How to Develop a Global Team

Cultural friction causes inefficiencies and turns off prospective customers. Here’s who and how to develop your team for better results.

Is your company reaping the benefits of cultural profit? Does it have the ability, in other words, to enter new markets, develop new supply-chain models, and efficiently and effectively integrate as a global organization so that information can cross boundaries successfully?

In today’s global economy, every organization should be striving to achieve these, and other, aspects of cultural profit. But what steps do you need to take to make that happen?

The way to achieve cultural profit is to learn how to recognize, understand, and respond appropriately to different behaviors and worldviews. Becoming “culturally agile” in this way will allow you to work within various cultural contexts to achieve profitability, and will ultimately lead your company to be successful in competing markets.

While there are varying degrees to which people must be aware of cultural profit based on their role in the organization, it’s important that the executives, the staff members, and down on through to the vendors buy into this concept, and that they become proficient at practicing cultural agility.

When a company fails to develop cultural agility throughout the entire organization, things can go very wrong. Consider Groupon, a website that offers “deal of the day” coupons and gift certificates usable at retail stores. At a time when the company was spending millions of dollars to enter the Chinese market, it ran a Super Bowl ad in the United States that basically used the political conflict in Tibet as a punch line. It was incredibly offensive to the Chinese.

This showed a lack of agility, and a lack of coordination. Someone at the headquarters in Chicago needed to stand up and say, “Wait, we need to think about this.” It could have been anyone–someone who was involved in the China approach, someone at a higher level, or someone in the marketing department.

The marketing department must have known something was going on in China, but it ran the ad anyway and it had huge negative ramifications. Despite the fact that the ad was in English, the Chinese blogosphere lit up like fire, and word spread rapidly.

Let’s say that someone did stand up and say, “Wait. We can’t run this ad. We’re trying to break into the market in China, and this could hinder our ability to do that,” but that his or her voice got lost in the shuffle. Such warnings can’t fall on deaf ears. The other people in the room need to recognize the importance of what’s being said, and take action to prevent such culturally insensitive blunders. This is why cultural agility needs to be part of the intuition of the entire organization.

That said, there are certainly people within the organization who need to be more culturally agile than others. There are three questions that can help you determine who those people are:

Are they customer facing? Are they in sales, marketing, executive roles, customer service, or customer support? Are they vendors who provide services that are customer facing? These can be as simple as the people who are providing marketing materials, collateral materials, or art–they need to have these skills so you don’t have to go out and educate them every single time.

Are they working with cross-border teams? Obviously, these people really, really need to be culturally agile. You find these people a lot in operations. They are managing virtual teams at every level of the organization. (This can even be in retail.)

Are they regulated formally? If they’re part of a group–let’s say a financial team– that has legal regulations that it must follow, then they probably don’t need a ton of cultural agility. They need to be aware of the law.

Establishing an organization that’s culturally agile can make all the difference when it comes to cultural profit. Everyone in the organization must buy into this concept and work to become culturally agile, but it’s especially important to work on skills development with the people who are customer facing and working with cross-border teams. The results make an enormous difference, distinguishing companies that make huge belly flops like what Groupon did in China from those that are smoothly running and have much greater success.

From FastCompany, August 20, 2012