How global leaders manage multiple cultures

As more and more businesses operate in the global market place, managing teams which work across cultures is a vital skill for leaders. Seemingly simple things such as local customs and cultures can have a huge impact on work ethic and job satisfaction, so understanding them is imperative for leaders to unite teams regardless of the miles between them. But how do you build cross-cultural trust?

The answer comes from insight in three key points: understanding your own thought processes, understanding the cultural differences between team members, and understanding how trust is built between colleagues through shared achievements and individual characters.

Start with the right mindset

It’s essential to recognise that the process of building trust can differ vastly. Workplace trust is established in a huge variety of different ways, through things like relationships, communication, transparency and the dissemination of information. Some businesses pride themselves on high trust environments, where all employees are privy to business-critical information, told about new developments and communicated with as an equal. Other companies have a more fixed hierarchy with information filtered down on a need-to-know basis.

The only constant is that building trust takes patience; it’s essential not to try and force a trust-building strategy that’s a bad fit for the team. People from high trust environments can find it frustrating when they try to bond with colleagues from low trust environments and find it’s not part of the company culture. Likewise, the opposite can be true: those from low trust workplaces may feel overwhelmed in a high trust culture.

Spend time learning about your employees’ cultures

Some cultures are more inclined to trust than others, while others rely on strict social structures to guide personal relationships. Some observation should be made as to how employees naturally act. Allow employees who prefer a one-to-one meeting to open up in private, for example. Rigid hierarchies can prevent some employees from speaking to colleagues or supervisors, which needs to be monitored: allowing colleagues to speak in a manner they feel comfortable is vital.

Understand the importance of results and character in building trust

In the UK, workplace trust is usually results driven; management highlight that success comes from a team effort and that by trusting each other and assisting one another, co-operative working delivers success.

There are places where character is used as a trust builder; usually by management showing that they’re willing to put time, effort and money into employees and their welfare. This kind of perceived benevolence revolves around being a good character and in many countries extends to knowing and caring about employees’ families.

Trust based on character needs time to build credibility, proving that it’s not a hollow gesture and that managers really do care about their employees’ personal lives and wellbeing. Generally in the UK, colleagues can see their personal lives as ‘personal’ and not for work involvement, but to other cultures work is such a big part of a person’s life that there’s much less of a distinction between a ‘work family’ and a ‘home family’. British workers might find some common ground in shared musical taste or hobbies. To other cultures this may seem superficial, as they search for deeper commonalities and build a bond that benefits both parties.

For managers in either style of trust culture, it’s important to show trust. Without leaders displaying trust for their employees, it’s quite difficult to instil a culture of trust across an entire department. When given trust, colleagues’ usual response is to show themselves to be trustworthy, which increases the likelihood that this attitude will spread across the team. Once trustworthiness is established, it can become a form of social currency.

The bottom line? Today’s business leaders are required to operate in an increasingly complex global environment. With the right management, cross-cultural teams have the ability to outperform teams from very similar cultures, bringing a unique perspective to new problems, which leads to increased innovation and efficiency.

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