The best global leaders help create and support trusting environments that inspire their cross-cultural team members to work together, take intellectual risks, and be their best. The thing is, trust rarely forms organically when working across cultures. Add on the fact that global teams are often virtual, and the cultural differences that can make global leadership so challenging are amplified.
These different cultural values can make it hard to find the common ground one typically assumes when working with others from a similar background. However, the same differences, effectively cultivated, can elicit unique wisdom, talent, and insight necessary to succeed in today’s knowledge-based work environment.
To inspire cohesion and collaboration among cross-cultural team members, it’s important that global leaders remember that trust cannot be assumed—it must be nurtured, developed, and maintained. It’s hard work, but much like tending to a vegetable garden, the results are well worth the effort.
Here are 10 tips to help you cultivate trust, inspire collaboration, and guide your cross-cultural team along the path to success.
1. Take cultural differences into consideration
Workplace behaviors are often influenced by the eight cultural dimensions at play, so it’s critical that global leaders consistently consider the culture of others. For example, folks who value fluid time may take longer to respond to an email than those who are more controlled. Without understanding each other’s different cultural backgrounds, such fluidity could be irritating to others.
2. Encourage sharing and participation in culturally appropriate ways
Different cultures have different perspectives about how (and how much) information should be shared. A high-context culture, for instance, is most comfortable receiving comprehensive background information. But such detailed info can be too much information for people from a low-context culture who might prefer the main idea be boiled down to three succinct bullet points. Effective global leaders actively assure a flow of shared information among all team members.
3. Recognize individual and team contributions
One foundation for trust is being sure to give people credit for their work. But this can be tricky depending on cultural values. Group-oriented individuals may be uncomfortable being praised in front of the whole group, for example. One way to bridge that cultural gap is to publicly praise group achievements and privately recognize individual accomplishments.
4. Be transparent about expectations
Leadership behaviors and employee expectations can be vastly different across cultures. Thus, global leaders must take care to be transparent about expectations. It can help to work together to define expected team behaviors such as participation, responsiveness, and timeliness, all while taking into account the different cultural values present in your team.
5. Prohibit gossip and disparaging behavior
Few things erode trust like talking about teammates without their knowing about it or speaking poorly about one another. In order for people to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, everyone must share a sense of confidence that their peers won’t embarrass, reject, or punish one another for speaking their mind.
6. Maintain standards of culturally appropriate mutual respect
Someone who highly values interpersonal relationships may feel disrespected by a transactional peer who prefers to avoid small talk and get down to business. An effective global leader can bridge this gap by being mindful of how culture impacts personal interactions, and by working to establish guidelines explaining such cultural differences.
7. Accommodate cultural differences when giving and receiving feedback
Different cultures give and receive feedback in a number of different ways, requiring you to flex your message across cultures. For example, you may be able to succinctly communicate constructive criticism to a direct communicator, but the same direct language could offend an indirect communicator.
8. Clarify goals and check for understanding
Depending on cultural background, people may or may not feel comfortable with—or responsible for—asking clarifying questions about project goals, expectations, or other crucial information. Consequently, a great global leader ensures his or her messages are correctly understood by all team members, regardless of culture.
9. Ask clarifying questions—especially when working with non-native speakers
An excellent way to mitigate misunderstanding (and therefore uphold trust) is to ask clarifying questions of your team members. Some people might use body language and other forms of communication to convey what they mean, and others may have difficulty expressing their intent when they’re not working in their native language. Be sure to double-check with your team to make sure everyone’s messages are being understood.
10. Encourage and applaud collaborative behavior
The best global leaders empower others to lead as well. By authentically modelling behavior that rewards and encourages team-wide collaboration, you will be able to effectively maximize the contribution of each and every team member—all while reaping the unique benefits of cross-cultural diversity in the workplace.