When it’s a challenge to get to “normal” levels of productivity on virtual teams, reaching the point of innovation might seem like an even more arduous journey. However, innovation is not as elusive a destination as you might think, as long as you know the path.

Research shows that innovation on teams is a matter of harnessing team members’ diverse perspectives and talents. One way to get started on that path is to learn more about yourself and more about the people you work with. Why? Because if you’re not aware of what defines your approach to doing work, it can be hard to understand the approach that others take to their work.

This type of cross-cultural awareness is especially key for virtual teams. Knowing how to articulate your views in ways that make sense to the people you communicate with via email and telephone can help you—and your virtual team—overcome the uphill battle of low level, painstaking virtual communication issues.

Often, successful communications and interactions on virtual teams are impaired because:

A) Team members can’t see each other and are limited to phone/email/chat,

B) Interactions are often transactional and limited in scope, and

C) Cultural differences are magnified in a virtual environment

But the above factors don’t mean virtual teams can’t be successful and innovative. Virtual meetings can be great places to build rapport and interpersonal trust by making time to have what I call “curiosity conversations.” This involves asking interpersonal questions that may be irrelevant to the project you’re working on but can actually be very relevant to team-building—and ultimately to reaching more innovative business ideas and outcomes. Not only can curiosity conversations help build cross-cultural awareness, but they can shed light on the diverse perspectives and talents that make up a team.

Using Your Team’s Cultural Profile to Build Cross-Cultural Awareness

Another way to get to know your virtual team members is to explore and discuss your team’s cultural profile. A cultural profile can open up discussion on how individual team members are similar or different to each other based on an assessment of highly socialized cultural values and work style preferences that we learned growing up in the world.

For example, CultureWizard’s Culture Calculator self-assessment enables you to learn more about your values and how they show up in your work style. This can help give you the self-awareness you need to better understand the people you work with. Then, there’s CultureWizard’s TeamWork Tool. The TeamWork Tool is an easy way to profile all members of your team across the dimensions of culture that impact your collaboration (think: communication, relationships, hierarchy, motivation, etc.). Take a look at the screenshot below to see how one team charts across the Communication dimension:

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 12.24.06 PM

Based on this chart, you are a fairly indirect communicator. But Sanjay is even more indirect, and Heinz and Valerie are extremely direct. By having your virtual team members’ values and styles laid out in front of you, your team could begin to have more productive conversations. This is because understanding your virtual team’s cultural profile can help build cross-cultural awareness that leads to more effective intercultural communication. In other words, you will be in a better position to absorb what your team members truly mean, and have productive interactions that lead to new, transformative ideas that you need to succeed.

Trial and error might lead you to the same insights, but trial and error can also be frustrating and waste time. The TeamWork Tool expedites such a discovery by getting to the core of each team member’s preferences and laying it out in a digestible, objective chart.

Consider how the resulting insights into your virtual team co-workers’ behavioral preferences could raise your cross-cultural awareness, improve your intercultural communication efforts, and boost the productivity of your entire team! Ask yourself, “How might you benefit from an expanded understanding of your team members’ individual values and work style preferences?”
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