Managing communication and collaboration when leading global teams


Working across borders and with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds is a reality for most team leaders today.

In fact, a recent survey, featured by Harvard Business School Online, found that 89 percent of corporate employees serve on at least one global team, and 62 percent have colleagues from three or more cultures.

These are great opportunities for working together, bringing innovative, fresh thinking to projects, and yet managing a global team to achieve strong communication and collaboration can have its challenges, especially when working virtually most of the time.

The survey also found that the key challenges that hold these cross-cultural teams back including:
86% difficulty in communication
86% challenge to build relationships
76% lack of participation from all colleagues in the team

These factors can lead to frustrations within the team, a lack of trust, disagreements about how to approach the project, and even conflict. It is possible to see how this might lead to project delays, wasted time and energy, and can endanger delivery and results with tangible impacts on the business.

So how do you build positive and engaging collaboration across borders, when your team never meet face to face? How do you build trust with your team members when leading a virtual team and make the most of virtual collaboration?

Here are my strategies for success in communication and collaboration to lead global teams.

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What does good leadership look like for your team?

You might be surprised that there is no one leadership approach which appeals to all, and what has worked for you well as your primary leadership style with domestic or monocultural teams, may not be as successful in multicultural contexts.

So get curious, explore and start asking questions of your team members about what a good leader looks like to them. A helpful starting point might be to explore the different styles of leadership according to Robert House’s Path Goal Leadership Theory:

  • Directive- giving specific instructions and parameters
  • Supportive- showing empathy and developing a positive work environment
  • Participative- involving and consulting with team members
  • Achievement- motivating team members to the goal.

Is everyone clear on the business and team goals?

It might seem obvious to you, however communication can often get lost across multiple communication channels, so make sure you are regularly sharing the business and team goals, answering questions from the team about them, and checking that everybody in the team has a good understanding about what that means for them individually.

An inclusive communication approach

Be aware of employees who work in different time zones when scheduling meetings, as suggested by Forbes. If you have a wide spread of time zones then take it in turns for individuals to join early or late in their day. Also consider that the weekend has different days around the globe- much of the Middle East and northern Africa have a Friday-Saturday weekend, plus key holidays and important festivals vary, so do your research and know the times when not to disturb individuals.

As with current approaches to virtual, hybrid and flexible work patterns, you should always consider if communication needs to happen in real time in a meeting (synchronous), or can be managed asynchronously, for example using collaboration platforms such as Teams, Trello and Slack, or via voice and video messaging.


What cross-cultural training needs do your team have?

Explore the cultural similarities and differences of your team in a positive, open conversation about people’s cultural values and how this impacts their interactions and communication. Consider whether it would be helpful to receive feedback through CQ (cultural intelligence) assessments, and cross-cultural training to develop the team’s cultural intelligence capabilities for understanding each other better and working more effectively together.

Is your cross-cultural team experiencing frustrations and challenges working together?


Develop your team’s CQ (cultural intelligence) capabilities for working more effectively together with CQ assessments and team training.


Establish your team communication rules together

As you establish the team, it can be a great exercise to discuss together how people prefer to communicate. I have already mentioned different collaboration tools above, and in addition you may need to consider the cultural values of your team members. Cultural values include how people prefer to work together, and could include:

  • How individuals want to add their opinions (unmute individually and speak up, or contribute in written format after a group discussion, would not like to be called upon individually to contribute),
  • How people prefer to receive feedback (in front of the team or privately)
  • How they prefer to disagree (clearly and directly, or indirectly and not directly to you as the manager of the team).
  • How they want decision to be made (expecting you to make the decision as the leader, or fully included in the decision)

These discussions are a great opportunity to establish your ways of working or you might even consider creating a team communication charter.


Allow time for unstructured communication

When you lack regular face to face contact, then it is even more important to allow time for small talk or unstructured communication as a group to celebrate team wins, talk about how people are doing, chat informally and share more about their personal lives, if they are comfortable to do so. Cameras on in these sessions will mean better personal connections are made, and can help build empathy and relationships. Contact us to create your training

Working in English is not the same as Communication Confidence

Working in English is not the same as Communication Confidence.

As a team leader you need to be aware that when English is used as the language of business, even if people appear to be operational and fairly fluent, this does not always equate to communication confidence, especially in a team context, as shared by Harvard Business Review. So help individuals that usually dominate the meetings with their views to become aware to allow space and a pause for others to contribute, and explore different ways for people to add their views anonymously and in written form, for example whiteboards and Miro.

Ask for everyone to speak simply, and avoid slang, obscure humour and the use of idioms which might not be obvious to everyone. If somebody is already operating in English every day for work, they may benefit from support with our communication confidence skills training, rather than English language training which might be too basic.


How can Culture Cuppa improve your global team’s communication and collaboration

Victoria Rennoldson from Culture Cuppa is certified with the Cultural Intelligence Center to do CQ (cultural intelligence) assessments and training, using the globally validated CQ framework for building cultural intelligence capabilities.

Learn more about CQ Cultural Intelligence and how you and your team can improve.

We also offer communication skills training for people working in English, in our individual coaching programme, 9 steps to Communication Confidence.

Discover our cross cultural training.

Contact us to create your training.

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