I find it useful to ask for someone to quickly recap the key points of a conversation either mid-way through or at the end of a meeting. This is a great way to test interpretation and provides an opening for everyone to ask clarification questions.
5. Use different communication styles for instructions
I like to use a variety of communication styles when requesting input or issuing instructions in a virtual team because everyone tends to have their own preferred style of receiving information. If I have initially introduced the concept in a meeting or on a call I will follow up on key points in a concise email, particularly if telephone links have been poor. Conversely, if I have initiated complex requests by email I will follow up with a meeting or one to one call to provide further contextual background if needed.
In summary, the key to leading or being part of an effective multinational team is remembering that it is all about people. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate respect for your colleagues. As a leader, providing a clear vision and goals for your team will enable them to see the path you want them to follow. Finally, adapting your communication style to meet the different needs of each member of your team will ensure that your messages are received loud and clear.
If this article has resonated with you and you would like help developing your team leadership skills please get in touch to find out how I can help you. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – firstname.lastname@example.org – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk