In 2010, an up-and-coming startup company called LinkedIn opened an office in my hometown of Dublin, Ireland. I heard about an opportunity through a friend and was lucky enough to be one of the founding members of the Dublin team.
I was employee number six, to be exact.
Little did I know that job would turn out to be the biggest break of my career. It changed the course of my professional life and took me around the world. From Dublin, I went to Australia to open LinkedIn's first office in Perth and build a market and team almost from scratch. From Perth, I went to LinkedIn’s headquarters in San Francisco, where I spent 6 years focused on global sales and training.
Then, in 2019, I joined another up-and-coming startup called G2. I was part of G2’s US West Coast team, and my focus was commercial business in North America. After three years, G2 presented me with a dream opportunity. It would involve yet another transcontinental move – back to my hometown.
In July 2022, after 12 years away, I repatriated back to my beloved Dublin and now have the honor of leading G2's business in EMEA.
Returning was like coming full circle. It would be hard for me not to reflect on the extraordinary journey I’ve been on that took me around the world and eventually home. I think about the roles I’ve held, the big wins, the losses – but most importantly, the people I’ve met and what I’ve learned from each of them along the way.
I’ve had the privilege to work alongside people from all walks of life and manage diverse teams across three continents. Doing so has made me better at my job and a better leader because there is power in diversity. It opens up new markets, allows you to tap into expertise from around the world, and brings in new ways of thinking. When you work in a borderless industry like we do here at G2, this is invaluable and critical.
While there are tremendous advantages, managing a globally diverse team is certainly not easy or without its challenges. In my experience, when cross-cultural management isn’t done properly or with intention and care, it can cause tension and disruption and hurt employee engagement. However, when done right, it propels your team and business to new heights.
I want to share my thoughts and perspectives on cross-cultural management and collaboration, why it’s more important than ever, and how you can better engage your cross-cultural teams, all of which are rooted in my experiences and lessons from my global journey over the past decade.
What is cross-cultural management?
The study and practice of cross-cultural management is expansive. It encompasses psychology, economics, sociology, history, politics, and everything in between. It’s how people from different cultural backgrounds work together and how we bridge differences to achieve our collective goals.
We acknowledge and recognize that culture is nuanced and multifaceted. In fact, I would say it’s a constant learning process, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Instead, incorporate continuous cultural education into your environment.
Communication and language
We have to be aware of the way language, communication styles, norms, and expectations manifest across cultures to avoid misunderstanding and conflict. One central difference in communication is low-context vs. high-context cultures.
For example, Asian countries are generally recognized as high-context cultures, whereas the US, Germany, and other European countries are low-context cultures. What does this mean?
Low-context communication is speaking in a straightforward manner and placing value in “meaning what we say” and “being taken at our word.” Low-context culture also tends to be more informal and personal. This contrasts with high-context communication, which is more formal and tailored toward who we’re talking to.
Leadership and hierarchy
Leadership and hierarchy are closely related to communication styles. How people view authority and leadership across cultures has significant implications on team dynamics, especially between managers and direct reports.
In Asia, organizational hierarchy requires strict adherence, and the leadership style is primarily autocratic. While in the US and Europe, organizations are characterized by flatter structures and more democratic leadership. How does this impact employee engagement and team dynamics?
In Asian and high-context countries, upward feedback isn't as common as it is in the US because it may be seen as a challenge to authority.
Individualism vs. collectivism
Individualistic cultures are known to prioritize the needs of the few over the needs of the group. Individuals pride themselves on their autonomy and independence in this culture. US and Western European cultures are generally viewed as high in individualism.
On the other hand, collectivist cultures put the needs and goals of the group over those of the individual. Each person’s relationship with others in the group is an important part of one’s identity. Asian cultures are generally viewed as high in collectivism.
Expectations for work-life balance differ among regions. In the US and the UK, the work culture often emphasizes long hours and a high level of dedication to your job. It’s standard practice to sacrifice personal time and work longer hours to complete projects or meet deadlines.
