Overcoming Cultural Differences in Teams

Overcoming Cultural Differences in Teams

Enterprises today are becoming increasing ever-global. Employees, partners, buyers, sellers, and customers are spread out across the world. How can you overcome cultural differences and make such differences work to your advantage?

At Niteco, we have offices in four different countries and work with development partners all over the world, but our headquarters are based in Vietnam, with senior staff and project managers from 11 different countries.

There are cultural differences that arise in communications, especially in our work within internal and external teams.

According to Harvard Business Review, there are four cultural barriers to a team’s ultimate success.

  1. Direct versus Indirect Communication: Western cultures communicate more directly, addressing problems and issues to managers. It is believed that directly stating facts is beneficial. In many other cultures, communication is indirect and meaning is embedded in the context of the statements.
  2. Trouble with accents and fluency: Misunderstandings can also arise from “nonnative accents, lack of fluency, or problems with translation and usage, which may influence perceptions of status or competence.”
  3. Different attitudes toward hierarchy and authority: Team structures are inherently flat, but in certain cultures, hierarchy and status is the preferred state.
  4. Conflicting norms for decision making: How quickly should decisions be made? How much analysis is required beforehand? Different cultures often times have polarizing views on how decisions should be made.
The better we become at overcoming cultural barries, the more global we can become.

At Niteco, we’ve experienced all of these barriers. However, cultural differences don’t necessarily have to inhibit work progress and productivity. Over the years, these are the best factors that have helped our company in addressing cultural barriers:

Acknowledge first that there are cultural differences.Most often, everyone in teams assumes that every other member communicates the same way, and don’t address issues until miscommunication has already happened. Within our internal teams at Niteco and external teams with our clients, we speak openly and candidly about the initial communication styles. The simple act of acknowledging cultural differences from the starting point alleviates much of the tension later on — and will get everyone to open the discussion regarding communication styles.

  1. Invest in fluency for all employees
    Niteco is an international company - with most everyone speaking at least two languages. We value our differences and the expertise that all members of our company bring, so we invest a lot in acquiring fluency for all of our employees. One of the programs is our English training program for different levels of fluency in which our customer-facing employees get certified in English.
  2. Encourage employees to challenge status quo and ask questions.
    At Niteco, we have a blended model of authority and leadership. Everyone has distinct roles and responsibilities with one project owner or manager in a team, everyone is involved in the brainstorming during team meetings. Using scrum and agile methodology for project management, we have everyone involved in the consistent feedback loop. Everyone is encouraged to present ideas and ask questions everywhere, from company meetings to individual one-on-ones.
  3. Adapt decision making processes to the problem at hand.
    We use a blended decision making model. We believe more heads are better than one. We have our employees contribute to the decision making process and have consensus whenever applicable. However, there are times when authoritative leadership is necessary when there are moments of crisis or urgency.

Cultural differences are inevitable, but we’ve found that they don’t have to be barriers for effective teamwork and communication. The better we become at overcoming cultural barriers, the more global we can become.

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