International Team: Chance or too much Work?
Julius Pankoke | March 1, 2016
Let’s face it. We live in a globalized World. I can talk to a friend on the other site of the globe, in real time. We use and consume products from all around the world on a daily basis. Take a look around you and you will realize most of the stuff on your desk has travelled more than you.
Don’t get me wrong this is not a rant against the evils of globalization. On the contrary. I am quite fond of the range of things available to me.
Now do me a favour. If you are at work, take a second look around. Are you part of native team or do your colleagues come from various countries? If not, why not? It could just be a coincidence, of course. But there are also those companies that avoid building an International team out of complacency or fear.
To relieve those worries, we are going to take a look at the pros and cons of building an International team. We are starting things off by talking about some misconceptions that exist regarding International teams.
1. The Language Barrier
The arch enemy of every efficient meeting. You hold a long but informative presentation and confidently wait for feedback. Nothing. Nobody understood a word and all your work was for nothing.
This scenario works undera false assumption. International team by no means implies that every member is from a different country and speaks a different language. In most cases the native country of the company is represented by a strong base of locals.
The team is then reinforced by non-natives. To prevent any communication from happening, no member of the team has to speak the same language as their colleague. With the dominance of English as a second language that case is highly unlikely. All it takes is one member of the natives to speak English and any English speaker gains access to the rest of their team.
Of course in nearly every case, the International team members have a strong desire to learn the local language. Learning a language to contribute more to the team is a strong motivator.
2. The cultural differences
Cultural sensitivity is a big thing in our time. No-one wants to be labelled as intolerant. That is one of the reasons, why some people are reluctant towards International teams. This usually doesn’t stem from actual intolerance, but from the fear of making a mistake.
There is the story of a big business deal between a European and a Japanese businessman. The simple mishandling, in this case writing on it, of a business card lead to the deal being cancelled. Simply because the European business man didn’t know about the cultural significance of business cards in Japan.
I always saw that story as an entertaining urban, but nothing more. Having worked with Japanese natives I know that the business card is an important part of Japanese business culture. That being said, it is highly unlikely that a Japanese business partner would take offence to such a simple mistake. There is no reason for them to expect that you know their customs by heart.
Being German if I would follow all our cultural customs, I would have to stand up, every time one of my female co-workers gets up. Although probably good for my fitness it would be rather ridiculous.
In that knowledge lies the greatest weapon against the fear of cultural blunders. We all have native customs that are near and dear to us. But knowing that our International colleagues grew up with a different set of customs allows us to not insist on ours. There is a small set of internationally accepted customs you should know, but these are mostly covered by being polite and professional. If you know those few ground rules, you are good to go.
Having dealt with the most common fears when it comes to International teams, we can now move on to the opportunities that exist in going International.
See what I did there? Not only is language no problem, it is also an advantage. Purely native teams are restricted to their native language and maybe English. Adding International team members broadens the possibilities in this regard. Expanding to new countries, helping International customers or building International relationships will give your business a significant boost.
Once we stop being afraid of making mistakes, new cultures become something to cherish. Learning about each other’s culture is a great teambuilding exercise. Coming back to the story of the Japanese businessman, mastering some customs of your business partners could be a goal worth investing in. Showing you informed yourself about their culture will impress customers and partners alike.
Networking is a game of scale. The more quality connections you have, the more you can use them to further your goals. Having access to a big International network instead of just your small local one, will give you more opportunities to build great relationships. Your International team members can help you build those networks in their country or even better already have an established one.
4. Points of View
Working in a company for a long time, one tends to get into a routine. This routine leads to the oversight of some parts of business. New colleagues are always good to break the rut, but International ones usually over a different way of thinking as well. That new point of view can help solve issues you didn’t even notice anymore.
Now that you have hard evidence, get rid of your fears and embrace the idea of an International team. Working in one is an enlightening experience and helps one to understand there is more beyond the borders of one’s world.