Building trust - seamless communication and clear expectations across diverse countries and cultures
How do you ensure seamless communication and clear expectations across diverse countries and cultures that drive results and profits without micro-management and on-location leadership?
I have found the best way to communicate with diverse cultures is to focus on listening, and then actively participate with the level of individuals you wish to communicate with. In my experience, I was presented with a challenge of directing the work of my US Company's research group in China. In meeting with them, in the US, they listened intently, always shaking their heads which, to me, indicated that they understood my suggestions.. They went back to China and did the studies completely different from what I had suggested. Other colleagues had similar experiences. To change things up, I decided to go to visit them, and stayed for three months; working with them on a daily basis, eating lunch and dinner with them, even visiting a few of their homes to help me understand their culture. I finally realized that the head shaking that I had seen at the start only meant that they were hearing what I said; not that they were agreeing with me. I found that in working with them directly, they began to appreciate what I brought to the table. As we progressed, we developed a very close working relationship, where I understood them, and they understood me. We were able to bridge a very diverse cultural gap that led to some breakthrough innovations.
One key is to have a constant and active feedback loop that is documented and tracked. Though I have always been based in the US, on multiple occasions I've managed teams with members across multiple countries and varied locations.
Regular reviews of the issues is key, ensuring clear ownership and tracking their progress. This is to be supplemented by frequent 1-2-1 meetings between the leader and key stakeholders, as in some cultures there is a reluctance to openly question decisions or show dissent in public. Therefore, someone who may have a valid issue with a particular item may not want to voice it openly and the private meetings are essential to understand the issue and ensure it is addressed.
There are also logistical issues to be addressed, which are simpler, though very important, such an coordination of different time zones globally and local labor laws and regulations.
I note that the question above in itself is a bit loaded or biased with the use of the term "micro-management" which has a negative connotation. Driving productivity in a multi-national team is a big challenge and requires a lot of time and close hands-on involvement, particularly in the earlier stages of engagement. This is something which can easily be construed as micro-management, particularly if the team member is not happy with the guidance and direction being given.