We are increasingly being asked by clients to run multiple training sessions within their organisations on the topic of Working in Hybrid Teams. It will be essential as we move into the new future of work environment that organisations give their employees the necessary skill to allow then to thrive in the new normal.
Recent developments in technology, coupled with the impact of the COVID crisis are reshaping the way we all work. Nobody knows exactly what the future of work will look like, but most people recognise that organisations are unlikely to replicate the working patterns of the past and, therefore, the need for working in hybrid teams training is growing exponentially.
Employees who have historically worked with office-based teams will find themselves working in teams which are much more dispersed. Team members and their leaders are likely to be working partly from an office environment and partly from other locations.
These shifts in working patterns will require everybody to reassess their approach to team working. Team dynamics will change and team members will need to re-learn how to interact with both their leaders and other team members.
Our 90-minute webinar is designed to help team members address the key challenges they will face in this new environment and suggest strategies for transitioning to the ‘new normal.’
The webinar is a combination of input from a globally recognised expert on remote working and peer-to-peer discussions which allow delegates to share experiences and ideas with other colleagues who are themselves finding their way in this new situation.
In this webinar-based programme the trainer focuses on 3 key elements of Working in a Hybrid Team environment:
The learning continues after the webinar itself through a series of targeted nudge messages aimed at asking people to continually reassess their own performance as the dynamics of the ‘new normal’ continue to develop.
We are increasingly being asked by clients to run multiple training sessions within their organisations on the topic of Leading Hybrid Teams. It will be essential as we move into the new future of work environment that organisations give their leaders the necessary skill to allow then to thrive in the new normal.
Recent developments in technology, coupled with the impact of the COVID crisis are reshaping the way we all work. Nobody knows exactly what the future of work will look like, but most people recognise that organisations are unlikely to replicate the working patterns of the past.
Leaders who have historically worked with office-based teams will find themselves leading hybrid teams which are much more dispersed. Team members and the leaders themselves are likely to be working partly from an office environment and partly from other locations.
These shifts in working patterns will require leaders to reassess their approach to team leadership. Team dynamics will change as will team member expectations in terms of what they are looking for from their leaders.
Our 90-minute webinar is designed to help leaders address the key challenges they will face in this new environment and suggest strategies for transitioning to the ‘new normal.’
The webinar is a combination of input from a globally recognised expert on remote working and peer-to-peer discussions which allows delegates to share experiences and ideas with other colleagues who are themselves finding their way in this new situation.
In this webinar-based programme the trainer focuses on 3 key elements of Leading in a Hybrid Team environment:
The learning continues after the webinar itself through a series of targeted nudge messages aimed at asking leaders to continually reassess their own performance as the dynamics of the ‘new normal’ continue to develop.
Global Diversity Month 2020 got me thinking that when I founded my business about 20 years ago I called it Global Business Culture so I suppose we have been celebrating Global Diversity for a very long time now – nonetheless I still think it important to mark October as the officially designated ‘Global Diversity Month 2020’ because this is one way of bringing the issue front of mind for a brief period.
At Global Business Culture, we work in a fractal of the diversity debate which is focused on the impact that national cultural background can have on cross-border business effectiveness. We don’t really look at issues of ethnicity, gender, disability or ideology – not because we don’t think these issues are important (we know they are) but because our chosen field of expertise is already so vast. What we focus on is how it is and why it is that people think differently and behave differently in a business environment because of their national cultural background – and that is complicated enough for us!
We know that when people work in complex cross-border environments, a well-developed level of cultural fluency can be a real asset to both the individual and the organisation they work for. Cultural fluency breeds cross-border effectiveness.
But what can individuals and organisations do during Global Diversity Month 2020 to start to encourage higher levels of cultural fluency? We believe that there are three key messages that need to be understood and these are:
People need to actively acknowledge that global cultural differences are real and that they can have a significant commercial impact on operational efficiencies and successful cross-border relationship-building – for both good and bad. For many of us this awareness is a real ‘light bulb’ moment and is almost a conscious intellectual act. Some people come to this realisation spontaneously, but many people need help in getting to this point through well-structured, commercially focused cross-cultural training.