Compare this to continental Europe, where people have a more balanced approach to work-life integration. In fact, some European countries have laws about shorter work weeks, time off, and generous parental leave policies, especially in Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Effectively managing multicultural and multinational teams necessitates understanding and accommodating these differences.
Time zones and locations
Time zone challenges are related to the work-life balance. The differences can be significant when managing teams across regions. EMEA, APAC, and North America span multiple time zones, making it critical to operations to establish clear guidelines for scheduling meetings, managing work hours, and addressing urgent issues without causing disruptions.
Expectations and norms around whose time zone to follow changes from region to region. For example, it’s common and accepted for employees in Asia to work during US or EMEA hours, but less so the other way around.
Locations and social distance also influence perceptions of value. For example, the dominant culture time zone usually defaults to the country where the majority of team members are located.
Regulatory and legal compliance
While this may fall under the operations and legal umbrella, regulatory and legal non-compliance can also affect the productivity and efficiency of your team. Each region has unique labor laws, data privacy regulations, and employment practices.
Managers must stay informed about these variations to ensure that team operations, hiring, and data handling practices comply with local laws and standards in EMEA, APAC, and North America. Be aware of the differences in legal systems, comply with local laws, and understand how the rules apply to your own organization’s global ethical standards.
The importance of cross-cultural management in a global economy
When you’re in a borderless industry, like G2 is with SaaS, globalization is part of your everyday life and operations. The digital nature of our product and services is conducive to working across regions and moving from market to market with relative ease. Our employees, customers, partners, and vendors are all over the globe, and we believe that sets us up for long-term growth and success.
But even if you’re not in SaaS or tech, the signs point to more industries becoming globalized. In a 2021 study of Fortune 500 companies, around two-thirds of the list have at least one international location. Even more interestingly, the Fortune 500 companies average 317 international locations.
What is driving globalization?
According to the 2023 Remote Workforce Report from Remote.com, the economic downturn has not stopped businesses from embracing the globally distributed team model. Companies are still quickly moving beyond international borders for many reasons.
Digitized work: Internet and telecommunication have made it easier to access international markets. Here at G2, we can reach customers, partners, and employees nearly anytime and anywhere.
Market expansion: Going global opens up new markets for products or services. Developing a presence in emerging markets can place a company ahead of its competitors.
Access to talent: A globalized economy allows businesses to source talent from around the world, which can bring diverse perspectives and skills to the company. Of course, in the HR and people management world, the positive impact of diversity is well-established, with multicultural teams outperforming homogeneous ones by 35%. Additionally, the same Remote.com report found that 60% of decision-makers say the number of quality applicants per role has increased.
Diversification: By operating in more than one country, businesses can distribute risks and avoid losses during economic downturns in a specific region.
Cross-cultural teams are inevitable in a globalized economy, making cross-cultural management critical to success in international markets. By working intentionally and proactively on cross-cultural management, you can avoid conflict and misunderstanding, foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, and set your organization up for big wins.
How to boost the cross-cultural employee experience
Cross-cultural management requires us to be self-aware and open-minded. Managers and leaders need to be willing to challenge their own assumptions about what is "right" and "wrong" in order to learn from others.
The first and most important step in driving cross-cultural employee engagement is simply recognizing differences. Being conscientious allows us to be strategic about the tangible and tactical steps of cross-cultural management, such as:
Diversity and inclusion initiatives: US organizations have invested in their diversity and inclusion initiatives that focus on American employees. However, diversity and inclusion programs can also help to celebrate global diversity that encourages collaboration, respect, and a sense of belonging among employees from different cultural backgrounds.
Mentoring program: Pair employees from diverse backgrounds with mentors or leaders who can provide guidance and support. This helps newcomers and early-career employees navigate cultural barriers and integrate more effectively.
