Now, more than ever, organizations are finding new ways to improve their globalized remote work processes. For most of the US, remote work has become the new norm. This coupled with an estimated increase in workplace diversity means it’s time for leaders to understand how to manage multinational virtual teams (MNVTs).
While diverse teams are known to have more communication issues, research shows that culturally diverse work groups communicate and perform better when visionary leaders are able to give a sense of meaning and purpose to their groups. This meaning and purpose is necessary to create a common group for all members to commit to. It helps members avoid subgroup categorization, or creating smaller cliques within their team, which further prevents communication and the sharing of intercultural knowledge. These diverse teams perform better at work when their transformational leaders commit to each member and try to enable their full potential. In honor of our new remote normal and growing diversity, here are some ways to manage multinational virtual teams.
8 Ways to Manage Multinational Teams
Establishing a process where team members can coordinate with one another is the first step to manage multicultural teams. This process may be affected by time zone differences, technology infrastructure gaps, physical location of members, and technological proficiency differences. Cultural differences may also lead to coordination difficulties among management. For example, leaders will need to consider each culture’s religious beliefs if a religious holiday conflicts with work scheduling.
Before conducting future business, come to a group consensus on when team members should meet, through what technology, and double check that there are no conflicting times when all members can discuss important agenda items. Utilizing a calendar system like Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar is the best bet for members to remain on the same page.
Creating group norms and goal-setting procedures can be challenging because members are bound to lack enough shared beliefs and experience to agree on shared goals. These members may have issues dividing tasks, coordinating work, handling conflict and formulating rules. Multinational virtual teams may face greater challenges ensuring project goals remain stable, staying on budget, and keeping on schedule than regular face-to-face teams.
Leaders should ensure that each team member understands the team and individual expectations. A great way to do this is by utilizing a tool like Trello to stay on top of team and individual tasks. Trello is a great software where teams can create boards that allow everyone to see what projects they are working on. This transparency increases personal accountability and helps members stay on task.
Knowledge sharing tends to be less effective in virtual teams than traditional ones. Values, expectations, perceptions, and behaviors can reduce the team’s ability to share information with others. MNVTs face the challenge of building a knowledge-sharing system. Previous studies show that differences in cultural norms and values around knowledge sharing influence in-group and out-group dynamics. This means that whatever cultural norms and values are established in one subgroup of a singular MNVT may affect whether or not this information is shared with the rest of the team. This leads to reduced information flow. It’s more difficult to establish trust between virtual team members, especially those with different cultural norms. Moreover, the lack of development of a social network and absence of trust hindered the knowledge-sharing in multinational virtual teams.
A great way to create a knowledge sharing system is to increase communication among team members. This can be done through different media channels like LinkedIn and Slack. Certain types of media may be more useful for certain types of knowledge sharing, depending on the different cultures. Leaders should discuss what technology tool is best for sharing information with their team members.
It’s difficult for members of MNVTs to share social information that provides the basis of personal friendship and trust. Different backgrounds and beliefs lead to increased conflict and unhealthy racial and national stereotypes, which inevitably lead to the emergence of unhealthy ingroup and outgroup structures. The ingroup and outgroup structures create subgroup categorization that reduces information flow and knowledge sharing, as mentioned earlier. To create more trust and communication leaders should encourage dialogue among team members.
Team processes and team member relations presented the strongest connections to team performance and team member satisfaction and engagement. Some studies demonstrate how differences in cultural backgrounds affect group process and effectiveness when working with multinational virtual teams. Team building exercises are found to be more necessary in a virtual setting than face-to-face meetings because people are not used to spending time and effort getting to know each other in such a context. To increase social interaction and relationships, and that relationship-building or cultural training actually increased the negative influences to MNVTs.
Traditional trust is typically established in three ways: when members agree to commit to one another, develop personal friendships and have faith in one another’s competence, or the ability to complete a task. However, MNVTs may develop trust differently from face-to-face teams and MNVT trust is more fragile and temporary. MNVTs are more likely to develop trust when sharing timely information and having appropriate responses to electronic communication.
Leaders can help MNVT develop trust by setting an example to their members by being available electronically. This act sets precedence among the group so they immediately share time-sensitive information and are electronically accessible to everyone.
MNVT members want their team members to be aware of their own culture. Ethnic diversity can lead to more informal and open communication, which creates an atmosphere for intercultural learning. MNVTs can cause intercultural misunderstandings because of style differences. To overcome these misunderstandings, members can adapt their behaviors and allow for religious and time zone differences to improve processes with team members from different cultures. Understanding power and status differences is also important when interacting with team members from other countries. Improved cultural understanding allows employees to coordinate their activities more effectively and overcome the stereotypical expectations associated with cultural differences.
Leaders should ensure any cultural misunderstandings are addressed appropriately. For instance, if a worker is a practicing Muslim, and needs breaks throughout the day to pray, this should be explained to MNVT members for accountability purposes. This would prevent members from expecting the worker to be available during prayer time and reduce frustration if the worker is not present.
As inclusion practices rise, it’s important to remember the unique individuals that make up diverse workforces. Cultural understanding and knowledge sharing are important factors that lead to building trust among members. As a leader, foster team growth by building relationships with each person and allow their relationships with one another to flourish. The more differences each person is exposed to, the greater the opportunity to overcome biases, leading to improved MNVT processes.
As a Talent Management Intern at Objective Paradigm, Jazmin applies industrial and organizational psychology principles for training and blogging about the latest trends in the recruitment and IO space. She is always looking to connect top talent to their chosen career path and share industry knowledge.