As soon as people have consciously accepted that global cultural differences can have a significant impact on cross-border business they realise that awareness of that fact is not enough. They realise that they need knowledge. They may have become aware that business in China is done differently but they then need to know in what ways it differs from their own cultural norms and how those differences might impact on day-to-day business activities.
The final piece of the jigsaw is when people can take their new-found awareness, couple it with the knowledge they have gained and then apply it to practical business challenges. ‘I am aware that cultural differences are important when working in China, I know that Chinese meetings are run differently and therefore I can apply all of this and adapt my own approach to meetings in order to ensure the best possible business outcome.’ As in all things, application is the most difficult but important point. It is difficult because it requires behavioural and mindset change but it is important because that is what gets results over time.
So, my challenge to both individuals and organisations during October’s Global Diversity Month would be, what are you doing to become aware, gain knowledge and then successfully apply that awareness and knowledge in a global cultural context.
If you would like to discuss strategies for developing global cultural fluency within your organisation, please get in touch.
The need to develop leaders who can lead global virtual teams across the barriers of culture, language, distance, and technology has never been greater. Increased globalisation, massive technological advances and the Covid crisis of 2020 all point to the need to develop fully functioning remote teams and the leaders of the future will have to be fluent in cross-border, cross-functional and cross-cultural working.
Unfortunately, many organisations have left addressing the leadership skills gap in this area far too late and we are now faced with a world in which many global teams are led by people who are unprepared for the challenges of the role they find themselves in.
So, what do global virtual leaders really need to focus on?
Having been working on building global teams for two decades, it seems the challenges can be broken down into three distinct areas:
In this article I would like to look briefly at these three distinct areas.
Probably the biggest challenge faced by leaders of global virtual teams is the complete lack of spontaneity in the process – nothing happens by chance and therefore everything needs to be planned if there is to be any cohesion within team activities. Leaders can’t just hope that activities take place, keep an eye on things and jump in to help if things go wrong. It goes without saying that a leader has no visibility of what is happening in an office in another continent and in a completely different time zone.
The need for greater levels of planning and structure can put tremendous pressure on virtual team leaders and these pressures can build if things start to get badly out of hand. However, this need for planning and structure often contradicts the ‘hands off’ approach that many companies describe as ‘good’ leadership style. A global virtual leader must somehow strike a balance between control and autonomy.
Leaders also need to be aware that when people work remotely, they do not always get the full picture of why they are being asked to do what they are being asked to do. People at a distance simply lack the level of context granted to people in the centre and this can lead to a feeling of alienation and almost of becoming a ‘commodity’ with no skin in the game. Virtual leaders need to mitigate this risk by continually referring to the ‘why’ of everything. All the team needs all of the context all of the time if they are to be made to feel valued members.
Global virtual leaders also need to focus on developing clear lines of communication. If some team members use Slack, some others use WhatsApp, whilst a third group send emails everything quickly becomes messy – there will be no audit trail and issues will fall down cracks. The leader needs to agree with the team at the outset what are the accepted team technologies and what each technology is used for.
This is just a small snapshot of team issues a global virtual leader needs to focus on – the list is pretty long.
Remote leaders need to focus on getting the whole team to work as a team but should never forget that the team is made up of a few individuals who all have individual preferences and requirements. Remote team members often complain about feeling ignored and that their career opportunities are restricted as a result. The danger is that remote team members begin to resent their colleagues who work closer to the leader and whom they perceive to be getting preferential treatment.
With this is mind the virtual leader needs to have a clear plan around how each individual team member should be mentored and how feedback will be given. This process should be set out clearly and followed consistently – don’t tell team members what you are going to do and then deliver something completely different when the pressure starts to mount.
Treating each person as an individual requires getting to know them as people. It is easy for a leader of a virtual team member to form a good relationship with team members who might sit in the same office but much more different when people are working in a different country, in a different time zone and who have a different cultural background. Developing relationships over distance takes time and it takes application. Don’t say ‘happy birthday’ to somebody in the same office and then ignore remote team members; don’t wish local colleagues ‘happy vacation’ and then forget to do the same to distant ones. It all counts, and it all gets notices noticed.
