A truly global workforce can diversify revenue streams and enhance your company’s talent pool. I know this firsthand. At my company, we have offices in seven different countries, from Poland to India. However, building a global team isn’t easy.
Despite 96 percent of business leaders believing they have what it takes to steer their organizations across countries and cultures, many executives struggle to maintain what they’ve built. Others can’t get the new team off the ground. So what’s holding them back?
Here are three of the most common challenges startups face in scaling global teams, along with some ways to overcome them.
No global mission statement
Globally maintaining a team’s sense of identity and culture is often difficult due to geographic and cultural differences. An inconsistent sense of identity can have a seriously negative impact on your employees and customer base. So, executives need to build a concrete company culture that engages members in different parts of the world. It means being armed with a strong mission statement that speaks to your company’s core values in a way that will resonate globally. This requires research and office-wide buy-in on themes that can be mutually accepted across countries.
Reinforcing that statement and company values is a constant process, especially on a global scale, from hiring to internal employee communications, while keeping in mind what works in one locale versus others. There are several ways to do this: reinforce your mission and core values in your everyday vocabulary (whatever the language). Make them part of employee evaluations. Most importantly, celebrate the behavior that exemplifies your values, from extraordinary customer service to innovative ideas that come from rank-and-file employees.
Lack of trust
Trust is perhaps the most critical part of team building. In-person, face-to-face relationships are the most natural way to build trust among team members. But when you have teams across many countries and time zones, you can lose the rapport-building and trust gained from in-person interaction. Executives with overseas employees must be committed to creating opportunities to meet in-person. This could be something as simple as getting the team together once every six months or year. If you’re not prepared to make that commitment, your global team will never be truly successful.
While the best direct communication comes from in-person meetings and team-building, there are supporting measures that business leaders can take to ensure they cultivate trust between team members. Using programs that allow for constant communication like Slack and Hipchat, for example, will help reinforce trust through casual or work-related conversation. Also, designating some time each week for team members to talk about their personal and professional lives (virtually, at the very least) can work wonders. When colleagues feel like they know each other on a personal level, there’s a greater likelihood they will trust one another and develop a sense of mutual empathy.
Another method for building trust is by spreading the team’s power and leadership across its members. Giving everyone on the team an opportunity to lead an initiative will help a great deal because they’ll get used to receiving direction from one another.
Not respecting cultural workplace norms
Different geographies have different norms regarding everything from human resources to workplace environment. Interview techniques, employee reviews, vacation policies and communication methods all vary depending on location. Consider that eye contact, for example, as a form of communication, varies dramatically in different parts of the world. Research shows that Asian countries consider it a means of politeness and respect. Middle Eastern cultures also make more direct eye contact than Americans. When building a global team, these cultural differences, from eye contact and beyond, should be taken into account locally, as well as among top executives.
Many employers believe that cultural challenges are the biggest hurdle for global team productivity. With some careful thought and research, however, these differences can be tackled effectively and creatively. For example, employee reviews have different standards throughout the world. One interesting way to address this is by following IBM’s lead of eliminating them entirely. Instead, the company has developed a new system that changes employee goals throughout the year and delivers more frequent feedback. While unconventional, this method is beneficial for both the company and employees and works wonders globally.
Putting together a global workforce is a great way to help a company achieve its goals and spread its message to audiences around the world. Understanding the challenges that go hand in hand with this type of initiative (and how to solve them) will help you create a more successful team.