When teams from different countries, generations and cultures come together to collaborate on a project, everyone’s best interest is served by this group uniting and truly coming together as a cohesive, supportive group as quickly as possible. 

Global teams can be a truly enriching experience when agreements like these are put in place at the outset. Or they can be a nightmare of drama and clashing cultural values.

Here are a few guidelines to help that process be successfully repeatable:

  • Trust – Build a foundation that all other elements can stand upon. We have found that leaving judgment out augments trust. We encourage people to assume positive intent rather than making negative assumptions. People are free to exchange ideas and more willing to collaborate and innovate in an environment of mutual trust. Ask each member, “What makes you feel safe and trusting in our group?”
  • Curiosity – By cultivating our natural curiosity, we learn things from each other that can truly be gifts. Imagine bringing curiosity to bear on relationships where you are working with people from a different generation or culture. If we begin from the outset to acknowledge, accept and appreciate our differences, the learning experience can be transformational.
  • Connection – Look for areas of common ground: values shared, favorite books or movies, hobbies, natural strengths…all of these are ways to connect with others on the team. We sometimes play games where team members find someone born in the same month or share taste in music or have a common hobby. Allowing people to select a learning partner is also helpful in feeling a sense of connection and belonging quickly.
  • Clear Communications – Find a way (or ways) to communicate that is acceptable to the group so that everyone knows where to see important announcements. When you meet, have rotating volunteers write the agenda, keep notes on agreements made during the meeting and share with everyone. Ask for what you need to successfully contribute your piece of the puzzle. You might consider having a place to post accomplished steps and milestones to promote accountability to each other.
  • Shared Agreements – Early on, preferably in the first meeting come to agreement on how decisions will be made, values to be honored, how disagreements will be resolved. Often, a common trigger is about meeting times when multiple time zones are involved. Agree to rotate or alternate so that no one is having to get up in the middle of their night repeatedly. Practice kindness toward each other as a shared value – no one wants to be treated unkindly.

Because I use strengths-based leadership principles, I have a bias toward all team members taking their Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment and sharing that information, which helps teams run more effectively. In my experience, this also elevates confidence for everyone and allows team members to collaborate in areas where one of them might not have a needed strength to draw upon. Triggers are often tied to specific strengths, so detangling is easier.

Global teams can be a truly enriching experience when agreements like these are put in place at the outset. Or they can be a nightmare of drama and clashing cultural values. We are now more frequently called upon to collaborate with diverse groups that are spread across the world. With these guidelines, that experience can produce high-performing teams that are quickly nimble and effective with each other and enjoy the process. 

Teri Johnson is the founding partner for Personal Best Partners, a company that helps business and civic leaders build teams that perform at their fullest potential.

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