How to Work With International Virtual Teams

[4-min read]

What is it? A Definition:

There are many ways of defining what a multicultural team is. Still, I couldn’t find much of a definition on Wikipedia, so I’ll come up with my own 😉

I would consider three areas:

  1. Cross-Cultural Management
  2. How to Work with International Virtual Teams
  3. Global Management

They all huddle around the same thing: have people with different cultural backgrounds conduct work harmoniously and effectively in different locations. What I mean by a multicultural team is a team that works in different locations around the world. This could be within one organization or between different organizations. Within one organization you can have different locations across the globe where people with different cultural backgrounds work. That’s where Global Management comes in.

But how to work with International Virtual Teams in the most effective way?

How to Work with International Virtual Teams from Different Cultures Is Not Easy

Research shows time and again: Managing people from different cultures is not easy. Cross-cultural management is hard and working with International Virtual Teams is a real challenge. A lot harder than people sometimes think.

Below is an overview of a management survey done by Price Waterhouse Cooper:

Challenges US and European senior executives say they face when managing teams across different countries around the world

  • Changing individual behavior 69 %
  • Cultural differences 65 %
  • Business practice differences 52 %
  • Headquarters too remote 44 %
  • Labor law differences 41 %
  • Accounting and tax differences 36 %

As you can see, managing multicultural teams around the world ranks second. Hopefully, that’s not a surprise.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of How to Work with International Virtual TeamsHow to work with International Virtual Teams

Let’s start with the negative pitfalls first. In my 20+ years of experience, most people in global management positions tend to focus on the so-called “hard variables“: Accounting, rules, and regulations. Things like that.

The saying goes that “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast“. In other words, only focusing on systems, tools, and rules will not (!) lead to a successful cross-cultural management operation. People will find workarounds to beat the system.

Now let’s look at the benefits. There are plenty of organizations, like Google, and Apple (and smaller ones too) that have mastered the way to work successfully in their international virtual teams by managing those teams well. What do they get in return?

When managed well (and this is the crucial part!), diverse teams (compared to homogeneous teams):

  1. Are more creative
  2. Generate more and better alternatives
  3. Generate more and better criteria for evaluation
  4. Perform better on complex decision-making tasks

How to Beat the Competition?

If you work for an international organization and you value global management and you’re doing a good job in managing International Virtual Teams teams, you know that:

Your team has to become culturally competent.

Cross-cultural management involves taking responsibility as a manager to make sure your people understand not only others but also themselves. Telling people to simply work together won’t work.

Often perceptions of each other have been shaped and set. That is very hard to offset.

However, if you provide people a framework within which they can place their stereotypes, their perceptions, and their frustrations, you can slowly peel the layers of the misconception away that often have been around people in teams that don’t really understand each other. In other words, you need to train your people (and yourself …) to become culturally competent.

So if you want to beat your competition, pay attention to cross-cultural management when you’re managing multicultural teams. Engage in global management and invest in yourself and in your people.

Keyword: How to work with International Virtual Teams

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn more, below are three links to podcasts I have recorded that will help you better understand this topic.

Want to read more? Read this article about Cross-cultural management

Read more about doing business in an intercultural environment.

Want to know what a diversity manager can do for you, read this article.

An article about the uselessness of e-learning and cultural competence can be found here.

Talking about stereotypes: read this article about American stereotypes

An article on where you can “find” culture can be found here.

Interested to read more about diversity training? Read this article.


Get a Taste of How Chris Presents, Watch his TEDx Talk



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