6 Tips for a Better Global Team

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photo by flaivoloka

photo by flaivoloka

With the advent of the Internet and the growth of International companies, building an effective team across timezones, languages and cultures is becoming increasingly more important.

Gone (or perhaps going) are the days when your entire team resides on the same continent, let alone floor, and it’s becoming more common to be working with someone you’ve never met before.

But there are ways to still have a fully functional team even when your team doesn’t share the same first language.  Below are 6 tips for working with a global team:

Handling Timezone Differences

One of the most difficult work arrangements to handle is when one or more employees live at opposite ends of the timezones. A United States employee working with someone in China can mean a 12-hour difference in work schedules. To combat this remote challenge:

1. Be fully aware of the timezone difference.

Often times, many of the problems that arise from working in different timezones is people just aren’t aware of what the difference really is. Taking a look at a timezone map or changing your Outlook calendar to include an additional timezone is an easy way to realize that the call you’re about to make will be at 3am on the other end of the phone.

2. Take advantage of the difference.

When my manager worked in China for 3 months, we setup a system to leverage the fact that we worked 12-hours apart.  I would track all of my questions and requests in a single email throughout the day and then send that one email before leaving work. My manager would answer my questions and provide any guidance when his day started, and I’d have a response sitting in my inbox when I started the next morning.

The added advantage to this was that I became more independent and found myself answering my own questions before ever sending the email.

Breaking Language Barriers

In many companies around the world, the designated language is English. But for employees who work outside of the United States or Kingdom, it’s rarely the first language learned. Avoid confusion and work better by:

3. Create a list of common phrases and jargon for your area.

One of the hardest things to learn in a new language are the colloqualisms and slang because you don’t often encounter it until you start conversing with native speakers–few English textbooks define the acronym CYA. By creating a lst of common phrases and jargon related to your work and your region, you’re providing a cheat sheet that can help avoid confusion. Of course in some companies, the corporate lingo can be so confusing that such a sheet is required even if everyone has spoken English their whole life.

4. Talk pictures.

If all else fails when trying to describe or communicate something, turn to visuals to convey your message. Pictures are worth a thousand translated words because regardless of what language you speak, a keyboard still looks like a toetsenbord (that’s Dutch for keyboard).

Team-building Across Cultures

A common mistake of International teams is neglecting important team-building exercises that can help create a group mind. Many people assume that there is little that can be done and so remote teams remain disjointed and ineffective. Build your global team by:

5. Use Telehumor.

There are a number of ways to take advantage of everyone’s remote locations to build your team.  You can use video conferencing services, conference calls, and online surveys to conduct interactive meetings with an emphasis on learning about one another.  With just a little extra effort and some creativity, you can come up with a number of ways to use humor in a remote office.

6. Learn about each other’s culture.

With programs such as Rosetta Stone, sites like Busuu, and techniques like those from Tim Ferriss, learning the basics of a language isnt as hard as it once was.   You can also use sites like Every Culture to find out more about the culture of some of your fellow employees.  This can generate personal discussions that will go a long way in building the dynamic of your team, as well as teach you something new.

Got your own tips for working in a global team? Share them in the comments.

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