Today it’s the norm for businesses to have employees work remotely, often times in multiple countries. No matter where your employees are based, from the beginning of their employment, it’s vital to address your company’s culture, and to orient them with the standards your company has in place. However, when you’re working from opposite sides of the globe, this feat can initially seem daunting. But overcoming locational setbacks with your teams can actually be quite simple. Follow this step-by-step guide to create the absolute best cross-cultural training program for your offshore development teams:
While some people would like to pretend it’s never an issue, the truth is that sometimes when working internationally, you may encounter cultural barriers. No matter how minor those barriers may be, the primary goal for any cross-cultural training program should be to increase intercultural competence – the ability to communicate effectively with people of different cultures. In a hybrid working environment, the onshore managers must be able to understand the cultural norms of their offshore teammates, in order to effectively train them to adapt to the onshore team’s culture.
Before you can officially begin your training program, you’ll need to define what you hope to accomplish at each step, and translate those goals into measurable objectives. All goals and expectations should be set into clear objectives, each with their own deadlines for completion. Here’s an example:
Increase Intercultural Competence of Hybrid Team by 40 percent in 2015
Now that you have a well-defined broader objective, divide it into a set of milestones that together will makeup the larger objective and contribute to its completion. An offshore team’s collective intercultural competence depends upon the understanding and adoption of the rules, norms and subsequent expectations of U.S. business culture. Keeping this in mind, actionable training milestones for an offshore team working with U.S. managers should be based on these factors:
Degree to which the team is upfront about work related tasks, commitments, and deadlines
Degree to which the team understands U.S. business and cultural terminologies and norms
Your training program should be structured in such a way that it complements the broader objective, your set milestones, and each individual team member’s training success. Compare this to a teacher’s lesson plan. Your plan should cover both work-related and general cultural principles, so the offshore team is able to comprehend the values and norms of U.S. business culture as a whole.
After you have defined both the broad and detailed objectives, establish a routine schedule for team discussion. These meetings will not only provide a means to stay well informed on your team members’ progress, but also another method to share relevant cultural information with them. Here are some examples on how to do so:
- Introduce cultural tidbits or information in each meeting, or facilitate a discussion on positive globally trending news topics
- Participate in group learning activities, such as a relevant online-based class, webinar, or forum discussion
- Provide occasional fun extracurricular activities, such as film or book club, then regrouping to discuss plot points.
To further involve your team in these discussions, you could ask team members to provide these topics for discussion. By doing so, you can lean on these meetings to give you a good grip on your team’s understanding.
If you do not have the ability to track training progress, you will be unable to gauge whether or not your objectives are going to be achieved. Implement a tracking system with established parameters to measure progress by the effectiveness at each step, and/or by determining the progress to achieving the final, broad objective. There are various ways to quantify this information, but it’s recommended you build a percentage-based scale, with a specific percentage amount given to the completion of each step. Here is an example of some metrics to track activity based on effectiveness at each step:
- Team A’s intercultural competence has reached 25 percent (out of 100 percent) in February 2015
- Individual X’s intercultural competence has reached 25 percent (out of 100 percent) in February 2015
Additionally, to receive the most thorough information on team progress, consider other metrics to monitor beyond the specific set goals, such as:
- Does the team as a whole, and each individual within the team, communicate effectively?
- Are the efforts of each individual hybrid-team member well-coordinated and synchronized to support their team and company’s goals?
- Is each team member contributing their expertise to the group? Are their skills being fully utilized to meet the common goal?
- At what level is the team trust and cohesion? Is the team self-supporting, and willing to assist each other?
- Are there any weak links in the group? If so, are other team members willingly or unwillingly covering for those weak links?
Seeking the answers to these questions will give you a better understanding on how to best direct your team, and each individual team member, to success.
After defining time-specific objectives with your team, it’s valuable to entrust certain individuals, from both the onshore and offshore teams, additional responsibility. Assigning ownership to these individuals, and having them become part of the training, will provide progress security and help bolster productivity within the team. It creates an extra filter to ensure progress continues, even in your absence.
Keep in mind; the individuals selected must have extraordinary interpersonal skills, so they’re able to connect with their teammates from other cultures. As with all management roles, personality and experience should be considered when considering individuals for these roles.
If you frequently work with offshore teams, you could consider having an onboarding manager to work with these teams, preferably someone who has experience working with cross-cultural team training. Individuals with backgrounds and/or degrees in International Studies with specialization in regional cultures can be a valuable alternative if you are newly beginning your working relationship with an offshore team.
Beyond having onshore regional leaders to assist with or oversee the training program, every trainee should be given a mentor, dedicated to monitoring their performance. This can be as simple as assigning team lead ownership to an offshore team member, with responsibilities to monitor specific fellow team members, new team members only, or even the team as a whole.
Individual growth objectives can only be achieved if the team member and their team leader are both held accountable based on training performance and progress. The team leader must be dedicated to guiding their assigned team, or team members, with clear expectations to meet specified training goals.
One of the most common reasons training programs fail is because they are often seen as a burden by the trainees, and the trainees are not motivated enough to fully participate in the training. This typically occurs when the training program is never properly explained and lacks well-defined objectives. Make certain that every involved team member completely understands the purpose of the training program, and the value it can provide to each individual, to ensure the team has a vested interest in program and objective completion.
The training program must also include individual objectives, so that each team member’s progress can be accurately measured throughout the training process.
A cross-cultural training program should not be a one-time thing, but rather an ongoing process within your organization. If you make training programs a normal practice for all employees as needed, your hybrid teams will be more open to recurring training activities, and will be able to assist with and participate more in future sessions. Most importantly, they’ll understand the value of those training programs, enabling you to further develop your team.
While there are numerous ways to build a cross-cultural training program, or to evolve the basic process as listed, the need for one to exist in the first place will never change. Set your company up for success by integrating offshore development teams with your company culture from the beginning.