Hundreds of different languages. Thousands of different cultures. Asian Absolute works with linguists from every corner of the world. We are proud to have extensive experience in making sure that communication is easy and open between individuals from wildly different cultures.
In this article, we'll take a look at where to start when it comes to managing cultural diversity and international teams. You might find this information relevant no matter what industry you're in.
1. Keep It Short and Simple (KISS)
Though you might prefer a more casual relationship with members of your team or have a business culture which prioritises informality, the KISS methodology is always best when you're speaking with someone who hails from another culture. When sending emails, for example, you want to be as concise and clear as possible. What action do you require? When do you want them to get back to you?
Being upbeat and positive is pretty much universally a good step. But things like slang, jargon, metaphors and even humour are best avoided - at least to begin with.
Beware though that sometimes you need to consider a more indirect approach before getting to the point, which is especially applicable for long-term collaborations. Collectivistic societies such as most of the Asian, Latin and African cultures tend to be focused on relationships more and the communication is not always as straightforward as expected in Western societies. It can even happen that if your question is too direct you might get a “Yes”, whereas the respondent actually wanted to say “No” but felt intimidated and answered the way you expected from them. Which brings us to the next point.
2. Ask questions and listen
It's the key to good communication anywhere. But it's particularly vital when managing international teams.
Learning to respect and acknowledge what each other's cultures accept as standard working practices will be part of this. But the same skills you've used to build your local team are going to stand you in the best stead here: don't be afraid to ask questions and make sure you listen to what they are saying in turn. Try asking more open questions rather than such that require a one-word answer.
It also can't hurt to establish some grounding in regards to everyone's expectations of how feedback should be delivered, preferred methods of communicating and how open communication should be encouraged in the future. Again, the openness of the communication depends on where the team member comes fromas not everyone feels comfortable with feedback provided in a direct manner.
3. Follow up a verbal conversation with a written record
Having conversations where some or none of the participants are speaking their first language and where there could be several different cultural understandings of what things like "deadlines" and an agreement really means, it's always better to clarify.
It is also a good idea to send a friendly reminder to ask about the progress of the task as even firm deadlines might have different meanings in the context of different cultures. It is true that in our world that is becoming more and more international some global rules are already starting to apply as for example observing deadlines and sending emails with updates. Most professionalstry to adjust themselves depending on where their clients are based but still as culture is deeply and subconsciously programmed in each individual it is a good idea to double check and follow up. Again, this applies mainly to societies where relationships between group members are valued much more than the individual needs. Combined with cultures with low uncertainty avoidance where structures and strict rules are put in the background, it might result in a major miscommunication if you automatically assume that the other person sees things in the same way as you do.
4. Bear in mind the time zone differences
This sounds simple, but taking into account the specific time differences between you and any linguists on your team will make scheduling meetings a whole lot easier. Be aware, of course, that some countries - the US and Russia are good examples - span multiple time zones, so do be sure which one your linguist is in. Going one step further, it is also a smart idea to benefit from the time zone differences and when possible using a linguist who will be working during your out of office hours and you will receive a delivery in the morning when you come to work. You can save up to a day if you are in need of urgent solutions.
5. Make each linguist feel an important part of the team
You could be in a different part of the same country, a different time zone or on the other side of the world. But you're all part of the same team, so it's always worth taking the time to get to know any linguists who you're going to work with on a regular basis.
For long-term relationships, something as simple as knowing when their birthday lies is good. But actually having a little bit of a connection to their "real" life is much better. It's the sort of thing you'd be able to ask them in passing if you worked in the same physical office. How did their recent holiday go? Has the cold they had last week cleared up okay?
A few little words can make all the difference when you're trying to successfully manage an international team.