Leading Cross Cultural Teams

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Published: 26th October 2012
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The 21st century managers are now required to expand and adapt their leadership and communication skills for leading virtual cross-cultural teams. However, building and nurturing efficient intercultural and transnational teams are enough of a challenge without throwing in remote or virtual managing! The 21st century manager has to adapt in order to offer modern solutions to modern problems. In fact, he/she needs to become a global manager. So, what guide lines to become a global manger with the ability to promote high performing virtual teams? What skills and attributes do you need in order to be effective?

Effective global managers are those who are naturally flexible, agile and able to learn (or unlearn) continuously. Their experiences make them very mobile. And they are exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences which enhances their adaptability. Successful global managers are those who welcome and embrace change.

Much has been written theoretically about these attributes, but for practical purposes global mangers understand that working practices in remote virtual teams are influenced by the following ten factors: and that the skill to balance the extremes of these factors, and forge a way forward, is the key to leading cross-cultural virtual teams:

1. Relationship styles – with the boss and with colleagues. Is it formal or informal? Do you use humor or not? And how do you delegate?
2. centralized versus decentralized decision making: some cultures prefer to defer to HQ rather than take the responsibility of making decisions
3. Adherence to time: what exactly does ‘as soon as possible ‘mean? Are you someone that adheres strictly to deadlines? Because you will get frustrated with others who don’t! Do you come from a culture that will work over a weekend to finish a project for Monday morning only to find others in another country have walked away on a Friday at four.
4. level of team work and delegation: are you going to work as a group of equal individuals who will pool their expertise, acknowledging that decisions can be taken locally; or would you want everyone to agree everything before moving forward
5. Feedback: organizations that have problem-solving cultures customarily discuss work-related problems. Unfortunately, for some this would mean that they would lose face in front of their colleagues. Suggestions, recommendations, and comments are valued in a problem solving culture. Not everyone is brought up to expect this.
6. Management of conflict: Intercultural miscommunication and misattributions often underscore cross-cultural conflict. These can often be traced back to misunderstandings or ignorance. Understanding the cultural dimensions at play will be a key to successful conflict resolution
7. Risk orientation: Many people have been brought up to be risk adverse and will plan thoroughly before taking action – whilst others are all for action learning and getting their sleeves rolled up as soon as possible. This brings frustration about the pace of a project
8. Openness to change: our response to change differs between cultures. Some tend to welcome it saying: “New ways for new days”. Others tend to hold on to what they know and their traditions and feel very uncomfortable when the sand shifts beneath their feet.
9. Preferred styles of communication: the way we address each other, our directness or indirectness, our formality or informality – these are the most immediate source of friction or rapport in intercultural relationships. I can’t emphasis enough the importance of understanding these different styles to promote an effective team.
10. Status and hierarchy: in some cultures every degree of hierarchy has to be acknowledged and people feel slighted when it isn’t. On the other hand, many of us have little empathy with that because we come from egalitarian cultures which breed organizations with flat structures.

Every culture is different. Our culture impacts each and every one of us as we grow up. It dictates our attitudes and understanding, how we believe we should address our colleagues or our superiors. It influences our approach to time keeping and meeting deadlines. Our communication patterns, including formality or informality as we address customers and clients, bosses and co-workers, are all predicated on our culture.

Today, we need to develop a completely new skill set to lead virtual cross-cultural teams to high performance. It will involve understanding the cultural dimensions so that you can generate and formally represent an evolving common culture with regard to the specific problem at hand.

This entails ensuring that communication between colleagues, clients and customers is clear, coherent and free from intercultural misunderstandings. Your ability to foster successful communication between people of differing cultures will bolster your success in business and in your career – but you must look beyond the superficial differences. If you wish to know more about leading Cross Cultural Teams then visit http://www.deborahswallow.com/2011/02/14/leading-cross-cultural-virtual-teams/

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