What does it take to lead successful international teams? Successful teams are often united over a common goal and a shared set of experiences. But, as the workforce becomes more distributed and business travel becomes increasingly burdensome to the bottom line and detrimental to the environment, leaders need to be more creative in developing and fostering positive team dynamics. With fewer face-to-face meetings, how are international leaders coalescing their teams? Here are four habits I have adopted that you should consider in managing international teams: Habit 1: Remove the Mentality of "You Need to Be There" Technology is, without a doubt, the game changer when it comes to international team effectiveness. Yet, human-led organizations often struggle to accommodate and leverage the speedy and persistent nature of change brought by digital technologies. There are, of course, times when face-to-face meetings are required; however, Mercer has noticed clients are demonstrating an increasing comfort level with holding seminars, conferences and other traditional in-person interactions via online meeting platforms. Though the virtual workforce trend is nothing new, it has reached an inflection point where clients often prefer to partner with companies that actively internalize the power and practicality of being agile, versatile and virtual. Today's transformative Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) urge their C-suite peers to adopt have this mindset and leverage differentiating new technologies. As managers, marketing leaders will find that their employees and marketing teams are more productive and online more, if allowed to do their work on their own time. People react well to not only managing their work but also having the flexibility to set their own schedules. At Mercer, we have seen our people work with more excitement, passion and collaborative enthusiasm when provided the freedom to excel according to their personal cadences. Let talented people do what they need to do to get stuff done. Habit 2: Cross-Cultural Communication With International Teams With the direction set and the team empowered to find their path forward, it's time to focus on communication. Different cultures, of course, perceive, process and interpret information and context differently. These differences can create communication breakdowns that are extremely costly in terms of time, quality and money. Effective messaging is direct and only refers to limited but critical pieces of information that necessitate a particular email, phone call or conversation. Inspiring leaders find their voice and communicate in a way that is simple, memorable and supportive. All correspondences among international teams should be carefully packaged, contained and well thought out. Don't underestimate the power of repetition. Often, when dealing with team members from multiple cultures and languages, repetition of established goals, processes, timelines and expectations is vital to successful outcomes. Repetition, when done with tact and clear intentions, is not disrespectful or seen as micromanaging. It bolsters the ability of everyone on the team to achieve their goals (honestly, I find repetition extremely helpful. By the time I'm reminded what we're trying to get done three or four times — especially in a few different ways — it sticks!). When you're dealing with cross-border teams, never assume that everyone fully understands the strategy and desired results on the first two or three discussions. Using repetition creatively helps the team focus on the north star. Habit 3: Be Succinct and Culturally Aware Cultural awareness is learned. It took me a while to appreciate and understand the nuances of each member of my team, not only in their approach to solving problems, but the influence of their culture on their overall outlook. Our research on diversity and inclusion points to the value of ensuring all voices are heard on the team. As a matter of fact, there are a range of products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives (separate from employee engagement surveys) — and many of these are being tailored for D&I purposes. With international teams, this lesson is particularly punctuated. When team members in Tokyo, Taiwan and Mexico City are speaking to each other, ensuring they use the same direct, simple and familiar language increases efficiency and the likelihood of success. Being culturally sensitive and aware is incredibly important. Years ago, I used to feel very concerned if people were not speaking up in marketing meetings or weren't instantly on video conferences showing their face, but I realized over time that people need to communicate in ways that make sense to them. As a leader, I've learned it is my responsibility to respect other people's learning and working styles and that — if I did that — these individuals would become increasingly more open and trusting of me. Marketing leaders have to earn trust, just like everyone else. It is important to not expect that people think and act the way you think and act. People come from different perspectives and have different personality types — from introverts to extroverts and everything in between. And that diversity is instrumental to success. Habit 4: Lead With Genuine Positivity My favorite habit, is bringing my whole self to work. As leaders, we must make a conscious effort to be encouraging and find genuine, sincere ways to boost people's confidence. This takes time and awareness as each person behaves according to varying types of motivations, instructions and sensibilities. As a company, we have to be demanding, because we have aggressive goals. However, the most effective and rewarding route to achieving those goals is by making the conscious decision to encourage employees as they execute their responsibilities — especially during challenging times. Regardless of gender, race or nationality, I think that one overriding universal truth is that people respond more graciously, productively and passionately to authentic positive feedback and encouragement. I know this personally, because I have benefited from positive reinforcement many times in my career — often when I needed it the most — from my peers, colleagues and fellow team members. It really helps. In fact, the most successful leaders I know and have worked with are extremely positive people. Teams and individuals need to be reminded, particularly during tough times, that they are doing excellent work and they are moving in the right direction. Never underestimate how much a genuine comment, like "You're doing a great job" and "Keep going" can do for someone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated or unmotivated at a particular moment in their career. Positivity is all about appreciating the time and work employees invest into success and giving them credit for their efforts and accomplishments. Originally published in Thrive Global.
