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The first step in solving any kind of problem is clearly defining the problem.
Are are you finding language issues, comprehension issues due to knowledge levels, time zone differences where you can't communicate in real time, cultural issues driving behaviors like who can talk to whom, etc.?
Some communication issues can be improved with tools and/or standard processes. Others might require more interpersonal skills. Some of the biggest issues I have resolve were where 2 parties were in conflict because they didn't realize they were both using the wrong terms to describe the same thing and were actually in violent agreement once I helped overcome their language issue.
Secret ingredient is empathy. You have to know very well how each person that belongs to a different county behaves and feel. Other thing is trying to learn they languages. One thing I saw is people that belongs to countries where English is their first language have no interest to make an effort to learn other languages like Spanish, Portuguese, or others. I know, it is impossible to learn all the languages. But just the often used and just the basic for each one. When people see that you make the effort then a barrier is skiped.
What is it about the multicultural aspect?; a breakdown into small units will help give clarity to the challenge. Similarly, what is the challenge encountered with reference to remote?
Setting ground rules and understanding other's cultures will go a long way.
Building cultural competencies have become a business imperative. Thus, I recommend a book by Erin Meyer called "The Culture Map," which provides a profound insight into a complex cultural landscape. The book focuses on eight aspects where cultures differ, how people from different cultures differ, and how to communicate, evaluate, persuade, lead, decide, trust, disagree, and schedule.
Here are the following eight scales:
1. Communicating: explicit vs. implicit
2. Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
3. Persuading: deductive vs. inductive
4. Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
5. Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
6. Trusting: tasks vs. relationship
7. Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoid confrontation
8. Scheduling: structured vs. flexible
For instance, Americans are the low-context culture (or the most explicit) culture and communicating with the Japanese could lead to cultural clashes. Therefore, American business representatives (low context culture: good communication is precise, simple, and straightforward) in Japan (high context culture: good communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered) should pay attention to what their counterparts
I recently became a Prosci ADKAR Change Practitioner, change management is an exciting discipline, and I am still learning. Here is the link to one of the articles on the topic of communication (source: Prosci Blog).
since 2002 I worked continuously in remote intercultural team environments. As project manager I took it as my duty to enable the team to establish efficient and effective communications.
Some steps I regularly took:
- have culture workshops when starting up a team, to create awareness about potential gaps and start teaming (used Hofstede as base)
- establish some ground rules for meetings, emails, other communications
- act as a translator, with empathy try to understand each side of the communication, identify gaps and suggest to solve them - this is also a good role to facilitate customer-developer communications
- if possible, even across continents, enable f2f kickoffs and people visiting their fellow team members from time to time
Overall, this time was rewarding to me, I learned a lot and developed my personality. Like I saw others.
As a team, develop a communication charter based on commonalities. This is a team effort and everyone should be committed to the charter.
Understanding cultural differences is important to reach good communication between persons from different parts of the world. If it's possible, set a common spoken language, like English, for oral communication. If it isn't possible, the best option is to establish written communication via e-mail, to allow posterior translation, and for better understanding.
The number one thing I've learned is to avoid idiomatic expressions (for example, in the US you might have a frog in your throat, but in France, you have a cat in your throat).
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