In today’s world, remote teams have become the new norm, making it imperative to acknowledge the cultural differences within these teams. Understanding and navigating these differences can have a big impact on your business’s success.
This blog post is based on the Podcast Episode “Thoughtful Leadership and Building Remote Teams”, where Mike Moll and I have a conversation about virtual teams, the challenges of cultural differences, and how to lead remote teams for success.
You can read this Q&A blog post or if you prefer, you can play the episode here below.
What is your Business about?
I help business owners and entrepreneurs to transform their work, design their lives, and live their legacies, and I do so by applying many concepts from holistic high performance to lifestyle design and everything in between.
How do you merge/mesh your different methods to create an outcome?
I’ve been in this field for 20 years. I started working when I was just 13 because I had no other choice. At the age of 15, I was unexpectedly thrown into a Team Leadership position, simply because there was no one else available, but they also saw some potential in me.
Interestingly enough, I learned everything I needed to know about leadership and achieving high performance from those who were doing it wrong. Usually, we prefer to learn from those who excel, but in my case, it was quite the opposite.
Being from Germany, I have a lot of certifications. I hold two University Degrees in the field, as well as leadership credentials from major corporations I’ve worked for.
But the funny thing is that I found that what I learned was not being put into practice in the workplace. The theoretical knowledge made a lot of sense, but it seemed that no one was actually implementing it.
At the age of 26, I made the decision to leave my home country out of frustration. In Germany, the prevailing mindset is all about working harder, stronger, and faster. You hear the sentence “time is money” all the time, and if you are not a manager or actively climbing the corporate ladder, you are a failure.
Feeling burnt out and frustrated, I decided to pack my bags and go traveling.
Now, my mission is to teach others how to live a life that truly fulfills them. It’s not about living in tropical paradises or any specific location. For me, Thailand became my place of residence because it resonated with me. However, what truly matters is cultivating the right mindset.
What would you advise to employers who made the transition to remote teams?
Having been immersed in this space since 2009, I’ve had the opportunity to live in nine different countries and collaborate with both large remote teams and hybrid teams.
The truth is, the concept of working with remote teams hasn’t fundamentally changed. What has evolved are the tools, methods, and support materials available to us. Nowadays, we have access to advanced tools such as VPN connections that greatly enhance our ability to work remotely. These tools have improved significantly since 2009, and it’s important to leverage them effectively without overusing them.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of throwing a bunch of software on their teams without a clear strategy behind it. We need to prioritize quality over quantity and ensure that the chosen software enhances collaboration, communication, and productivity.
Getting to know your Core Values
It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your Core Values.
Your Business Core Values may differ from your personal core values.
When working with clients, the first step I take is encouraging them to engage in a conversation with their entire team about the Business’s Core Values. This dialogue is essential because these values may not resonate with everyone on the team.
By having this conversation, they can delve deeper into how these values will be reflected and contribute to the overall success of the business. It ensures that the selected core values align with the entire team and become integrated into the business.
This way everyone will contribute to the shared values and goals.
Understanding Cultural Differences in Your Business
If you have a remote team spread all over the world, it is very important to look at and understand the cultural differences. You cannot expect them to work with the same work ethics as you do because they have different backgrounds, cultures, belief systems, and faith.
To give you an example of this, if you have someone with Thai background, they will never ask you questions, because in their culture, asking questions means admitting that they don’t know the answer.
This is why communication and understanding the cultural differences in remote teams are key for success in virtual teams.
A common misconception among leaders or managers is that when they hire someone, that person automatically shares the same vision and goals as them. However, it’s important to recognize that employees don’t owe you anything beyond fulfilling their job responsibilities.
It’s crucial to understand that your employees may not have the same level of drive or passion for your business as you do. Instead of expecting them to hustle and grind like you, it’s more beneficial to allow them to focus on their tasks and find enjoyment in their work.
This will create a healthier work environment and enables your employees to contribute their best without unnecessary pressure or unrealistic expectations.
