As the world becomes more connected through technology, I have noticed a shift in my clients. They are more open, more curious than ever before about their diverse counterparts. They recognize the importance of building skills to work in global teams, and they put effort into learning those skills.
One thing has not changed, however. Patience has, and probably always will be the most difficult skill to maintain across diverse teams. In spite of a more globalized workforce, patience still runs in short supply.
Let’s look at why patience is so hard to maintain in cross-cultural environments.
Imagine that you are a global team member operating out of Dublin, Ireland. You serve as a software engineer, and for the last ten years you worked mostly with other Dubliners on project management. When you needed something you could walk down the hall, speak to someone with the same accent as you, someone who shared the same cultural context. Later that day when you were in the break room, you saw that same colleague and asked him an informal question about your project that allowed you to complete a critical task efficiently.
One day, your company announces that instead of those Dublin colleagues you’ve known for years who sit next to you, you will be working primarily with software developers from the India office. These Indian colleagues are employees of your company, but you’ve never met them and you know little about their skill set or personality.
Add to that a time zone difference of several hours, accent and language barriers, and cultural differences. Plus, you’ll be communicating mostly virtually with India. No more break room conversations. Yet, you have the same job and workload to complete as you did before!
You can probably see where patience starts to break down. You have deadlines to meet, and now you may need to wait longer for information or deal with communication breakdowns.
People in global companies today face a constant high workload, and at first glance the transition from local to global teams may seem daunting. Many organizations throw their teams into the global virtual environment with no training.
In time and with the right set of skills, however, they will begin to reap the rewards of a cross-cultural, multi-location team. How, you ask?
Studies show that multicultural teams have a higher potential for high performance than single-culture teams. Diverse team makeup means more ideas, different perspectives, easier access to solutions and talent. But the development and maintenance of these teams takes time and effort.
It also requires us to constantly check our knee-jerk reactions to challenging situations that come up, especially in the virtual environment where trust is so fragile already.
We often suggest to anyone working across differences (cultural or otherwise) to put the word “PATIENCE” on a sticky note or index card and keep it visible. While this technique may seem simple, it reminds us that exercising patience is a constant assignment, whether a team is just starting or has been together for 10 years.
We also recommend using some form of video conferencing, Skype, Adobe Connect, or other platform which allows you to see each others’ faces, at least once in awhile. I’ve observed that being patient with someone is a lot easier if you have looked them in the eye even once.
Patience is not easy, but ultimately everyone wins. What do you do to maintain patience? We’d love to hear from you!
Do you want to give your global virtual team the skills they need to succeed? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-936-9209 to set up a free 30 minute demo of our collaborative team webinar training!