Managing a Global Workforce
When you’re building a company across borders with a multinational team, dealing with people from different cultures and relying on them to get things done on time and on budget—across three or four times zones no less—can be quite challenging, to say the least.
As a global company, the greatest challenge we face every day is to help our teams develop a shared understanding of our business issues. Though they start from diverse value orientations, our goal is to help realize the business potential of cultural differences by integrating them to a common purpose of learning and innovation. In the past 19 years, we’ve tried many approaches— some successful, some not so much. Here are some of our lessons learned:
Link culture to specific business goals: We put a lot of effort into having “the right people on the bus, in the right seats,” but that wasn’t enough. In an international business environment, it’s equally important to pick your people according to your destination. We were fortunate to have our own “local experts” on staff, and having them trained well was critical to serving our international customers and speaking their language. In order to do that, we created an international expansion plan that included market research, localization strategies and execution on the ground. We compose our teams based on the markets we serve.
Awareness breeds cooperation: In order to create successful cooperation in a multicultural environment, all team members need to first be aware of their own personal cultural preferences in order to respect others. Only then are they capable of reconciling the cultural value differences they encountered and realizing the envisioned, integrated solutions. In our case, we needed to link this cultural diversity and new awareness to specific business issues in order for all of our training to be effective.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood: This principle of communication is essential for any leader, manager or team to understand and internalize, and in multicultural teams it is even more crucial. Even if you’re not expanding internationally, but have multicultural teams in your company, proper training to create a respectful and productive work environment is key to having efficient teams and happy employees. Everybody comes to work with the best intentions, and if your team recognizes and respects this, it’s much easier to create deeper understanding and better communication that drives innovation.
You don’t know what you don’t know— seek help: Hiring any consultant is tricky. It’s even more difficult to find an expert experienced enough to provide results in a multicultural environment. Global business and international market expansion is fairly new territory, especially for small- to medium-sized companies. In addition to providing a sound and scalable training solution for both leadership and multicultural teams, make sure the consultant you hire can tie the training into your business goals, make recommendations to reduce risk and get you immersed in the local market.
Integrate continuous learning into your culture: We work consistently to create a culture that helps individuals and teams improve their intercultural competence and enhance their performance by connecting different points of view. This involves ongoing reconciliation of dilemmas with the goal of increasing effectiveness and innovation. By investing in targeted workshops, we’ve been able to significantly improve communication and respect among our teams, moving projects ahead faster and gaining valuable insight into our target markets.
All in all, we have come to recognize that there is great value in diversity, and—if harnessed properly—it will result in huge competitive advantages and accelerated innovation. Utilizing the diverse wealth of knowledge in our teams instead of rejecting certain views has led to a stronger company culture, significantly lower turnover and a better understanding of our customers’ needs in the markets we serve.
Michèle Hecken is the president and CEO of Alpha Translations Canada, Inc., and Alpha Global Xperts, Inc. Fun fact: Michele is an avid salsa dancer, who loves to travel and study different cultures.