Today’s workforce knows fewer borders because working with people from all around the world is the new normal.
While you may not deal with country and state borders anymore, you will still encounter differences in culture, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and mindset. These differences can present challenges as employees work together. Diversity isn’t the goal — inclusivity is.
The way people get their work done can either spark collaboration or create distance. Your job as a global leader is to ask questions, understand pre-existing biases and perceptions, and integrate as many points of view as possible into your team and company culture.
Pulling (Not Pushing) Your Global Team
Leading a team is an art form. Not only does it mean building and strengthening the team by developing the potential of staff, but it also means understanding what motivates each individual on your team. Regardless of where your staff comes from, people want to be praised. They want to know what they should keep doing and what they need to refine.
If you lead a global team, you’re already aware of the challenges. To grow as a leader, your success depends on discovering effective ways to create conversations that enable your team, both individually and collectively.
Here are a few tried-and-true solutions for getting you and your team pumped for progress.
1. Your way is not the only way.
Believe it or not, when I started working in China in 1998, I was surprised and bewildered to find that other countries do not want to be just like the United States. After all, America is the land of freedom and seeks the pursuit of happiness.
Americans are trained at a very early age to believe that our way is the best way. Honestly, no one wants us to “fix” their culture. I had to adjust my mindset and how I worked, or I was going to fail. I had to learn very quickly that a blended global approach with localized elements is more effective than mandates from my culture to another.
A European client of mine is a VP of marketing in China. This client initially forced his way of doing things into the daily operations. When he finally started asking, “What would you do?” he exponentially improved morale and productivity.
Instead of pushing your own agenda, ask about and acknowledge what your team members have accomplished. Show that their experiences are valuable and important to the team and company.
2. Your questions count.
“Do you understand?” is the worst question anyone can ask. It implies that you assume somebody doesn’t get it — whatever it is that you get and the other person doesn’t. Stop asking this question. It’s a trick question that sets you and the individual up for failure. Why would a person say “no” after you have spent time explaining information? Have employees teach it back to you to ensure alignment, application, and understanding.
Some people process information internally. This means they digest the information inside their heads rather than discuss it verbally (introverts). Others process information and ideas verbally (extroverts). The paradox is that extroverts are perceived as comprehending more quickly and are seen, therefore, as smarter. This could not be more wrong. Both ways of processing information are correct, so give space to both.
For global teams, also allow for English as a second language processing so that your team can connect the words to concepts. It can take ESL speakers triple the concentration and brain power to think, convert, choose words, and speak — so take a breath and let the silence happen. Consider asking, “What clarification do you need?”
3. Clarify when and why you will be available.
Leaders use a lot of buzzwords, “open-door policy” being one of them. In my experience, open-door policies often backfire.
In some cultures, access to senior people is big currency. In others, dropping by without an appointment is viewed as disrespectful. It’s important to understand how different cultures function concerning access to leadership.
If you do want an open-door policy, just be clear on how you use it and how it benefits the business. Consider an open forum for everyone to raise concerns together or open-door hours, which establish boundaries of when you are available and what your closed door means.
As a global leader, stay flexible and nimble when you encounter cultural differences. Whether it’s adjusting to leadership styles or flexing on-call times, the focus is on integrating every member of your team. You’ll see results much faster by letting go of the “right way” when the “righter” way integrates all the differences that create better solutions.