When it comes to effective global teams, “communication” is often lauded as the key to success, and for good reason! Teams that communicate well are teams that understand each other and thus work well together. So, what can be done to increase effective communication among global teams?
1. Implement Global English in verbal interactions.
English may be the lingua franca of international business, but it is still a challenging language to learn and one that has innumerable regional variations and colloquialisms. Global English is a version of English that focuses on clarity above all else. Speaking Global English involves avoiding idioms that may not translate between different languages/cultures, avoiding slang and regional humor, explaining acronyms/abbreviations before using them, and speaking with literal and specific terms (such as using “write” rather than the business-speak of “draw up”). Using Global English can help decrease the risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings.
2. Make accommodations for non-native English speakers.
While Global English is excellent for verbal interactions when translators are unavailable, linguistic accommodations should be made for other forms of communication, such as emails or other written notifications. Employees should receive company-wide communications in their native language. Ideally, translators should be hired to ensure the nuance and specifics of the message are not lost in translation, but there are other options for organizations that may not have larger budgets. For example, there are intranet providers such as Powell that offer immediate translations for users in 60 different languages.
On the subject of written communications:
3. Be clear with wording and intent in written communications.
The fact of the matter is that every individual will likely interpret a written communication differently in some way, shape, or form. As a result, it is critical to emphasize and highlight the main ideas—literally. Highlight, underline, bold, italicize, etc.! Call attention to what needs attention in order to lessen the possibility of miscommunication.
Also, keep in mind the negatives of written communication: a) people often feel more comfortable being critical in writing and b) written communications are more likely to be perceived with a negative filter, i.e. turning a positive email into a neutral one. To address the former, we must always check ourselves for unneeded or overly harsh criticism. To address the latter, it means we shouldn’t be afraid to emphasize positivity in written communications! Use emojis, exclamation marks, whatever makes us smile.
But on that note:
4. Minimize organization-wide communications.
As important as it is to make linguistic accommodations and to be clear in written communications, it is equally important for leaders not to overwhelm employees with messages. Too many unimportant messages drowns out the critical ones, leading to greater risk of crucial messages being glanced over or ignored entirely, a scenario that will certainly breed misunderstandings.
5. Keep time zones in mind for written communications.
A global team means a variety of time zones, which can be difficult for people to juggle. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this issue: create a database or list that compiles the location (and time zone) of every member on the global team. With such a resource, team members can determine when their work hours overlap and refrain from unnecessarily contacting each other outside of that period. If additional communication is required, employees can consider concluding their email with a phrase such as Our work hours may not be aligned, so don’t feel obligated to respond to this outside your normal work times.
6. Keep time zones in mind for meetings.
Time zones are also critical to consider when scheduling meetings. After all, a 2 PM meeting in New York City is 3 AM in Tokyo. To address conflicting time zones, teams can host multiple meetings in one day to ensure employees can attend the one that best suits their schedule. Alternatively, especially with smaller teams/organizations, meetings can be rotated. In other words, no time zone is prioritized. This strategy means a majority of meetings will occur at a decent time for most team members, and about once a month every member takes the short straw of attending a meeting at a more inconvenient time.
7. Match appropriate technology to the task at hand.
Global teams beget virtual communication, from emails to video calls. As aforementioned, it is important to facilitate clarity in verbal communications with Global English and to minimize the risk of misunderstandings in written communication through making linguistic accommodations, highlighting important details, and not sending an overwhelming amount of messages to the entire organization. However, another important aspect of effective communication among global teams is knowing what method of virtual communication is most appropriate for specific information being shared. A good rule of thumb is that written communication (e.g. emails and texts) is better for one-way information or information that is not immediate, while verbal communication (e.g. voice and video calls) is better for time-sensitive or personal information.
8. Increase cross-cultural awareness.
One of the most unique qualities of global teams is their inherent diversity. However, this diversity can only be appreciated if team members take the time to educate themselves on the cultures of their fellow employees. Cultural awareness ranges from learning what holidays coworkers celebrate (and perhaps wishing them the appropriate celebratory phrase when the time comes!) to recognizing how gestures common in one country may be rude in another.
9. Avoid stereotyping team members.
Cross-cultural awareness, however, is to some extent a double-edged sword. While team members should be encouraged to educate themselves on the cultures and traditions of other employees, they should never make assumptions based on what they’ve learned. If they are confused or curious about a subject, they should approach the appropriate team member to see if that person would be willing to have a conversation with them.
10. Be responsive, supportive, and open-minded.
“The paradox in dispersed teamwork is that trust is more critical for effective functioning—but also more difficult to build—than in more traditional teams.” Cross-cultural awareness and conscious efforts to avoid stereotyping help contribute to trust among global team members in the personal aspect, but the business aspect must be considered, too. Effective communication is impossible if it’s not a two-way street. In other words, team members must stay on top of responding to others—in accordance with their respective time zones—and should thoroughly process suggestions and ideas from their fellow employees before doing so.
11. Bring team members together.
In an ideal, post-pandemic world, this tip would involve in-person meetings on a regular basis (e.g. annually or semiannually). However, thanks to technology, bringing team members together can also be as simple as a Zoom call! Effective communications among global teams requires that team members be familiar with each other. While cross-cultural awareness is an excellent first step here, it’s also good for team members to know a little bit about one another’s interests, families, etc.! Events such as virtual luncheons, team-building activities, and more are great ways to establish social relationships between employees and heighten effective communication.
12. Last but not least, create a team charter.
A team charter is, simply put, an outline of the basic communication strategies a team will have (and ideally, it should be provided in multiple languages). This charter may include information about how and what technology will be used in the team, standard format for emails, time range for expected responses, and anything else that will make the communication experience easier for everyone involved.
Communication is only as complicated as we let it be. I hope these tips will help all of us thrive and better understand one another as we navigate an increasingly-global world!
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization. Reach Dima at DimaGhawi.com and BreakingVases.com.