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What are you best tips for working with international teams?

Well guys, it's a new year and (for me, at least) a new semester!

As part of my MBA program, I'm taking a course on international business practices. It's so fascinating to me how cultural differences play out during our work. So, I'm curious: what advice do you have for building relationships within a global team? 

In my (short) career, I've gotten to work with design partners based in Bangalore, India. One of the things that I found really helpful was having a "go-to" person on the team there. Then, when I was assigned to work with someone new, I could check in with my point person to hear what they're great at and what their working style is.

I also had to learn not to take emails personally, ever. I had a partner who would say "I have a problem with that" to mean "I'm having trouble with that"—and in America the first sounds very aggressive compared to the second!

Do you have any funny stories or miscommunications that came up when working with people internationally or from a culture other than yours? Any tips? 

4 comments

I worked in an NZ-based company that had a US office and many US-based customers. We sold a web-based product (SaaS) and most of our communication was written. It fascinated me when I discovered the need to "translate" phrases between English speakers.

Here are some examples:

  • We received multiple friendly emails pointing out the spelling mistakes on our website like 'colour' and 'organisation'.
  • Our US-based team member was particularly perturbed about 'inquiry' in an automated email as they used 'enquiry' in the same places as both 'enquiry' and 'inquiry' would be used in NZ.
  • Our Aussie and NZ customers understood that when I said "Ok, no problem" it meant something like "I have heard you and there is no barrier to be working on this for you" however out US customers often replied "But there is a problem, I just spend the last 5 minutes explaining it to you!" so I had to stop using that phrase.
Like # people like this

It has NEVER once occurred to me that "inquiry" and "enquiry" could be a point of contention! I'm going to drop that one in our writers' slack channel and see what my team thinks about those two.

Like # people like this

Hey there!

Indeed, I hit a few funny moments when working in an international environment where native Spanish speakers and English speakers collaborated. There are plenty of false friend scenarios between these two languages that gave for a few laughs after work. Once a colleague pointed out he had to work from home because we were, quote, 'constipated'. This, for a Spaniard, was 'he had caught a cold' 😄

Tips wise, keep the spirit friendly and fun. There are bound to be moments when the cultures, ways of composing sentences or even classic sayings can cause some confusion or unforeseen discomfort. Empathy and comprehension will be your friends to keep communication channels ever-flowing.

Like Jason H likes this

Oh my gosh, the "constipated" misunderstanding is one of the funniest I've ever heard! I might have to share that one in class tomorrow.

I'm not the most empathetic person, so I don't think I'm great at "putting myself in someone else's shoes," but I do think I've conditioned myself to ask "do they intend to make me feel badly, or is this a cultural difference?" whenever I encounter that discomfort.

Like Jason H likes this

Aldo make room for people being different as well. It can be easy to assume differences are due to culture when it is something specific to the individual and would not apply to someone else that shares their background.

100%

Jason H Atlassian Team Jan 27, 2020

Make sure that everyone feels safe to be themselves, that everyone is aware that cultural differences and confusions are probably going to occur, and when they do, that no offence was intended.

Like Shawn Kessler likes this

Yes, yes, yes. :) 

I've really enjoyed learning more about how to describe culture and cultural differences in this class—even my own. Being able to explain my culture in terms of how it differs from someone else's is more helpful than being able to article how someone is different from me. It's a little mindset shift.

In my experience, the most important thing you can do is build trust. Trusted co-workers make management, collaboration, and problem solving much easier and productive.

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