It is also really critical that global virtual leaders organize their personal workload to ensure that they can focus on their own priorities and objectives. That seems an obvious statement but the challenges of running a global team whilst at the same time paying attention to the specific needs of each team member can sometimes prove overwhelming.
When global virtual teams are poorly managed the leader runs the risk of being contacted about everything regardless of how minor or critical an issue might be. Team member ‘cc’ the team leader into every communication and this leads to information overload and paralysis.
Virtual team leaders need to trust their team members and build trust within the team and only then can leaders really focus on their own key tasks. Leaders should actively plan their days with specific time set aside for team related issues and personal workload tasks. This may seem overly formulaic and structured, but it isn’t – the key aspect of good virtual leadership is in the planning and structure.
As people increasingly work from home, maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes both more important and more difficult. Global virtual leaders need to encourage their team members to also strive towards a healthy work-life balance and this behaviour must be modeled by the leader. If the team see the leader regularly sending emails at midnight it gives a signal that this is expected within the team. Don’t do that – if you have to compose an email at midnight, schedule to send it the following morning (except in exceptional, critical circumstances.)
The challenges of virtual leadership are manifold and global virtual leaders need to put a great deal of thought and creativity into making the process a success for the team, themselves and the organisation. Global organisations cannot afford to let virtual leaders fail in their responsibilities and should be helping those leaders through ongoing personal development opportunities.
And this article doesn’t even address the challenges of working in a global virtual team from the cross-cultural perspective. This area brings additional layers of complexity and simply cannot be ignored. Global virtual leaders need global virtual leadership skills and they also need to develop global cultural fluency.
We have been delivering global virtual team training programmes for major global organisations for more than fifteen years and are therefore very aware of the various global virtual team challenges that are faced by people on a daily basis. We have run these training programmes for people in multiple geographies in both a ‘live’ classroom setting and in a virtual classroom through the use of webinar technology across a wide range of sectors – but whatever the geography and whatever the sector, the challenges remain constant.
Companies have had a choice up to 2020 – they could either ignore the issues which tend to make virtual teams less productive than co-located teams or they could address those issues through well-structured practical training programmes. They had that choice up to 2020 but the Covid 19 pandemic has dramatically transformed the working landscape and it looks highly likely that in the future far more people will be working in virtual teams than are sitting together in a traditional office location. Even if people don’t work remotely all the time, they will inevitably be working part of the week from home.
Global virtual team training therefore becomes a ‘need to have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ and I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences around what the major global virtual team challenges actually are. I think these experiences might prove valuable because they are not really my experiences at all – they are the experiences which hundreds and hundreds of training programme delegates have reported back to me on the training programmes I run for clients. These challenges are not in any way theoretical; they are deeply rooted in real-life experiences.
I have a definition which I very often share on global virtual teams training programmes which delegates seem to find useful and which always seems to stimulate a debate. That definition is:
This definition describes the theoretical aim of any virtual team, but unfortunately most global virtual teams fail when benchmarked against most of the objectives listed above. It is undoubtedly true that a global virtual team ‘is a group of individuals who work across the boundaries of time, geography, language and culture’ – this part of the definition cannot be contested but I start to have serious problems with the phrase ‘who link successfully by technology and common goals.’ If these teams were in fact linked successfully by technology and common goals why do people in every training programme I run complain about the ineffectiveness of the technology they use and simply laugh at the idea that everybody in a virtual team share common goals? And this is before we start to look at issues around skill sets and mutual accountability!
So, what are the most common challenges that people raise when we look at these issues during the global virtual teams training programmes we run for our clients? Here are five of the most often raised issues:
We specialise in helping global virtual teams and global virtual team leaders understand these challenges and develop solutions to ensure people can work effectively in these most challenging of situations. Our courses include:
All programmes are tailored to meet client needs and delivered by trainers with decades of experience of cross-border working.
One of the problems of presenting our services on a website such as this is that it is difficult to show how flexible our offerings can be and how cultural awareness blended learning options often form a key element of the work we do with our global client base. Therefore I thought I’d take the opportunity afforded by a blog such as this to outline the process we go through to develop exactly the right training solution to meet each client’s needs – knowing as we do that every client is unique and faces a specific set of challenges.