Human beings are naturally predisposed to cultural bias. Found in all human sciences—including economics, psychology, and anthropology—cultural bias is defined as “the process of judging and interpreting phenomena by standards inherent to one’s own cultural preferences or by norms of a particular culture.” Cultural bias is why in some cultures averting eye contact can be interpreted as being evasive or shy, and in other cultures, a sign of respect. It’s why people born in Argentina likely wear jerseys that honor Lionel Messi unlike their football peers across the Atlantic who revere Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Why soup slurping in Korea is the norm, when it can be considered bad table manners elsewhere. And why we read English text from left to right, whereas other scripts, like Arabic, make sense if read from right to left. Our surrounding environments have a powerful influence on how we see and interact with the world. But what happens when a major global industry, like computer programming, is dominated by a singular cultural perspective? The U.S. is an international leader in computer programming, yet, according to a recent Stack Overflow survey, 85.5% of computer programmers in the U.S. are male, and the vast majority of those males are white men. Considering that these programmers are creating code at the forefront of AI, does this mean that the experiences and sensibilities of white men will define the future of our digital world and the AI universe? Yes, and no. Programming’s Homogeny Proble When a straight, white male develops an algorithm, inevitably that AI sees the world through that developer’s particular perspective. This original programmer’s intellectual DNA is now the foundation on which this AI project will continue to develop, process input and data, and learn. Much like people, limited life experience can be a significant detriment in an increasingly globalized world, full of unexpected problems and challenges. Cultural bias lurks in unexpected places. For example, when Walmart expanded into China, the retailer’s vision of serving the country’s 1.3 billion people soon faltered as it discovered Chinese consumers, unlike American consumers, had very different needs and preferences in different cities and different parts of the country. The retailer could not find the right product mix to offer in the 117 cities it served. This, along with unforeseen political and infrastructure difficulties, disrupted the company’s heralded, efficient supply chain system.  Cultural bias persists in just about every nuance of cultures across the globe, from the history questions asked on high school exams to what makes people laugh at a joke or even their definition of beauty. As machine learning and AI continue to proliferate and influence our societies, we—meaning industry professionals, business leaders, and government entities—must be very careful about the role homogeny will play in defining our sensibilities, perspectives and priorities. Project managers and coordinators must establish protocols that prevent the corruptive impact of cultural bias from ever gaining a foothold in the programming process. Prioritizing diversity at the forefront of strategy discussions is critical. Often, cultural bias is quiet and nearly invisible, but years later is exposed by a startling lack of foresight, awareness and empathy. The ultimate damage can be costly. According to Mercer’s Accelerating for Impact: 2018 Gender Inflection Point, “Research has shown that unconscious bias is a normal feature of being human, but can lead to decisions about men and women and their careers that do not align with the organization’s goal of rewarding for merit, skill and talent.” Think of how many political and business policies and “cultural norms” from as recently as the last 10 or 20 years have not kept pace with society’s increasing demand for diversity and the inclusion of every race, gender, and cultural background. The business of business is constantly changing. Savvy and forward-thinking companies know that the strongest antidote to cultural bias is diversity—a diversity of minds, experiences, backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives. This combined richness of intellect and creativity builds a synergy of influence that restricts the ability of cultural bias to determine the end result of the programming. Simply put, diversity is key to long-term AI success. Solutions Must Start from the Beginning There are steps employers can take to prevent the homogeny of programming. Firstly, employers must acknowledge that a lack of diversity in programming is a liability, as a deficit of forward thinking vision will translate into a diminishing ability to compete. Updated internal policies and protocols should align business objectives with AI capabilities and its impact on industries and customers. This means building diversity throughout programming operations so that a vast scope of talents, perspectives and ideas are constantly being compared, improved upon and brought to life. Next, employers must leverage the power of