5 tips to build stronger global teams


Computer screen with people on it, in front of a globe like structure with faces on

In this week’s podcast episode of Redefining Communications with Jenni Field, we spoke to Sarah Black, a Redefining Communications collective partner, who works as a global communications consultant. We asked her to share her thoughts on the issues facing leaders of  global teams and how to address them. This is what she had to say.

Working across cultures, timezones, and languages can lead to misunderstandings and friction, impacting your team’s performance and productivity.

If you’re leading a global team or developing global communications, here are some essential tips to help you communicate more effectively:

1. Get curious: even though you all work for the same organisation, your team’s attitudes to work, communication styles, expectations of leadership, and attitudes to hierarchy may vary depending on their cultural background and experiences. If you’re assuming that everyone has the same outlook because you work in the same organisation, it’s time to think again. Take some time to learn about your team’s cultural backgrounds, embrace the differences and find ways to explore them together.

It’s important to understand how cultural background can impact communication style. You might unintentionally appear to be rude! You may speak the same language in meetings but experience very different things. Ask your team what ‘good’ communication looks like for them.

2. Reflect on your cultural background: Take a moment to consider how your preferences, habits, and working practices reflect your expectations about work. Do you think ‘local’ first rather than global? Do you read a document and consider how it will feel to an audience outside your home region? Understanding what you bring to the team in terms of your cultural background and ideas can help you see how others might perceive you.

By developing a global mindset that appreciates and celebrates other cultures and experiences, you can create a stronger and more harmonious team. Think “global” first, and you’ll not only strengthen your team but also open up new opportunities and tackle challenges at a broader level.

3. Be timezone sensitive: Working across multiple time zones can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be a headache. Consider how meeting schedules impact your team members’ working hours, personal time, and weekends. Be aware of the impact of regularly asking someone to get up at 4 am to join a team call or to participate during their weekend.

Here are some options to help address the timezone conundrum:

  • Rotate across time zones so the same people are not constantly up late/early. Share the inconvenience across the team if it really cannot be avoided.
  • Think creatively – do you have to be in the virtual room to contribute? In fact, do you have to meet at all? Look for more flexible ways to connect that don’t require your team to skip sleep or family time. If you do meet, record and share videos or chat transcripts for those who can’t make it. Depending on people’s communication styles and preferences, this might be even more productive than a video call.
  • Always show appreciation for your team’s flexibility with working hours and personal time.
  • Check-in regularly with those working late nights or early mornings to assess how it’s affecting their work and wellbeing.
  • Start your meetings with a greeting that reflects your team’s time zones. Opening every time with ‘Good morning’ will only alienate those well into their evenings.
  • Add a note to your email to reflect that replies are only expected within your team’s working hours or at a time that is convenient for them.

4. Plan for everyone’s holidays: Acknowledge and respect the different holiday periods in various countries. Make it part of your team planning to manage absences proactively. Encourage colleagues to share stories about their holidays, celebrations, and history. Understanding and embracing each other’s cultural traditions can foster a stronger bond within the team.

5. Think multilingually: there’s a good chance that your team meetings are in the leader’s language. Many organisations have a chosen language for their business communications and expect employees to be able to read and speak that language. However, you can all speak one language and understanding can still be lost in translation! Here are some tips for enabling everyone to understand and participate in the conversations.

  • Avoid culturally specific idioms and metaphors – sports-based ones are often mystifying!
  • Use plain language that is easy to understand. Complex sentence structures can be challenging, even for those fluent.
  • Sharing written materials before meetings and discussions can help everyone participate fully, regardless of language proficiency. Don’t confuse a lack of contribution to a conversation with disinterest. Some team members might need a little more encouragement to speak up, so be creative in facilitating discussions. Reflect on whether the pace of the discussion, the terms used and language confidence, self-consciousness about their accent and/or language proficiency may have prevented someone from speaking up.

By following these tips, you’ll build a global team that thrives on diversity, understanding, and collaboration, and embrace the unique strengths that each team member brings.

Sarah Black is an expert in crossing and adapting to cultures and helps organisations communicate effectively with their global workforce so all colleagues can belong and thrive in their work. A former director of a multi-award-winning global PR and content agency, her achievements include leading campaigns addressing racism and sectarianism and promoting reconciliation and community building.

If you would like to tackle global communications issues in your workplace, we’d be happy to set up a chat about The Field Model and how it can help you uncover the root cause and fix issues for the long term.

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