Sometimes we receive an enquiry which merely asks, ‘can you do a training programme on India and how much is it?’ I understand the need for speed and that clients are just scanning the market, but this enquiry is not going to help any client get to a results-oriented, cost effective training intervention. My usual response is to go back with a series of questions such as:
Although these might be annoying questions to the enquirer (and sometimes I don’t get any response), I feel the questions are to be asked if we are going to be able to put forward a proposal which meets the client’s needs. If I get the relevant information I can use my twenty-years of experience in delivering cultural awareness training to craft a suitable cultural awareness blended learning solution which I really believe can add value. That doesn’t mean to say we expect to win every pitch, but we really want to be able to put a proposal together which we feel can be helpful, deliverable, results-oriented and cost effective.
I’ve just used the word ‘deliverable’ in the previous sentence, and this is the area I’d like to explore more deeply. What types of training interventions can we offer clients and what formats do we deliver them through?
Simply put we work in three key areas:
These three discreet areas however are often brough together within a single programme for clients who feel they have requirements in all three areas – but then we need to think about the most effective delivery platform for the training.
So, what options do we have to deliver effective cultural awareness blended learning?
Obviously, the traditional method of delivering face-to-face training programmes is still extremely popular amongst our client base. There is undoubtedly something magical about getting colleagues into a room to work together with the facilitator in order to raise skills and knowledge levels. The ‘death’ of face-to-face training has been prophesised for decades, but it still remains vibrant and will do for many years.
However, there are obvious drawbacks in the face-to-face model. If not everybody who should attend the training work in the same office, clients either need to exclude them or pay for travel and accommodation. People are not always available on the day of the training and they therefore ‘miss out’ as the training is not captured.
Despite the drawbacks though, face-to-face training remains the most effective delivery methodology in my opinion. No matter what anybody might claim, webinar and digital learning options simply cannot generate the same amount of engagement and learning as the more traditional approach – I know it isn’t fashionable to say that but it’s true!
Many of our clients have extremely dispersed teams who work across multiple global geographies and it simply isn’t logistically possible to deliver face-to-face training to everybody. However, at the same time it is difficult to say to your remote employees that they don’t qualify for training because they don’t work in Head Office.
In these situations, webinar-based cultural awareness training becomes a very helpful option. This delivery methodology allows you to reach a much larger group of employees and also enables you to have delegate groups consisting of people with many different cultural backgrounds – always a plus on a cultural awareness training programme.
Webinar-based training can work extremely well – but it can also work really badly. Webinar-based training programmes cannot simply replicate what is done on face-to-face training courses. Short, sharp interventions work best. Break the training into a few punchy modules and deliver them over a short timeframe so the learning is enforced.
We have developed a comprehensive cultural awareness digital learning hub called Global Business Compass which really enables us to offer a complete blended learning solution for clients. The hub us full of cultural awareness e-learning modules, relevant videos, country-specific e-learning bites and country culture profiles.
This hub serves two crucial purposes for any organisations which is seriously trying to raise levels of cultural awareness fluency in its employee-base:
Global Business Compass is a living organism that will grow as the months progress with more and more relevant content being added – as your company needs grow, so will our digital solution.
As I said earlier in this blog, we often get enquiries asking, ‘can you do a training programme on India and how much is it?’ It’s a difficult question to answer because we have a variety of options available to clients. Some clients might need a blend of face-to-face training, webinars, and our digital hub but other clients might just need one of those options to address their challenge.
We like to work in partnership with clients. We want to discuss your challenges, get to know your business, and develop solutions which respond to your needs. Talk to us and we will come up with the right training solution – sometimes a blended solution; sometimes not.
If you are interested to talk more about what we can offer, https://www.globalbusinessculture.com/contact-us/.
More and more people are being asked to work in global cross-border teams which we all recognise can be extremely challenging. Coping with different time zones, different cultures, communication issues and technology can be taxing, and people need help if they are to be expected to make global virtual teams work and this where globalal virtual team training comes in.
There are so many factors which can impact on the successful development of cross-border teams and good, targeted training can help people address the key areas of challenge and ensure that remote teams are able to work at their maximum capacity.
