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How to Make a Cross-Cultural Global Team Succeed? Communication.

Before I came to work as the CFO of HCB Health, I was the Global Controller of a very large design firm. My finance team was in the U.S., EMEA and APAC, and we shared treasury and tax with our holding company in India. I learned that working with a global team presents many challenges that managers often overlook, and, if ignored, they can slowly degrade the overall team dynamics.

It seems obvious that regular and frequent communication is the key to success. Duh? Sounds so easy. However, it’s not so easy when you are speaking to team members for whom English is not their first language. While numbers are the universal language, the complex business transactions we discussed created confusion more than once. There were also time differences. Your morning is your team member’s evening. You must accommodate time zones and be flexible to schedule your Skype and GoTo meetings around their schedule. You must also be respectful of their family time and put their needs above your own. This means you set up the calls with Shanghai at 9:00 p.m. each week so it is their morning. Likewise, you get up and take calls at 6:00 a.m. with India because it is 5:30 p.m. in Gurgaon. Get it? Sounds simple, but many companies can be so U.S.-centric that they only consider time differences as they relate to the U.S. working day, not the other way around.

Over time, I learned so much about each of my team members, their respective country, the culture, their families and what motivated them. I had this voracious curiosity to understand their backgrounds and what they wanted to learn. During my tenure, we underwent a global conversion to a new SAP software platform, which involved a massive team beyond my direct reports and included a larger constituency from India.

After the project was underway for quite some time, my CFO was included on some of the progress calls. Multiple people were chiming in, saying hello to me, asking questions, and I responded with personal questions to many of them. My CFO would Slack me and ask, “Who is speaking now?” and I would type “Jitendra.” He would ask again, and I would answer, “Bettina,” “Manuela,” “Sunil” and on and on. After the call, he asked me, “How do you recognize all of their voices?” There must have been more than 30 people on the call. I smiled and told him how I had listened so intently for months and had so many conversations with all the team members that I knew all of them by the sound of their voices. Almost half of them I had never met.

Since leaving the firm, I am still friends with many of my former team members. We still have calls to chat about their families, life and their work. Many of the extended team members have called to ask for my help on the ongoing project and have called me at 6:00 am because they know I will help even though I don’t work there anymore. I don’t recognize the numbers, but I know their voices as soon as I answer. It was a gift to have such a diverse global team, and I am so fortunate to have found the way to connect with all of them through listening. Sometimes technology isn’t needed. Just pick up a phone.

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