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December 9, 2016

5 Ways to Improve Communication in Geographically Diverse Teams

Globalization, and globally diverse organizations, are now a fact of life in big industry. Most large businesses have teams operating all over the world, aligning with the locations of clients or pockets of expertise. Despite the advantages of having this diverse workforce, it does present a challenge: how can these globally dispersed teams and workers be organized into one, cohesive whole? So what can be done to improve communication in geographically diverse teams?

1.   Develop a strong communications strategy

Different languages and modes of communication can create barriers, so structure is important for combating this. Use a combination of communication methods and make your team aware of the most appropriate ways to convey certain types of information. Project management tools can also be used to assign tasks and keep track of the whole team’s progress.

Establishing a ‘lingua franca’ can help with language differences by standardizing communication, and standardization of language is important even if everyone is fluent. The event or project should have its own lexicon or ‘dictionary’ of approved terms. For example, if one person says ‘release’ while another uses ‘implementation’ to mean the same thing, misunderstandings may occur. Using a clean, universal language will help to avoid these misunderstandings and also help non-native speakers, as they will not have to interpret further based on cultural or language nuances. Providing language training for non-native speakers is also a good idea as it will improve fluency, benefitting the team as a whole.

2.   Promote team bonding

Team members who socialize with each other tend to communicate better. As socialization in a physical sense is not possible for geographically diverse teams, more creative ways of establishing bonds will be needed. Try setting up a team page or virtual team room where people can communicate informally and share more personal content. This will help them to establish a sense of community, understand each other's communication styles and foster good teamwork. Cutover provides the ability to do dry runs and rehearsals before critical IT events and implementations, which can help to bring teams together and understand each other’s ways of working before the actual event begins.

3.   Manage cultural diversity

Managing cultural differences and mediating conflicts are essential to reaping the benefits of a diverse team. Different cultural norms and interpretations of behavior can lead to misunderstandings and mistrust, so leaders must raise awareness of these differences to avoid problems. For example, maintaining eye contact is interpreted as showing honesty and confidence in some cultures but is a sign of aggression in others. In Germany and most English-speaking countries, verbal communication is direct and straightforward with little ambiguity, whereas in Latin-American, Asian and Mediterranean countries, meaning relies much more on contextual and cultural cues. Understanding and educating about the differences in business culture across countries will create more cohesive working relationships.

You also need to make it clear that despite differences, the team is a single entity and should function as such. Managers should encourage cultural understanding, create opportunities for employees to talk about their own cultures and institute a zero-tolerance policy for displays of cultural insensitivity.

4.   Keep remote workers included

Don’t let remote team members feel less valued because they are in a different location from the leader or main team. Stay in contact with everyone and give consistent feedback so they do not feel sidelined. Remote team members require frequent contact to remain engaged and should be kept involved in making important decisions. They need to be given context to show them how their work fits in with what other teams across the world are doing. It will be difficult for remote workers to feel like a proper part of the team or event unless they understand the importance of their place within it.

5.   Leverage technology

You can use a web-based project management tool to provide regular updates and information and keep everyone on the same page. This will allow you to monitor the progress of team members in various locations without the need to disturb their work unnecessarily with constant phone calls and emails. Find out more about how Cutover does this here.

Geographically diverse teams pose various challenges to communication, but when managed well they could provide an edge over collocated teams due to greater collaboration between different perspectives and skillsets. Technological innovation is increasingly improving our ability to communicate with people all over the world, and companies that leverage this effectively could reap great benefits. The success of events and projects with geographically diverse teams depends on a combination of technology and culturally intelligent people.

Chloe Lovatt
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