Global Business Culture has been running International Virtual Team training programmes for more than 15 years and we have gained a deep understanding of the unique dynamics of virtual teams which we are able to bring to both our live training sessions and webinar-based interventions.
We want to help you work more effectively across the barriers of culture, language, time zones and technology.
Working remotely has never been more important than right now!
Although we have been running live, in-house training programmes for global clients for more than 15 years, advances in technology and the growth of remote working have obviously led us to develop an additional webinar-based approach to the topic.
By running webinars on this topic, we can reach team members in every corner of the globe and reduce travel costs and the environmental impact of travelling to corporate events.
This is, however, a large and complex topic which cannot be explored in any depth in a single webinar. The challenges of global virtual team working are multi-layered, and each layer needs to be addressed before moving onto the next and this is why we have developed a 3 x 90-minute module approach.
By running a number of modules over a short period of time we are able to really dig deep into the topic and make the delegates reflect on best practice and how they can adapt to ensure more effective virtual team working going forward.
Global Business Culture focuses on two areas of expertise and only two – we don’t do anything else because we see ourselves as world leading experts in these two areas:
We know that these two areas fit hand-in-glove.
One of the key challenges of working in international virtual teams is around understanding the additional complexities of working cross-culturally. To understand the dynamics of virtual team working you need to understand cultural differences and we are world leading experts in the field of cultural awareness for business.
We have been running global virtual team working training programmes for over 15 years. We have run these training programmes in every continent across a wide range of different sectors. Recent events haven’t led us to this topic as a reaction to the market – we really know what we are talking about in this area.
We have developed a 3-module approach to this training initiative and have added 3 sample programmes below. These are sample programmes, but the exact nature of each module we deliver would be agreed with each client after detailed discussions.
Introductions & objective-setting
Working in Virtual International Teams
Employees are increasingly being asked to manage people across the barriers of culture, geography, language and technology. This presents a real challenge to traditional leadership approaches and working patterns.
Why is it more challenging to work in an international virtual team than in a co-located team? The feedback from this discussion will lead onto an exploration of some of the key elements to factor in when working virtually.
Key issues when working in Virtual International Teams:
Introductions & objective-setting
Cultural Influences in Business
Presentation by the trainer on the ways in which cultural background affects national and individual character and how these, in turn, affect team dynamics within any multi-cultural, virtual team. Examples are given from a wide variety of cultures.
What issues have you faced when working cross-border with virtual team members from other cultures? The feedback from this session will be analysed and lead through to the next section of the programme
Culture & Day-to-Day Team Dynamics
How might people withing the team from different cultural backgrounds approach some common day-to-day tasks? Issues looked at include:
Introductions & objective-setting
Effective Cross-border Communication
Approaches to communication vary across global virtual teams and what one member sees as a good style of communication may be viewed as a bad style of communication by another team member. An understanding of these communication style differences is vital to the building of cultural empathy and effective cross-border collaboration. Differing approaches to communication are described and the effects of these differences on business situations are explored.
Use of Language in an International Context
The use of English as the common company language – a few practical tips.
Cross-border Conference Calls
Why are virtual team conference calls often non-productive? – group discussion
A few pointers on how to make cross-border conference calls work more effectively and how to get better engagement from everybody on the call.
Final Group Discussion
What suggestions can we make to improve the performance of any virtual teams we are currently involved with?
Module 3 & programme end
We are platform agnostic. Internally we use Zoom but are very happy to use whichever platform is most suitable for our client.
We like to make the webinars as interactive as possible and include groups discussions, polls, videos and other techniques to promote inter-team interactivity.
If you would like more information on how to help your global virtual teams work more effectively, please contact us.
As the country increasingly looks to diversify its international footprint in order to help further grow the economy, there will be and increasing need for cultural awareness training in Australia. The ability to work effectively and seamlessly with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders around the world will be one of the key defining skills of the next generation of leaders across a range of different sectors because without developing a high level of cultural fluency within this cadre, Australia will never attain its global potential.
