How To Manage Gender and Culture in Virtual Teams

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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

The New Global Manager: Tools and Tips For Success!

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So you’ve made it! You’re a new global manager. Congratulations. These are exciting times. Our world is changing, becoming more and more connected–and as a new global manager, you will face challenges your predecessors didn’t. Are you ready for this?

Who is the New Global Manager?

Let’s talk about this. A global manager is defined by the work he or she is doing, frequently within a company with a global presence or operations. A global manager is responsible for managing teams of employees or business operations across diverse cultures and time zones, which calls for new skill sets and capabilities.

And, the new global manager is almost everyone working as a manager today.

Whether you’re working for a local, national or international company, you’re working across cultures, languages, regions or countries. You have to be savvy at quickly assessing needs, reading others and ensuring interactions are successful to meet deliverables and accomplish your goals.

There is a New Global Environment!

Business today is conducted in an almost borderless, boundary-free marketplace, made of multiple countries, cultures, languages, ethnicities and time zones. The number of companies with international offices and plants continues to grow as people from a broad range of countries move and settle in new locations.

Technology connects all of us 24/7 to geographic locations about which we’ve only just begun to learn. In truth, you’ve probably already noticed that the number of people you work with or come in contact with on a daily basis, has changed. Your employees and co-workers may well have backgrounds that are very different from your own.

There are three significant reasons for this.

Let’s start with the most obvious. The first: An increasing number of U.S.-based companies are doing business internationally. For example, more than sixty-eight percent of the top 250 U.S. retailers have foreign operations, according to a report published by Deloitte. And, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), global trade growth is projected to stay above-trend. This growth in international operations is expected to continue.

The second reason for the new global environment is U.S. Demographics have changed dramatically. According to the Pew Research Center, immigrants are driving overall workforce growth in the U.S. New foreign student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities doubled between 2008 and 2016, from 179,000 to 364,000, far outpacing growth in overall college enrollment. As the report stated, “Once arrived, rising shares of immigrants have become citizens, and naturalization rates are up among most of the largest immigrant groups.”

Finally, the third reason for the new global environment is that more American managers work for companies that are headquartered outside the United States. Companies like Burger King, Budweiser, Medtronic, Purina, McDermott, Seagate Technology, Good Humor, Frigidaire, and Actavis/Allergan are among the iconic U.S, company names that have moved headquarters from the United States to other countries in the past few years, according to a report by CNBC.

In the new global environment, managers work with teams of people from different cultural backgrounds, locations, and levels of experience. This rapidly changing global environment, with diverse customer demands, new markets, and digitalization means managers need to react quickly in situations of extreme complexity and ambiguity.

Mastering the Art of the New Global Manager: OAR and 4DCulture Tools

As I explain in my new book, The New Global Manager, to be a successful New Global Manager, you’ll need to incorporate a combination of skills and new tools–like the OAR process. Use the three following steps, Observe/Ask/React, to quickly assess any situation more accurately.

The basic rule for OAR is that when someone behaves unexpectedly, instead of responding immediately you stop, and Observe. What did they do or not do that surprised you? When another person’s behavior doesn’t match your expectations, it’s time for the second part of OAR. It’s time to Ask Questions. Once you’ve gathered more information, then React.

Another tool New Global Managers are employing is called 4DCulture. When you know you’re going to be in a situation with someone whose culture is different from your own, you should do some homework. The 4DCulture tool will help you analyze the cultural forces that may be in play. The tool gives you a way to make your first determination about how you’re going to act and then to ask the questions and analyze the situation so that you do better.

The New Global Environment is all around us.

Suffice it to say, immigration and globalization trends will not reverse any time soon. They will drive the environment you work in every day. Advances in technology further stir the pot, making it more likely that you will have frequent contact with people with diverse norms, perceptions, and values. You will, of necessity, need to develop a global mindset and perfect your global management skills. This is an exciting and challenging time for all of us.

Do you need help getting up to speed as a new global manager? Contact me. I have more thanĀ 20 years of experience in international leadership development, coaching, and team-building, and have helped countless individuals and organizations to be more equitable, productive, and happy. I can help you too.

Ten Never Fail Strategies for The New Global Manager:

  1. Check your assumptions at the door
  2. Slow down, speak clearly, and use slang sparingly and carefully
  3. Add ‘in country X’ to indicate you are thinking globally
  4. Memorize five facts about another country or culture
  5. Act like an anthropologist: Observe and listen
  6. Seek out global news sources
  7. Travel adventurously, but take precautions
  8. Ensure everyone contributes in meetings
  9. Give constructive feedback but consider the receiver
  10. Alternate meeting times to accommodate time zones

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo: 123rf.com