Working in a multicultural team spread across several countries is an enriching experience, but comes with its challenges. The complexities can touch the entire hierarchical ladder of the company, from middle managers to newly recruited employees.

The key to successful management lies firstly in awareness and secondly in the adoption of strategies aimed at overcoming cultural and technical barriers (because no matter how fast technology advances, time differences can still be a major problem!).

In this article, we explore three common “challenges” and identify some useful strategies for a successful management of an international team, while addressing issues of communication, culture and leadership.

1. Tackling language and accent barriers

People usually think that once they learn English, communication with people of other nationalities becomes easy. Unfortunately, this line of thinking isn’t always valid: among the most widely spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and French. Colleagues from other countries may not necessarily be fluent in English: they could be polyglots and know five languages, but they may not speak the same ones we know.

Alternatively, they might speak the same languages that we do, but with a different accent.

It’s undeniable that language barriers are one of the most common barriers when working in multicultural contexts. The difficulty in understanding each other is also accompanied by the fear of expressing oneself during meetings and the frustration that follows.

So how can this problem be overcome? In terms of written correspondence, AI-based translation solutions are certainly a good starting point. The ideal solution, however, lies in language learning, which is a benefit that will also last in the long term.

2. Dealing with cultural differences

An unspoken word or a word too many can have a very strong impact in international contexts. Besides the more obvious cultural differences, we may in fact be confronted with the communication style of high and low context cultures. What does this mean?

We talk of high context communication for nations, regions or groups of people that place a high value on non-verbal communication and dislike direct language; low context communication, on the other hand, refers to when the target society prefers to give and receive explicit information, with structured and detailed messages.

Navigating cross-cultural communication requires continuous training (for both managers and employees) and a corporate management that promotes transparency, diversity and inclusion

3. Synchronising global clocks (and more)

We’re not just talking about time zones here, as important as they are.

Different perceptions of time pose a challenge in managing an international team. Some cultures give great importance to punctuality and schedule observance, while others may adopt a more flexible approach.

Time management in different countries around the world also plays a role: in some countries it is normal (and defined by law) to switch off completely at the weekend or after a certain time in the afternoon, while in others it’s customary to be able to contact each other whenever needed.

Establishing clear and shared guidelines is essential to effectively manage this dynamic.

Working in an international team, and even more so managing it, requires a conscious and adaptable approach, which can only come from constant training. The first step in creating shared guidelines that can be followed by different cultures is to get to know each one of them thoroughly: only in this way is it possible to make the right decisions and be flexible to changes in society.

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