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Handling Geographically and Culturally Diverse Teams

Handling Geographically and Culturally Diverse Teams

As offshore outsourcing shrinks boundaries between countries and makes the world a single marketplace, and as economies become more deeply interlinked, organizations are compelled to create global teams that are culturally diverse and geographically dispersed. Success lies in creating a collaborative, efficient and cost effective workforce by leveraging such Geographically Dispersed Teams (GDTs).

GDTs are groups of people working across time, space and organizational boundaries, and communicating through complex webs of modern technology. The team members have complementary skills, the same set of objectives, common performance goals and are mutually accountable for achieving them.

It is important that all the team members adjust to the team dynamics and create a synergy amongst them. Establishing processes, common values, a sense of urgency, trust and proper communication is critical for managing global teams.

4 core aspects of managing offshore teams are:

1. People Management

Interpersonal and people management skills assume considerable significance when managing virtual teams. Imparting proper training and dealing with initial glitches ensures smooth coordination. However, misunderstanding and miscommunications are bound to occur. Such situations call for greater effort to resolve coordination problems. The best approach is to address the root of the problem rather than the symptoms.

To ensure smooth collaboration, organizations must adequately facilitate GDTs as if they are in the same location (room, building or city) and like traditional teams, are able to engage in face-to-face meetings. Though technology makes it possible, face-to-face communication proves uneconomical, time consuming and often not feasible for diverse teams.

2. Managing Cultural Diversity

Members of GDTs are in different geographical locations across the world and exhibit cultural diversity, have varied backgrounds and speak different languages. Such work ecosystems can be challenging. They can create mixed feelings, avoidable tensions and problems, and create a kind of culture shock for the team members.

Physical transfer to a different geographical location or unfamiliar group can also result in culture issues for a team member. Lack of common understanding and sharing of ideas between different cultures can cause stress and alienation for group members leading to a negative effect on the team growth and productivity.

3. Managing Geographical Diversity

The phrase "out of sight, out of mind" applies to most cases of virtual team functioning. Vast distances and time zone differences contribute significantly to communication and trust issues. A few hours of time difference such as in neighboring cities, states or countries do not pose a major problem, but issues inflate multiple times when the differences are large-such as distant time zones of 8+ hours, holidays, work days as well as cultures. Actively managing such issues through rotating work hours and workdays, face-to-face meeting locations and establishing no-communication days, can minimize problems and burnout amongst team members.

4. Managing Communication

Managing modes of communication and language pose a huge challenge. For example, e-mail is the most common and popular form of conveying information and decision making. However, the verbosity and quantity of information included in an e-mail can be confusing for non-English speakers. Hence structuring communications is important, so that the team members interpret them correctly and take appropriate action.

Devising a communication strategy is the key to addressing cultural diversity. Some key elements are face-to-face meetings at the start and during project execution; phone calls for one-on-one discussions; e-mails, instant messaging and conference calls (web, video etc.) for group meetings; conveying meeting agendas in advance as well as the context of issues and action items.

At Flatworld Solutions, we have the expertise and experience in creating and managing offshore teams across cultural and geographic divides. Our professionals can navigate geographical and cultural complexities and deliver to your expectations.

Contact us today for a discussion on your offshore outsourcing needs.

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