Global Leadership Blog
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How To Manage Gender and Culture in Virtual Teams

Like so many managers in today’s new global environment, you’ve been tasked with the responsibility of leading a team of employees–many of whom report to you from multiple locations. Congratulations. You’re a manager, and you have one of the most critical jobs in business.

You’re responsible for the performance of the group.

As I have said before, leading a virtual team can be challenging. You’re expected to maintain morale, keep communication open, overcome technological glitches, keep your workers on task, and meet project objectives.

Today, you’re also expected to manage diversity in your virtual team.

Let’s talk about this. We all make instinctive choices and assessments based on our genders and our cultural backgrounds. And, when everyone on a team has the same, or similar norms, perceptions, and values, interacting with others and doing business is relatively straightforward.

But things get more complicated when we’re working with people whose norms, perceptions, and values are different from our own, something that is an obvious reality in today’s global marketplace. Let’s take gender, to start. While we can agree on many aspects of life and work, men and women also see things very differently, based on their genders.

Gender differences.

For example, community tends to be an important motivator for women. Creating that sense of community within the team, showing how teamwork helps reach a goal faster and better, and offering opportunities for the team to connect socially and personally, will help the women in the group work well with the other employees.

Men, on the other hand, may feel more engaged and committed to team efforts as long as they see the celebration of individual successes and recognize that there are opportunities to promote the team’s visibility. Research shows that men seek first and foremost to be seen as powerful and influential. In contrast, it is more common for women to seek recognition, reward, and appreciation.

Now, obviously, these are generalities. However, they are generalities that tend to hold true for men and women in the workplace.

As I said in an interview with Meghan M. Biro, of TalentCulture, different motivations can lead to gendered behaviors that can leave us at a mismatch. For example, women will thank men a lot. They’ll say, “Thanks so much, we really appreciate it.” Behind closed doors, women will tell you they’re trying to stroke men’s egos. But that doesn’t actually work with men. They don’t want to be thanked — they want to feel important and useful. Another misinterpretation is men will interpret a female coworker’s silence as a non-problem when resentment could actually be brewing. As I said in the podcast, if women are silent, there might be more of a problem than you think.

So gender differences can have a tremendous impact on the dynamics of your virtual team. Particularly when you’re trying to get more participation and engagement.

Cultural differences.

Now let’s take a look at the impact that cultural differences can have on your virtual team. We are all shaped by the cultures in which we have grown up. However, while we make choices and decisions based on our culture, people evaluate our actions based on their cultures. And often we aren’t even aware of this fact–and can be brought up short by misunderstandings based in cultural differences.

There are three different types of culture you deal with as a manager. These cultures drive the behaviors of the people with whom you work and for whom you are responsible. First, there is a national or ethnic culture, the impact of the country or ethnicity in which your employees have grown up. Next, we have company culture. Company culture drives important decisions, like the kind of people who get promoted and the kind of behavior that’s praised or condemned. And finally, you have personal culture. You and I and everyone else behave and have certain preferences that have grown out of everything in our life so far.

Each of these types of culture, and often combinations of the three, can drive the behaviors you manage in your dispersed team. It’s up to you to help your employees work through the gender and culture issues that may arise to work collaboratively and as a high-performing unit.

Three tactics for managing virtual teams.

By now you may be wondering how to go forward with what feels like a massive assignment. If you feel like this, you aren’t alone. Here are three tactics you can employ to manage your dispersed team successfully.

One of the first is to create context for your team. When your employees understand the context or what, why, and who, they are more apt to buy into the overall mission and the individual deliverables for which they are responsible. Creating context helps people from differing cultures see the commonality in an experience or directive, which can go a long way toward building bridges between gender and culture or differences in opinions.

Another powerful tactic is to build a sense of community within your group. For virtual workers, it can be particularly difficult to feel a part of something. Statistics show that meeting face-to-face during a project will increase productivity by 50 percent. Building a sense of community can take many forms–like intentionally connecting via email, video, or phone, three times more per week than a brief status update, even if it’s only to chit-chat for 15 minutes.

Where possible, encourage your team members to go into the local office one day a week to network and meet with colleagues can help increase a feeling of community.

Finally, co-share leadership. As a manager, sharing leadership responsibility is one of the best strategies to involve team members. Each should be empowered to take the lead in a team meeting, take charge of a piece of a project or a whole project, as well as be accountable for specific results in their area of expertise. In a leadership role, team members will feel more responsible for outcomes and more connected to the team and project.

Managing a virtual team is both challenging and rewarding. As I say in my new book, The New Global Manager, effective leadership, and management of a virtual team mean fine-tuning your skills in observation, asking questions and adapting before reacting to the situation–and paying attention to how the issues of gender and culture are impacting the team dynamic.

4 tips for managing gender and culture in virtual teams.

  1. Remain open to different viewpoints and ways of doing things.
  2. Create a culture of communication. Encourage your team to reach out to you and to communicate all the time.
  3. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable at times. You must develop the ability to accept that particular situation may be unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
  4. Increase your capacity to motivate your team. You need to be able to influence and support individuals across cultures and gender differences to uphold corporate culture and accomplish the company’s goals.

Could you use some assistance managing your virtual team? Contact me. I have more than 20 years of experience in international leadership development, coaching, and team-building. I have helped countless managers learn to work successfully with their virtual teams.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson

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