Cross-cultural communication tools: Implement tools and resources for clear cross-cultural communication, such as glossaries or internal communications guidelines for emails, meetings, or presentations.
Recognition and rewards: Celebrate employees across your global team for their contributions and achievements. This is a great way to show everyone that no matter where they are, their contributions and work are valued and appreciated.
Flexible work policies: Establish flexible work policies that accommodate diverse cultural needs and religious practices. This can include being flexible about work hours, paid time off during important regional and religious holidays, dress codes, dietary restrictions, and observance of cultural customs around family.
Feedback surveys: Conduct employee pulse surveys and regularly gather feedback about cross-cultural experiences to track engagement across global offices.
How G2 does cross-cultural employee engagement
Because of the complex nature of cross-cultural management, the way you engage a global workforce won’t look the same as another organization. However, it helps to know what has been effective for other companies. Our global team here at G2 has shared positive feedback about our:
Global mentorship program: In 2022, we launched our global mentorship program focusing on women and BIPOC global employees with G2 leadership. As of today, we have 90 mentors and over 120 mentees across our three regions who have signed up!
Global wellness program: Our Global Employee Wellness Program provides a flexible and inclusive wellness benefit that allows our employees to choose the activities that best fit their schedules, working locations, and individual goals.
Aligned PTO: We offer robust PTO globally with extra days off around important regional holidays. We also recently added extra wellness leave for our APAC team. This decision to expand time off is our way of being more inclusive of the varying work-life balance needs of our global team.
Regional Employee Success teams: Our global people operations team is made up of employees based in our three biggest offices in Chicago, London, and Bangalore. With Employee Success teammates on the ground in each office, we stay closely attuned to the distinct needs, practices, and customs of our employees in each region.
G2 Gives: G2 Gives is the philanthropic arm of G2. In addition to our review campaign donations, we have employee-led teams in each region that volunteer and donate to local causes and organizations that are important to them.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Our nine ERGs are led by employees across our global workforce. They are safe, inclusive, and supportive communities for our employees. The team of ERG co-leads also serves as a diverse global sounding board for leadership and helps run many of our global holiday celebrations.
Internal communications guidelines: While each team has its own processes and practices, we have a global set of internal communications guidelines that provide clear, high-level guidance on how we talk, write, interact, and collaborate with each other to stay aligned with our PEAK values.
A global adventure
The past decade of my career has truly been a global adventure. It’s allowed me to become a better teammate and a better leader. I’ve immersed myself in different cultures and countries, and in doing so, I’ve learned that there is no single right way to work or to succeed.
Through all the cultural lessons I have been fortunate enough to have, I believe that people are people wherever you may go. Everyone wants to be healthy and safe. We all want opportunities to help us further our story and that of our families and friends in this ever-evolving global story we share.
At the end of the day, it’s about tapping into the unique talents and strengths of each person, each team, and each culture so we can all reach our PEAKs.
When times get tough, the tough get going. Find out how a global company like G2 keeps employee engagement at the forefront even in the face of an industry downturn.
Make sure your global voice is heard. Use employee communications software to keep everyone in the loop.
Cross-Cultural Management: Enhancing the Global Employee ExperienceGlobal companies have to put in the work. G2’s Vice President & General Manager of EMEA explains the importance of putting cross-cultural management first.https://learn.g2.com/cross-cultural-managementhttps://learn.g2.com/hubfs/G2CM_FI788_Learn_Article_Images-%5BG2_Voices-Cross-Cultural_Management%5D_V1a.png2023-12-14 17:44:45Z
Gordon TobinGordon Tobin is G2’s Vice President & General Manager of EMEA. He’s spent the past 15+ years leading teams in North America and APAC at companies like LinkedIn, Headspace, and now at G2.https://learn.g2.com/author/gordon-tobinhttps://learn.g2.com/hubfs/Gordon%20Tobin%201.jpghttps://www.linkedin.com/in/gordontobin
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