Cultural awareness is not really about issues like ‘how do you give a business card in Japan’ or ‘should you address a German colleague by their first or last name.’ Cultural awareness training looks at the culturally driven psychology of a business contact from another part of the world and how that contrasts from the culturally driven psychology that you might take into any given transaction. In order to maximise the opportunities in any cross-border scenario people need to know where the similarities and differences in approach to business are likely to be found because the similarities are where the bridges can be built and the differences are where the challenges are likely to be found.
Cultural awareness training can both help build international bridges and help avoid profit-sapping mistakes.
Why should you choose Global Business Culture to meet your cultural awareness training goals in Australia?
Global Business Culture has been delivering cross-cultural training around the world for the past 20 years. We have delivered training in every continent across a wide-range of sectors at every level of an organisation from C-suite down. So – we have lots of experience in this area (and we only deliver cultural training, so we are not setting out to cover lots of other areas as well.)
However, it is not because of our twenty years of experience that we think you should select us as a provider. The reason we feel we can deliver cross cultural training which will make a real and immediate impact in your business is because we address this topic from a non-theoretical perspective. Global Business Culture consultants have not simply read a few books on the topic and then set themselves up as experts. Global Business Culture consultants have been there and done it; they have years of active international business experience and can relate that experience to the interaction between culture and commerce.
Our aims are quite simple. We want to help you work more effectively across the barriers of culture, geography and language and thereby improve the effectiveness of your cross-border operations.
Australia has focused a lot on the China market as a purchaser of commodities and other products and China will always remain a key market. The rise of China as a global superpower, the incredible size of the China market and its relative geographic proximity mean that China will continue to be an international market which simply cannot be ignored.
However, as China moves up the value curve and its consumers become ever more discerning it will become much more that a commodity destination. China has an appetite for increasingly sophisticated products and services and selling into these types of areas will demand a deeper understanding of the Chinese mindset. This is where targeted, practical cultural awareness training can be really helpful.
In addition, India is very much the up-and-coming market. With over 1.3 billion consumers, India has an infinite appetite and an infinite need for goods and services. There is almost no sector which is not looking for new products and services and every region of the country is crying out for infrastructure development. If you are not seriously considering India as a potential market, you should be.
Yet India is notoriously tricky. Even with the multiple reforms introduced by the Modi administration, India is not easy to penetrate without significant research and knowledge. You can’t afford to miss out on the potential of India, but you also can’t afford to do India badly because it can drain your resources very quickly.
To succeed in India, you need to understand the Indian mindset and the way business works over there. Detailed research around competitors, market readiness, competitors and commercial structuring is vital – but so too is cultural awareness training and that’s where we can help.
We’ve highlighted China and India in this blog but there are lots of other potential markets which also need to be understood from a cultural perspective. Just because the Brits and Americans speak the same language don’t assume that the business culture is identical to that of Australia.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to cultural awareness training and therefore we have developed a number of different approaches to meet the demands and geography of Australian clients:
Global Business Compass is an online cultural awareness training platform which is a great learning tool for geographically dispersed organisations who can benefit from improving the overall levels of cultural fluency within their employee-base. The platform answers some key strategic questions which we are frequently asked by clients:
Global Business Compass answers all these questions for clients in Australia. It is packed with e-learning programmes, videos of global experts, country-specific culture profiles, blogs and much more.
We’d love to be able to demo the product for you.
Global Business Culture has the experience and products to meet the needs of Australian clients who are keen to seize the commercial opportunities of cross-border trading. Our founding Australia partner Amit Dev Mehta has decades of experience in cross-border working and the commercial experience to be able to understand your needs and develop training programmes to meet those needs.
Canada counts among the most diverse country in the world. In fact, “the Canadian federal government has been described as the instigator of multiculturalism as an ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration.”1 If multiple cultures weave the Canadian social fabric, we Canadians, along with the rest of the world, still have a lot to learn about relating, communicating and doing business in a cross-cultural environment – and that’s why culture training in Canada is so important.
This multicultural mosaic is but one element of Canada’s diversity. The country’s deeply rooted French and English origins have made it the only country to encompass two of the world’s 10 cultural clusters:
This state of affairs is primarily represented by Canada’s two-official language status, which inspired some political analysts the sad moniker “the two solitudes,” marking the great divide between Quebec, the “French province,” and the Rest of Canada, two distinct cultures.
