Today’s business world is increasing in complexity and constantly evolving. Globalization is no longer just a definition in a textbook but is actually impacting the workplaces directly.
We all have colleagues, family and friends that have taken a job abroad or international colleagues that have joined the team. Overall workplaces are now becoming international and there are advantages and challenges that come along.
Collaboration within International Teams
As a growing business, entering new markets and defining new strategies is becoming more complex, having an international team can be a real advantage. A team gains in increased adaptability as different team members will gain in personal flexibility and adaptation to change. This directly reflects on the teamwork and productivity. The decision-making process is accelerated allowing diverse teams to deliver and react fast.
Diverse teams are identified by Jeffrey T Polzer in the Harvard Business Review as highly performant and creative due to their different approaches and ideas.
Companies with international teams have the advantage of gathering different know-hows and ideas, allowing them to provide a broader service range to enter new markets. Local market knowledge and insights are strong assets, making a business more competitive. Diverse teams also contribute to a variety of viewpoints and a more effective execution. A cultural melting pot triggers the creation of new ideas, concepts and testing.
We all gain in learning from other cultures and this positively reflects in our working life, but also in our personal life.
As highlighted by Hult International Business School, diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation.
How limits and challenges can be overcome
The greatest challenges for an international team to overcome are linked to communication and efficiency. Having a multicultural team means that people will be speaking different languages but also having different cultures and habits.
Jeffrey T Polzer underlines that diverse teams are prone to dysfunction because the very differences that feed creativity and high performance can also create communication barriers.
Knocking down language barriers
Some companies make the choice to have an official corporate language, which often is English. To pick English as the corporate language is an easy choice to make for a company in the United States or Great Britain, but not so easy for companies established in countries in where the official language is not English.
Today the European Union consists of 27 countries with 23 official working languages. Switching the corporate language to English for a Danish, French or Spanish company for example means that the majority of employees will be speaking in a foreign language.
Misunderstanding, confusion, wrong interpretations, etc… are normal if a team is composed of different nationalities, but this may create barriers in workplaces.
Overcoming cultural barriers
In addition to language barriers, diverse teams are also confronted with cultural barriers. Culture can be defined as knowledge, language, values, customs, and the complex interaction of symbols, values and behaviors of people from different nationalities as defined by Mary Ann Danowitz in Diversity in Organisations.
Every country has their own culture and especially workplace culture. For example, perception of hierarchy in a team is different in Nordic European Countries in comparison to Southern European ones. It can become very difficult to work efficiently in a team if information is not centralized and culture clearly defined.
Written communications helps preventing miscommunication or misinterpretation. This also makes the founders, managers and employees of a company think: What is our company culture? Do we have rules in the workplace? These can then be listed and officially communicated.
Collaboration tools tackling the barriers
It is very important for team managers to take the lead in ensuring that communication does not become a barrier in a diverse team. Communication can become inefficient if a team does not pass on information in a common language and collaborate together. People will start working on their own creating confusion and a lack of teamwork. This all can be easily prevented if a common language is chosen and collaboration tools are used.
In regard to collaboration tools, Azendoo helps international teams to work efficiently and smoothly together. All information is centralized in Azendoo so it is very easy for every colleague to quickly find the relevant information or address the person responsible. To collaborate with the team, it is easier for a foreigner to write rather than speaking in the beginning. This automatically is possible in Azendoo allowing a smooth onboarding process for a new international colleague.
Additionally, the management can easily post messages regarding the company, events, projects, clients on which people can comment, ask questions etc… This allows a team to achieve top-down, bottom-up and horizontal communication.
In relation to projects, teams can directly brainstorm in Azendoo, make a poll and quickly decide on which ideas are the best. From there tasks can directly be created and assigned to each teammate and in no time an idea becomes action. In this process the entire team has been involved.
Having an international team is a great advantage, but everything comes down to building up the capacities to being able to grasp the potential.
Being aware of the challenges that come along with the management of an international team will help to tackle them. Language barriers, cultural barriers can be avoided in increasing the written communication in a common language.
The collaborative tool will allow centralising the information and working on projects and tasks in a team productively. It enables international teams to communicate, work on tasks, brainstorm, share documents, make polls and centralise information in order to work efficiently in a team.