How To Manage An International Team

March 5, 2013

In a globalised economy, working with team colleagues who live and work in other countries is becoming more common place.

Luckily for us, English is still the language of business and this makes it a bit easier for us to communicate. Despite this working with an international team it can still be a challenge to understand different ways of working in different countries.

Here are a few quick tips to help you:

Keep An Open Mind About Diverse Cultures

We all have certain values about the way we want to live and work with many of these created from the culture we live in. For example in the West, time is pretty important to us. Generally we frown upon people being late, interpreting this as a lack of respect. In some other part of the world, time is less important and more emphasis is put on relationships.

Always be curious about others’ culture and seek to learn as much as you can. In fact it is very useful for team members to share the perceptions about cultures. You will be surprised what you might learn. Our trainers are often on international duty working in various parts of the world. One trainer working with EDF in France received feedback on how they perceived English people. It was felt that we could be quite cold and unapproachable. Although we don’t think of ourselves like this, it shows how perceptions can be different. If in doubt, ask.

Find A Way Of Working Together

This might include practical things such as escalating problems and how to ask for help. It may also include virtual meetings times. Having a shared storage space online through intranets or similar will make it easier to access information. It also pays to have protocols about filenames for documents plus reporting procedures.

Show Interest In Them

Everybody has a life outside work (well almost everybody!) and by finding out about what they enjoy doing for fun and also about their families you will learn so much more than talking about work during a monthly meeting. It also gives you the chance to understand the way they think or other talents you were not aware of.

Agree A Formula For Handling Disputes

It makes a lot of sense to talk about this upfront and agree how it should be handled. Separating emotions and cultural differences will help to keep arguments to the facts only and not about the person.

Where Possible, Facilitate People Visiting Each Other

Although not always practical and also being mindful of our carbon footprint, it is always easier to get to know someone face-to-face. If there is an opportunity to combine a work objective and meeting up with an international colleague then grab it.

Video conferencing is also an opportunity to see what each other looks like. There are many free or affordable it applications to do this and is often the next best alternative to meeting up.

The main secret when working with international colleagues is making an effort to understand common human needs; seek first to understand before being understood (Stephen Covey). This means putting other’s feelings and culture before our own. The more you understand the other person the easier it will be. Be tolerant of people who are different and remember that everybody is unique in one way or another. Remember ‘Vive la difference!

Many thanks

Chris Gale

Director of Training at MTD

(Image by Renjith Krishnan at

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