While harnessing the challenges of both multiculturalism and biculturalism, Canadians also tackle the trials of international business. Although a significant share of our import-export market is conducted with our southern neighbours, a growing share is now developing West- and Eastward. Trade deals such as the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or the Exploratory discussions for a possible Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement are opening a whole new world to Canadian businesses, spawning its share of cross-cultural challenges.
Although still somewhat of a novelty, cross-cultural training is rapidly becoming essential in Canada. Whether to enhance the performance of organizations that do business with foreign countries or to harness the efficiency and creativity derived from multicultural teams, improving our individual and collective cultural intelligence is slowly crossing over from trend to necessity.
Globalization has prompted global leaders such as Google, IBM, and Starbucks (who closed over 8,000 US cafes for racial bias training after an unsavoury racist episode gone viral) to incorporate diversity management in their corporate strategies. Given the expansion of globalization through the Internet, organizations big and small are following suit.
Like most organizations all over the world, Canadians are also facing the massive global shift to virtual business and communications. The current pandemic is propelling us all into a new normal that may remain longer than most would like to admit, perhaps even inciting a new way to do business. This state of affairs means that cross-cultural relationships will become the predominant challenge for organizations and professionals.
For Canada’s workforce and the rest of the working planet, cultural training is becoming a critical strategic driver. Whether it is at the corporate level or in school curriculums, cultural training will be as intricate to professional skills development and improvement as basic management notions.
We have recently created and delivered a pioneering “Communications and Cultural Intelligence” course within a Masters in Management program at Hautes Études Commerciales, one of Canada’s most renowned business schools. Demand for such courses signals the importance of cultural training to conduct business in a globalized world. In this world, audiences and consumers are no longer just local but span the world over.
Recognizing and understanding cultural differences has become critical. Acting upon them – adapting communications, business practices and strategies – is converting into a principal competitive advantage for any organization or professional who conducts business in a culturally diverse environment.
Cultural training in Canada, and the world alike, is rapidly becoming an intricate part of this world’s new normal.
By Ysabel Viau, cultural strategist and CEO of ACCULTURA
As founder of Global Business Culture, I have been running Global Virtual Team training courses for more than 15 years for major corporations around the world. We have run these programmes on a face-to-face basis, and we have run them in a virtual setting through conference calls and digital learning courses. It is therefore interesting to me that the 2020 Corona virus pandemic has brought forward a whole tsunami of people giving advice on working in global virtual teams.
It worries me slightly that some of these new advisors might be advising from a position of partial knowledge at best and so I thought it might be helpful to people looking to commission Global Virtual Team training if I highlighted a few areas which should be considered when commissioning and delivering this type of learning and development activity.
I have to admit that all of my experience has been in helping multi-cultural, multi-country teams work together more effectively across the barriers of culture, geography, language and technology but many, many delegates have said that most of the learning also applied to working with remote colleagues within their own country.
The aim of writing this blog is not to say ‘buy our training programmes’ (it would be great if you did) but more to add some structure to a few thoughts that people might already have in their minds but find difficult to articulate.
So here goes – 5 key elements in Global Virtual Team Training which I think clients should focus on (not in any particular order of importance.)
There are lots of theories out there about remote working and lots of research undertaken on this topic. (I expect a lot more will be done as we move out of the current global pandemic.) Although this work has lots of merit, my experience is that employees in international organisations who struggle with the challenges of global virtual working are much more interested in exploring the real day-to-day areas which are impacted by virtuality and at looking at practical solutions to these challenges. There are definitely differing expectations around what ‘good’ leadership looks like in different countries but focusing on Hofstede’s ideas around ‘Power Distance’ usually leave delegates with blank expressions on their faces and an air of ‘so what?’
Businesspeople need concrete examples which relate directly to their own experiences and day-to-day activities. Therefore, any global virtual training programme should be designed to address those issues directly.
What are the challenges of working in a global virtual environment?
The list is long, but all these challenges are rooted in day-to-day activities and delegates react positively when confronted with reality rather than theory. Course design needs to be anchored to these practicalities – ditch the theory and focus on real issues!
