How to Respect Cultural Differences When Managing a Global Team

June 16, 2022・7 mins read
How to Respect Cultural Differences When Managing a Global Team

Managing a global team can be exciting. After all, having employees scattered across the globe can mean your organization and its reputation are growing. It can also open up countless new doors and even take your company to the next level. Word about your business can spread. You can get access to professionals who can in turn connect you with new opportunities. The possibilities for growth and expansion increase. It is equally important to remember that with global teams comes the potential for cultural differences. Small businesses that have just started hiring overseas (or even in different hemispheres) may not know how to navigate this aspect of management. For example, they may not be aware of culture-specific customs that impact an employee's availability. It's vital that you take these things into account. You do not want your managerial style to be misinterpreted, nor do you want to offend or disrespect employees from diverse backgrounds. That begs the question: What can you do to respect cultural differences when managing a global team? What specific steps can you take to ensure that every member of your global team is honored and respected? Don't worry if this feels intimidating at the outset. We've whipped up a handy guide to help you!

Embrace flexibility when managing a global team

This is huge. As we briefly alluded to above, embracing flexibility is a must when managing a culturally diverse global team. Different cultures have different workplace priorities. This means that different aspects of their workflow will have greater bearing on how they work. You must keep this in mind as you navigate this process. An excellent example of embracing flexible work schedules is offering PTO for religious holidays. Additionally, it is important to allow your employees to choose which days they want to take off. This gives them more control over their schedules and more say in how and when they celebrate important religious holidays or traditions. This is only the 1st step, though. Other tips on this list build from this. All of this is to say that going into the hiring process with the willingness to offer/consider flexible work schedules is essential. In fact, flexibility in general can be a very good thing (within reason, of course). One final note about flexibility: It is something you must embrace and commit to within yourself before practicing it in your work.

Get to know every member of your global team

This is another big 1. Getting to know every member of your culturally diverse global team will help you figure out how to best support/accommodate them. Making an effort to get to know them also helps them feel more comfortable in their roles. They want to know the people to whom they are reporting and they want to be able to trust them. Put yourself in their shoes: If you were working for a company based overseas, wouldn't you appreciate a manager reaching out to chat with you?

Making an effort to get to know employees helps them feel more comfortable in their roles.

The gesture alone is encouraging, but it is the follow-through that will help establish trust. Doing this early on in the person's employment is recommended, but doing it late is better than not trying at all. Carve some time out of your busy schedule to show up and get to know the people who help your company succeed. Coordinate with other members of your team. Make sure that your employees hear from someone on the HR team and that a solid line of communication is established.

Foster great communication with a culturally diverse team

Great communication is essential to success in every area of business. We know we are not breaking any new ground by telling you this. Rather, we want to remind you that there are areas of business where clear communication is even more vital. Establishing great relationships with your global team is one of those areas. Having established communication processes can help make possible language barriers less frustrating for both you and your employees. It may not overcome them completely but it will help you find ways through and around that barrier. Expert communicators are adept at boiling ideas and concepts down to their most basic versions.

Actively listen and learn from cultural differences

We cannot overstate the importance of active listening. Again, this is a skill that will serve you well in all areas of both life and business. Not only will listening actively and responding appropriately help build trust, but it will also encourage your employees to do the same for you. This goes hand-in-hand with the transparency entry later in this article. All of this connects but transparency helps make listening and helping others listen much easier. Consider a time when you could tell a manager or coworker simply was not interested in what you had to say. Or, perhaps even worse, they half-listened and misinterpreted your points. After those interactions, how likely were you to want to listen to what they have to say? Probably not very. In fact, you almost certainly wanted to avoid interacting with that person altogether. You do not want to be a toxic or inattentive manager. If you see a problem with the way certain teams are performing, go to that team directly, tell them your concerns, and then listen to what they say. Chances are good that it was a simple miscommunication. You do not ever want to assume, accuse, or make rash decisions. The answer is often much simpler and much less awful than you think.

Company values should include respecting cultural diversity

Honoring and respecting cultural differences needs to be a core value at your company. If this is not clear either on your website or in the way you treat employees, adjust policies and instill these values as best you can. There are a number of ways to do this. Preferably, these values and practices should be put in place before your company expands and goes global. That way, the expectation that all employees will be treated with respect exists before you navigate cultural differences.

Transparency is key to respecting cultural differences

This may seem like another instance of “Well, yeah, obviously,” but you would be surprised how many organizations don't practice what they preach here. Transparency is key to establishing trust. It also helps keep you and everyone at your organization accountable. Be real about when you do not go about something as sensitively or as kindly as you intended. Then make the proper amends and vow to do better. Not everyone gets all of these things right the first time. It takes learning, growth, and a steadfast commitment to improvement. That will say more than empty apologies or half-hearted acknowledgements ever could. The bottom line is this: It falls on you, the HR manager, to ensure that your organization respects and honors employees' cultural differences. This is a huge part of your job. Being flexible is an excellent first step but it is only the first step. Creating a company culture that respects cultural differences takes time, effort, and a fair amount of trial and error. But getting it right and leading by example is worth it. We hope you found this guide helpful!

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