The way we work together is changing. Globalisation, expansion into new markets and flexible workplaces require diverse teams of people working together: virtual teams, cross-border teams, matrixed organisations.
Working with people you do not see — or who live in a different time zone, or think, talk, feel or act differently from you — can make even simple tasks difficult.
From my discussions with managers, most see the value of diversity to avoid group think. However, when it comes to working together, it is often easier to see how we are different, rather than how those differences can be harnessed.
With the rapid growth of Asian multinationals, we need leaders for the new workplace leaders who can connect with a broad range of employees across time zones, locations, cultures and backgrounds.
At Hudson, we have identified the five crucial traits of leadership as: Vision, Action, Impact, Connection and Drive. Of these, to bridge gaps across teams, we emphasise the importance of the leader’s Connection to the team.
This means that leaders need to show social intelligence, embrace and leverage diversity across perspectives and cultures, and foster positive emotions in others.
Here are three tips to harnessing Connection as a leader, despite geographical and cultural barriers.
Build trust with your team
In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey emphasises the importance of connection between leaders and the people they manage.
“If you think your leaders don’t care about you, you’ll tend not to trust them…If they think you don’t care, they are going to view everything you do with scepticism, suspicion and distrust.”
Typically in Asian culture, trust is built starting with character — a personal level of trust, while in Western culture, trust tends to start with competence — a professional level of trust.
For leaders emerging onto the global scene, you need to start building trust at both levels by looking out for your employee’s personal and professional well-being.
For example, several years ago, my role scope changed from leading Hudson’s TM business in Singapore to leading in Asia. I knew that my new role began with Connection — building personal trust. I needed to understand the diverse people in those businesses: how they thought, what was important to them, how they would communicate with me and how I should communicate with them. Only after establishing personal trust could I then build professional trust and sell the vision ahead.
Seek to understand the cultural differences
The most challenging aspect managing a multinational team can be in understanding just what the cultural differences are.
Often, leaders are aware that there are cultural differences, but have no idea exactly where these differences may lie.
I’ve worked with an American company in China that had this struggle. We helped the company understand where the cultural differences were, and help overlay that with corporate culture (what the company stands for with its customers and employees). Overtime, the phrase ‘this is China and we do things differently here’ became less used, and was eventually removed from the corporate vocabulary.
As you come to know the working culture and dynamics of your various teams, it may be that you will have to utilise different way of engaging with different groups.
Try to find out what each location and team responds to best, as well as their motivations and what they find rewarding.
Unify under a corporate culture identity
While respecting the local culture and contextualising is important, organisations still need a cultural identity that unites employees throughout each location.
At Hudson, despite our multiple locations across Asia Pacific, one of many factors that bring us together is that we have a culture of celebrating each other’s success.
Each quarter we hold an internal awards ceremony where we are able to nominate and cheer on our team members. The winners of these awards also go on to the annual ceremony (where we fly our winners).
This helps us not only celebrate high performers, but creates a culture where we encourage our nominees and award winners to meet and get to know one another.
Having a corporate culture of ‘the way we do things around here’ can help to alleviate tensions with different country cultures.
For example in Chinese culture, a senior manager may be reluctant to approach a junior staff member for a casual conversation, whereas in Australian culture this is far more accepted. If the company culture is one of transparency and openness among all levels of staff, that can help people avoid ‘walking on egg shells’ for fear of misunderstanding the cultural differences.
I know that doing these things are not always easy. It takes time and consistency to build trust. It’s not always simple to understand cultural differences, or to unite those differences under a single organisational culture.
However, as leaders, it’s essential that we make the effort to try — rather than make excuses — so we can improve our Connection skills and ultimately give our teams the best opportunities to work together effectively and achieve our goals.
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