What kind of dialogue should you be having as you hire people for your remote team?
First of all, be very transparent. Have a conversation: what do you want out of people and what do people want out of you?
For instance, maybe people just want to work for the money, but maybe you don’t want that, so you don’t hire them.
You want to hire people that you can imagine hanging out with in your free time because you will spend a lot of time with them.
You have to imagine spending at least 5 years with them because it does not make sense to build a team if you have to rebuild it every year, it will take your time and energy.
Have a scorecard for their goals at work.
Ask them, how do you want to progress in my business and what do you want to achieve in your life that I can support you with as an entrepreneur?
Maybe you are not supporting them with money and resources but if you support them by cheering them up, accountability, and celebrating small wins, they will be much more connected to the business and will feel more supported and personally engaged.
Have you found that people’s cultural background makes a big difference in their work?
Yes, it is all about how you grew up. You bring everything to work.
In a lot of countries, if you can just make a little effort to remember family names, and pet names, and just ask once a week or once a month, how is your pet doing? This does not mean you have to have an hour-long conversation about their pets, but just a small question to show interest as people want to be a part of a family.
We are so disconnected, and working online is already really hard because you cannot chat with someone at the coffee machine anymore.
This sort of thing connects people back into a more family kind of thing, and you will have a much more solid team that wants to be your champion team too.
Bringing emotions to work.
We’ve often been told that emotions should be left outside the office, but that’s simply not true. We must acknowledge our emotions, be aware of them, and ensure they don’t overpower us. After all, emotions are what make us humans.
If we try to suppress emotions or create an environment where they are unwelcome, it will only lead to resentment and gossip among team members. Instead, we should take the opposite approach. We cannot control people, but we can build positive relationships by using emotions.
For example, if you know someone values their family and perhaps misses them, showing empathy by asking about their grandma’s well-being can go a long way. This simple gesture can create a strong connection and a sense of belonging within the team.
However, it’s important to be mindful of individual circumstances. If you know someone who doesn’t have a relationship with their family, it’s best not to inquire about them. In such cases, we can focus on building a supportive team dynamic where colleagues become like a new family.
Encouraging emotional expression in the workplace leads to stronger relationships and a more harmonious work environment.
Using the 5 love languages in the work environment
One of my favorite things to apply to businesses is the 5 love languages. They do work in a work environment too, just the same way as in personal relationships. These love languages are acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation.
You can translate them into the work environment. For instance, you can ask your team at the beginning when you hire them, how they like to feel rewarded and appreciated.
Maybe someone would say that they want to get paid really well – if you cannot pay them more at that time, let them know that you will raise their salary in the future. If someone would feel appreciated by having a fancy title, you can give them one.
Remember that most people don’t leave their jobs because of the job or low pay, they leave jobs because of the leadership and because of the lack of appreciation.
If you can be a better leader than the leaders out there – and this is easy because there are a lot of bad leaders – and if you appreciate your people genuinely, not pretending, then you are already a big step ahead.
Using Leadership from Within.
Leadership from within means it is coming from your heart. You build human connections.
We are not here to control or manage people. We are all unsupervised adults.
I am not here to control anyone or change who they are, I am just trying to guide a path for all of us that makes sense. and if someone is not making sense anymore for themselves for us, it is fine, I don’t have to be angry with them, we just leave the path in a very human way. I can tell them “I think it is not going to work anymore, do you want to take the next 2 months and look for a different job?”
We don’t have to be toxic and harmful, we should be more kind, which is not the same as being a people pleaser. Being kind can be very fair. It is giving ourselves grace and understanding that we are humans and we make mistakes, and take responsibility and accountability for it.
I have been bullied, I had to go through a lot of challenges, it is ridiculous. Why are we doing this to ourselves and each other when there are a lot of different ways to handle these kinds of situations in a much kinder way?
I would love to hear your thoughts on understanding cultural differences in remote teams. Drop a comment below!
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