Working with… International Teams

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts on the topic of: “Working with…”. There will be a variety of different topics being discussed and I hope that you’ll enjoy them. Please comment below and tell me what you think.

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I’ve spent most of my career working with international teams and in international projects. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn how different teams and projects work and also seeing the complexities that exist within our different cultures and working environments.

I’ve spent most of my career working with international teams and in international projects. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn how different teams and projects work and also seeing the complexities that exist within our different cultures and working environments.

The world that we work in today is a lot more streamlined than it was 10 or 20 years ago. The barriers in communication and working are no longer there but in their place comes new hurdles to resolve and additional conflicts are present.

Many organisations underestimate the complexity of working with international teams and in an international environment taking many of the benefits for granted.

What problems exist?

9-5 mentality

One of the biggest issues that I’ve seen is the mentality of the company. An example is that the company is stuck with a 9-5 mentality and your project team are demanded to have the exceptional flexibility to work with teams that are not in your time zone. This can also work to your team advantage if allowed by the Project Sponsor. If not, as the case sometimes is, there is the habit of teams working extra-long hours for limited or no overtime pay and becoming disillusioned and demotivated very quickly. To try and limit the impact of this, you can maximise the flexibility in your project in your own leadership. If given the mandate to, you can allow your team greater flexibility in where they work (for example, if they’re starting extremely early/working very late, you might offer for them to work from home until working hours begin and then recoup this time later). As a Project Manager, you should also look at the demands being placed on your team by the organisation and protect them from as much outside influence as possible. During quieter periods in my project, I allowed team members to leave early as I knew that within a few weeks, I’d be asking for much longer hours. This ‘give and take’ worked really well, but it did mean that I needed to trust them to get the work done when I needed it…. And they did!

Lack of cultural sensitivity 

Another thing that I’ve seen as a major issue in certain companies is a lack of cultural sensitivities with the countries that the company is working in and for where the colleagues are from. Whilst some organisations invest in cultural training for teams working internationally this is sadly an exception rather than a rule. Culture plays an enormous role in our daily working lives and being able to understand another person’s culture will enable you to work better with them.

Language barrier

Related to this is also language issues. Whilst there are some amazing live translate apps available, the linguistic barrier between and within teams remains one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Whether it is a misunderstanding over a word or a mistranslation on either side, language issues have the possibility to cause a lot of conflict within teams. Within all of the teams that I’ve managed, I try to secure cultural training for all team members at the start of the project or when new team members join. This allows us to all be on the same level of knowledge regarding how to work with other cultures and what to expect. This has been a great success for me and I’ve received positive feedback from teams that it’s helped them in their wider working life.

If you’re living somewhere that isn’t the country of your birth, you may have been blessed with the ability of knowing how your ‘new’ home works and understanding the mindset of the colleagues that you’re working with but this isn’t always the case for the ‘natives’ or those that haven’t had any experience working outside of their home country. Being able to wear these multiple ‘hats’ will only be a benefit to you in your working life and you have the ability to use this knowledge in your projects and to help your team grow and learn about each other.

What can you do?

In this article, I’ve explained a few issues that can be experienced whilst working with international teams and I hope that you’ve found some of the suggestions helpful. There is a lot of benefits that can be gained working internationally and having international team members in your team can only enrich your project with a fantastic variety of opinions and views if you let it.

One way to enrich your team with this international knowledge and experience is to try and break down some of the invisible barriers that exist between your different nationalities that are working there. By reducing the barriers that exist, you’re removing one possible area of conflict and giving your project a greater chance of success. Of course, all of this sounds really easy and it all sounds much easier than it actually is! Getting the commitment and time from your team to invest in cultural training, can be a real difficulty and effort for a Project Manager. Furthermore, with the new ways of working, you will have to go through change and the change process with your team but once you’ve done that, you’ll be on the other side with a deeper knowledge of the cultures in your team and how you can work together.

 

 

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