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Managing Cross-Cultural Teams in Global Mobility

6 min read
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Managing a globally mobile organization comprised of employees from different countries, cultures, and experiences can be challenging on both an individual and organizational level. 

With the post-pandemic proliferation of remote work, globalization, and virtual teams, mobility professionals must make concerted efforts to manage cross-cultural differences to acknowledge their employees’ varying needs, nationalities, ethnicities, races, religions, and beliefs.

Let’s explore some key strategies for cross-cultural management in globally mobile remote teams.

What does cross-cultural management mean? 

Cross-cultural management refers to the management and organizational practices that acknowledge and incorporate team members’ differences in cultures, traditions, and backgrounds. 

Described loosely, culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social practices of a particular people, society, or social group. The term “cross-cultural” thus compares two or more different cultures and includes ethnic, racial, and religious differences between employees. 

The importance of cross-cultural management 

The rise of remote work and virtual teams has brought the need for cross-cultural management to the forefront for all, regardless of location or industry. Organizational leaders should proactively manage cross-cultural differences and be open to modifying and adapting business processes and systems to address assignee cultural needs. 

A significant challenge facing globally mobile organizations in cross-cultural management contexts is the ability to understand and incorporate communication styles of different cultures in a way that encompasses the varying needs of assignees. This issue has become more challenging in the virtual work environment, where the lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to cultural misunderstandings and barriers to collaboration. 

However, developing strategies that mitigate cultural barriers can help employers communicate effectively across cultures and encourage global mobility team cohesion. For example, employers can honor multiple forms of virtual engagement, like inviting written ideas or contributions, instead of requiring team members to speak during online meetings. Reframing how assignees engage in a way that’s accessible to them can help create an inclusive environment where members feel valued and connected. 

Legal and HR risks and concerns: 

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or assignees based on differences, including race, gender, age, marital status, national origin, religion, or disability. When these differences are ignored or mismanaged, cross-cultural misunderstandings and legal risks can arise for legal and HR departments. 

For example, aspects of cross-cultural communication, such as age or marital status, can impact how an individual perceives a message, body language, or personal space. Employers can face costly and time-consuming legal consequences if an assignee experiences unlawful discrimination or repercussions due to a protected cultural difference. 

It’s essential for employers to take steps to ensure equitable employment rights and opportunities for all mobile assignees, regardless of cultural differences. This includes creating workplace policies and practices that do not indirectly discriminate against a person or group of people from a particular protected class throughout all aspects of the employment process. 

Guide to best practices: 

Taking a proactive approach to cross-cultural management where culturally diverse assignees can interact and engage with each other can provide value-added benefits to a company. A fair and inclusive work environment that acknowledges, respects, and seeks to understand cross-cultural differences can result in improved work relationships, increased employee engagement, and reduced staff turnover. In turn, this helps to promote a positive employer brand that can help attract and retain a rich and diverse pool of mobile talent. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for cross-cultural management, here are four strategies to help you successfully manage a virtual cross-cultural team. 

Implement cross-cultural policies

Demonstrate your commitment to creating an inclusive and equitable mobility program by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for unacceptable behavior. Publishing and enforcing acceptable behavior standards can help prevent discrimination and harassment because of cultural differences while reiterating your company’s commitment to inclusivity. Established policies can also help to hold all assignees accountable for treating others with respect and dignity. 

Establish protocols for resolving cultural conflict 

Organizations need appropriate procedures to deal with conflict arising from cultural differences effectively. In most cases, cultural misunderstandings can be resolved informally through open communication and education about cultural differences. In other cases, employers might need to enlist the help of HR or enact formal disciplinary procedures if an employee has faced discrimination or harassment based on a protected cultural difference such as race or religion. 

By implementing a structured process, your mobility program can uphold a clear channel of transparency between established workplace policies and assignee behavior. 

Cultivate a safe and inclusive work environment

Creating safe and inclusive workspaces for remote workers is essential to developing positive work relationships and decreasing cross-cultural conflict and misunderstanding among employees. Encouraging assignees to add pronouns to their email signatures, spotlighting cultural events, and creating virtual opportunities that accommodate different cultural needs are all ways to get assignees involved in building a culture of collaboration and inclusivity. 

Companies can also provide practical training that helps assignees develop cross-cultural virtual skills such as recognizing non-verbal cues, demonstrating respect for different cultures, and understanding differences in virtual presentations. 

Foster relationship building among employees

Cultural differences in relationship building in the workplace are more challenging to overcome with dispersed virtual teams. To minimize cross-cultural conflict and encourage relationship building that incorporates respect, empathy, and trust, employers can develop virtual team-building activities that help mobile employees build rapport among co-workers and better understand cultural differences. 

For example, try hosting a virtual lunch, celebrating assignee milestones and birthdays, or inviting assignees to share photos unrelated to work. Providing safe opportunities for assignees to be transparent and share another layer of their personality can help everyone feel more understood and included. 

Ineo’s TechSuite and MoveTrack systems can give your cross-cultural team peace of mind

Managing cross-cultural remote teams can be challenging at times. Still, when conducted effectively, it can bring myriad positive benefits such as improved team efficacy, harmony among assignees, and the ability to attract and retain diverse international talent. 

Contact us today to learn how Ineo can help you manage your culturally diverse mobility program with our TechSuite global mobility software solutions. 

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