the technology itself. With machine learning, businesses can create datasets that teach computers to make up their own algorithms using “AI training.” The machine then generates completely “new” and original compositions, based on what the machine has been taught. In short, diversity at the outset results in diversity in output. When a business has a diverse and inclusive development community, it builds tools that are more reflective of a diverse set of problems—problems that can potentially impact underserved or overlooked organizational issues or opportunities. To mitigate the trappings of homogenized programming, start at the very beginning. In Conclusion: An Inclusive AI Universe for All The convergence of people and technology will define the future of work, but the human element will always light the path forward. Establishing a competitive advantage in this ever-evolving landscape means evaluating the influence people have on technology and remembering that humanity is what guides human behavior. Effective digital transformation requires a commitment to the power of the diverse perspective and an understanding of how human beings, and the human experience, will evolve as we become increasingly connected to the AI universe—an inclusive realm without barriers. After all, when people with different perspectives and experiences collaborate to solve a problem, the results can be magic. Diversity is key to the creative process and the cross-pollination of ideas that drives modern discovery. Every programmer can be an intrepid explorer, and the discoveries they make should be connected to the talents and contributions from programmers from all over the world. 1 Understanding the Phenomena Of Cultural Bias With Examples https://psychologenie.com/understanding-cultural-bias-with-examples 2 Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2017 https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2017#overview 3 Here's Why Walmart Stumbled on The Road To China http://fortune.com/2016/02/21/why-walmart-stumbled-on-road-to-china/ 4 Accelerating For Impact: 2018 Gender Imperative https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/when-women-thrive-accelerating-for-impact.html
Building habits to keep your sanity is key when taking on a global role. I’ve held a global role for so long that I’m not sure I remember a time where I didn’t have to check my email on a Sunday night as my team in Asia got into the office or join calls late into the night or early in the morning. And, according to a recent survey by Harvard Business Review, 94% percent of professionals work 50 hours or more a week, so I know I’m not alone in this. As marketers, we’re constantly tasked to come up with the next big creative campaign. Creativity is often found when you lean away from your work, not into it. It’s no coincidence that inspiration comes when we least expect it – on the train to work, in the shower, while you’re watching TV. When we give ourselves time to breathe, magic happens. But when you have a global role, it can be difficult to disconnect. I’ve outlined my top three tips on how I manage my work and life priorities. Learn which fires you need to fight As leaders, we’re often good at knowing where to prioritize and focus our attention on when faced with a work challenge or emergency. But, do you practice this at home as well? With two kids, there are key things that I don’t want to miss, and when things get overwhelming, I prioritize time spent with them in the way I would a work task. I may not be able to take them to school every morning because of calls, but I make sure to have dinner with them at least four times a week and make my work schedule around important events in their lives. Schedule time away In an ideal world, we’d all use our paid time off to take relaxing vacations at regular intervals to help us recharge. But, sadly, that isn’t the reality for most leaders. When I can’t schedule paid time off, I make sure to put time in my calendar away from my desk, doing things I love, whether it’s an hour, an afternoon or a whole day. Keep interruptions to a minimum When you’re in the middle of a task or project and get interrupted, it can take twice as long to complete. By keeping interruptions to a minimum during your workday, you can get through more each day, giving you time to contemplate whether or not you really need to sign on after the kids are in bed. While it was a difficult habit to adopt, I find I’m so much more productive and more present in both my work and home life. Slow and steady wins the race Adopting any new habit is difficult, but choosing one that’s for your well-being can seem impossible. It causes you to have to put boundaries in place at work and home, and it takes discipline and focus. As both a mom and an international leader, I’ve learned how important it is to be present in both of my roles. The perfect work-life balance may not exist, but I’m getting closer to what works best for me every day. What do you to help keep your sanity between work and home responsibilities? Originally published in Thrive Global.