Ensuring that global virtual teams can work as effectively as co-located teams is one of the great business challenges of the twenty-first century. Virtual teams will become the norm and not the exception and teams that straddle cultures, geographies and languages will also become the norm rather than the exception.
Without fully functioning global virtual teams, productivity will fall as will profits; employees will become disengaged and leave the business which, as the war for talent intensifies will be disastrous for companies. Not investing in training which looks to improve the efficiency of virtual working is, therefore, not really an option.
If you are going to run training programmes on such a business-critical issue, your choice of trainer is key. No matter how good the course design, no matter how engaging the materials the trainer is the key. A good trainer can make a badly constructed course work well and a bad trainer can equally destroy even the best designed programme.
So, what skills and experience does a good trainer for a global virtual team training programme need? This is a really interesting question and one I’ve struggled with myself over the years as I’ve tried to introduce new trainers onto Global Business Culture’s training modules. Over time, I have come to realise that there are really three attributes that a trainer needs in these scenarios:
There is no getting away from the fact that global virtual teams will contain team members from different cultural backgrounds, and that there will inevitably be cultural challenges that come to the front during team interactions. As this is an undeniable fact relating to multicultural virtual teams it stands to reason that any global virtual team training should contain a significant element of cultural awareness development.
And yet I have seen programmes that do not even mention the cultural aspects of team interplay or at best look at this issue for ten minutes or so. If your training programme does not explore cultural nuances in some depth, then culture just becomes ‘the elephant in the room.’ I think some courses do not explore this area in depth because the trainers are not qualified or experienced enough to do so – which goes back to the point around choice of trainer.
Any viable training programme on this topic should look at the cross-cultural impacts on such varied areas as:
A global virtual team training programme without a significant cultural element contained within it just is not fit for purpose because it misses one of the crucial challenges of successful cross-border working.
The objective of any global virtual team training programme should be to improve how effectively your global teams can interact with each other in order to achieve their goals. Both practice and research show that the most productive tool for achieving better cross-border team cohesion is through the development and active use of agreed team operating agreements.
Team operating agreements should not be confused with project plans – they definitely are not a Gantt chart or a Pert chart. Team operating agreements define the ways in which a cross-border team agrees to operate together and gives the structure and systems needed in an otherwise potentially chaotic situation.
Team operating agreements should be specific to the aims and make-up of each individual team but that does not mean that each TOA needs to be developed from scratch. Organisations can develop templates which can be easily adapted to meet the exact needs of each team. Al global virtual team training programmes should be structured with the development of a team operating agreement as the end point of the programme. This gives both individual team members and the team as a collective a concrete conclusion and a road map of how to proceed after the training programme has ended.
Deciding who should attend the training
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of running a successful series of global virtual team training programmes for international clients has been for the client themselves to select which employees should attend the training and how the training should be structured in terms of face-to-face or virtual delivery.
There are basically three ways you can slice the delegate pie:
If I am honest, the least effective way to run these programmes is to choose the last of these three options – but budget and logistics often dictate that many clients opt for this solution. The first two options are better from a training results perspective because they allow the programme to be much more focused in approach.
However, that does not mean that the third option cannot be made to work but the programme needs to be adapted to meet the exact requirements of that specific delegate base. When selecting a supplier check to ensure that they are looking at this issue and adapting any programme suggestions accordingly – if they are not it suggests they have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the training delivery.
The topic of effective cross-border virtual team collaboration is so complex and multi-faceted that this article cannot possibly address all of the aspects that need to be considered when setting up global virtual team training but it hopefully serves as a starting point for companies who are looking to upskill staff in this area.
I admit that I have addressed this topic from the perspective of an experienced practitioner in the field rather than from the perspective of a client looking to develop cross-border skills and so there may be topics that I haven’t covered which are critical to your organisation. If there are areas of interest that you would like to pick my brains on – please feel free to do so at any time.
I really hope that this brief article helps people to start thinking more strategically about the commissioning and implementation of global virtual team training programmes. I wrote the article because I am passionate about helping people work collaboratively and effectively across borders – it is what I have spent much of my career working on.
If you would like more information on the training courses we deliver to our clients around the world please contact us.