Leading a virtual cross-cultural team: 4 key tactics

We all know that diversity in teams does wonders – and a McKinsey study proves this, showing diverse companies perform 21% better than non-diverse ones. 


Now, effectively managing a cross-cultural team under normal circumstances can be a challenge. In a remote setting, it’s a minefield. One where, thanks to dodgy internet connections and endless instant messaging, navigating time differences, lost idioms in translation and conflicting behaviours become even more troublesome.


Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for complete harmony in a virtual world. But how can we avoid conflict and miscommunications that cause setbacks? 

Give remote employees from all walks of life the chance to perform at their very best with these four key tips. 

Get the best from a remote cross-cultural team with these 4 key tips

1. Ask employees how they like to receive feedback


The number one challenge of managing cross-cultural teams is different communication styles – and there are too many to keep track of.

Take Germany, for instance: there, people might favour direct feedback that sounds like harsh criticism. In Korea, some may prefer a softer approach.

Similarly, work ethics will vary, and not everyone will agree on what is considered the right way to work. In the US, it’s more or less expected to be available at all times (weekends and evenings included), while in France, labour laws are very strict about how employees must switch off outside of business hours.


Setting aside time to ask each team member how they like to be spoken to not only helps team members resolve internal friction in the short term, but also ensures feedback results in actual improvement – plus higher productivity levels – in the long term.

2. Video chat frequently, and bond often 


Even after taking the time to acknowledge and talk about your team’s cultural differences, it’s all too easy to forget them. Especially since it’s likely been months since you’ve seen them in real life, and experienced the magic of collaborating in the same room. 

It can also be even easier to miss signs of conflict, particularly for those whose cultural experience has taught them never to speak their minds. For instance, a staff member from a country where hierarchy is important, like Japan, might think twice about talking freely.

It’s up to managers to remind cross-cultural teams why they enjoy working together – and create an inclusive, virtual environment, where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. That means more time on Zoom (it’s no secret that, in the absence of face-to-face meetings, video is king!), and making time for plenty of non work-related discussions.   

3. Establish norms and align goals


Once your team’s cultural differences are acknowledged and front of mind, it’s time to re-align the goals – think everything from delivering work on time to establishing universal instant messaging etiquette. Once these goals are set in stone, it’s up to you as managers to make sure everyone follows them, regardless of personal preference. 


But be prepared: aligning doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s important to give support to people who have to adapt the most. For instance, if you insist that Western-style punctuality for Zoom meetings is the norm, you’ll have to spend a bit more time explaining why other teams might have to adapt their daily routines.


Standard management techniques and common sense apply here, but it’s wise to track, monitor and adapt the goals you enforce regularly. For the norm-setting, you can be more strict, as long as you clearly lay out your reasoning, and how it will benefit the team as a whole.

4. Deploy the right remote training programmes


When a mix of cultures works together in a virtual environment, organisations can promote upskilling opportunities via the right virtual training. In fact, deploying certain programmes could tick a lot of boxes, by mixing social activities, on-the-job experience, and formal learning.


The most obvious candidate here, for multicultural teams, is, of course, language courses. Communicating with someone in their mother tongue is a universal sign of respect. 


This applies whether you’re conducting business with clients, or working with team members from different nationalities. 


But there’s more benefits than simply learning a new way to communicate. Language courses have been shown to: 


  • Help employees develop skills valuable for themselves as well as the company
  • Promote a better understanding of local cultures and customs
  • Improve team work, morale, and communication skills


Help cross-cultural teams perform better with Busuu

At Busuu, we have developed business-specific language courses that are designed to foster better communication between cross cultural teams. 


To see why over 500 global companies such as Uber, Puma and more than 100 million learners worldwide chose Busuu, contact us today.

Contact us