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Your Mindset & 5 Keys to Effective Leadership in Uncertain Times

Right now marketing calls for relevance, empathy, performance, productivity, focus, resilience and so much more.

In these times of great uncertainty, I believe that LEADERSHIP is the most valuable skill you can have. As a leader, there’s a part of you that’s strong, regardless of what’s happening around you. Tough times call for that part of you that’s hungry, tuned-in, courageous, bold, brilliant…

Where there is challenge there is also opportunity.

As we figure out how to navigate a state of no-new-normal, we are required to call on that can-do part of us that drives a vision with creativity and massive action. Our teams are experiencing a constant barrage of negative news. As leaders, we must stand guard at the door of our minds while recognizing the emotional upheaval our teams are likely experiencing. The onslaught of fear and lack of physical proximity these days increases the possibility of people feeling disconnected, disengaged, and potentially less productive.

Here are 5 tips to help you harness your power and inspire your team.

1. Find Your North Star

The path may change but the mission can still hold.

Your mission gives you purpose, meaning, and sometimes happiness 😊. This is what makes you live beyond a successful moment to a significant life. What do you want from life? When you prioritize, adjust, and adapt without compromising your commitment to your mission, you will achieve your goals.

Once you are clear on your mission, organize your tasks, and make every item on your to-do list express that vision. If an item does not align with your purpose, drop it. This will also keep your team clear and focused.

2. Promote Trust and Autonomy

Having a virtual team does not mean that you have to constantly breathe down your team members’ necks to make sure that they are working. Provide clear goals and trust your team members to accomplish those goals.

3. Make Everyone Accountable

While you give your team autonomy, you never lose sight of accountability. Provide work goals, and ensure they are met. Don’t let projects drag on and on. If workers know that goals and deadlines are enforced, they feel more involved in the team.

I’ve found that one-on-ones are one of the best ways to build rapport and create a culture of trust. Unlike status reports, standups, and other types of meetings, one-on-ones create dedicated space for a manager to connect, give, and get personalized feedback.

4. Get the Right Tools

A Gallup Poll found that those who were able to spend 60% to 80% of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagement. Another extensive global study reported in Harvard Business Review reported that virtual teams can lead to increased efficiency and better business results.

Team chat allows for rapid real-time communication to get work done and gives virtual teams a very strong sense of being “present” as a team. This goes a great way to keep everyone feeling involved and motivated.

For high context conversations, chat can be too cumbersome.  In these cases, hop on a quick audio/video conversation. There are scores of tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Fleep, uShare.to, Zoom etc. that virtual teams can select from. You can even use your phone as a webcam to video chat with your cross-functional partners, colleagues, teams, and direct reports, so you don’t miss any conversations that affect your projects.

Organize Your Team’s Effort With Collaboration Tools

Beyond communication, there is a range of collaboration tools that can help organize your team’s effort and keep them productive. Use group calendars to coordinate schedules and events, project management tools to coordinate team tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines, and document management to share important presentations, templates, and policies. You could explore Box for document management, Calendly for scheduling, etc. Tools like HyperOffice Atlas, Office 365 for Business, and GSuite offer all-in-one team toolkits. Organization in the daily execution of your business eliminates stress and frees your mind to focus on projects.

Leverage Video for Team Building

Video reinforces the human bonds between your team members. Skip the default to audio conferencing and make it a point to turn on video as a reminder that there are real people, with smiles, a myriad of emotions, and maybe tousled hair behind the voice.

5. Make time to reset

Set serious work-life boundaries to avoid burnout. Remember your health is highly crucial and should be first on your list of priorities. It determines your prosperity, comfort, and overall attitude. Eat a balanced diet, develop a solid exercise routine, and don’t skip sleep.

Your interactions with your team shouldn’t always be about work, work, work. Without the warmth of human presence, team interactions can sometimes become dry exchanges. Never miss an opportunity to encourage your team to just have normal social interactions. Take a few minutes at the beginning of a call to make small talk and just chit chat about life in general. Share a funny video now and then in a work chat room. Many teams have a dedicated chat room for “cooler chatter”, where teams talk about everything but work. And this fun banter can fuel creativity!

These are crazy times… but it’s time to turn the corner. It’s time to write our comeback story and transform our collective struggles into massive success.

It all starts with our hearts and minds!

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5 Ways to Power Your Small Business Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

The world has been turned upside down. The ability to adapt is a matter of life or death for many businesses, because even when we are past the chaos, things won’t likely be the same again. For most businesses to survive the storm, they need a new game plan.

Survival depends on adaption. As Mike Tyson famously quipped, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  The sooner we figure that out, the sooner we can get up off the mat and start fighting back.

The world has punched us in the mouth. For some businesses, it may be a knockout punch. But it doesn’t have to be. Take a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook… The pivot.

Remember that you exist to solve problems for your customers. And just because their problems have changed doesn’t mean you can’t still solve them. You just need to think of new, innovative ways to do so.

Read on for 5 things you can do right now to pivot your business and survive this pandemic.

1. Offer More

For some businesses, survival will require offering more than you ever have before.

Take the fancy restaurant down the street (we’ve all got one). With their dining room closed for the foreseeable future, their go-to solution is likely to offer takeout and delivery, keeping their fingers crossed that things will go back to normal soon. Sure, by offering takeout and delivery, they can continue to serve delicious food to hungry people, but their average order value is taking a huge hit. No in-person dining means no alcohol sales, no appetizer and dessert up-sells, and of course, no tips for their staff.

So, what can a business like this do to overcome these unexpected challenges? Offer more. To survive an extended hit to their traditional business model, they need to think of ways to offer more to their customers, driving average order values back up to what they were when guests dined in-person.

The restaurant could offer a White Glove Date Night Service. Partnering with other local shops, they could put together a special bundle that includes a full takeout meal, a bottle of wine, a white tablecloth, homemade candles, an invite-only romantic Spotify playlist curated by the restaurant’s Hostess, a list of staff favorite romance movies streaming on Netflix, etc.

Now this restaurant’s takeout meal has turned into an experience. Something to look forward to. Something to keep the romance alive during the quarantine. And something that goes from a $35 takeout bill to a $99 package that local couples will happily pay in order to bring some happiness and excitement into their homes.

All this, just by offering a little bit more.

2. Offer Less

Of course, sometimes less is more.

For some businesses, the best way to survive these troubled times is pare-down their product or service, and focus exclusively on the customer segments that drive the most profit.

Take a typical SaaS company that offers both entry-level and enterprise-level versions of its product. Sure, when times were good, it made sense to staff up and serve both of these segments. But now? Probably not.

A company like this would need to take a long, hard look at which of the two segments drives more to the bottom line, and is most likely to continue growing (or at least maintain) during the impending recession. Based on what they discover, the business will have a game plan as to which segment (and corresponding product features) become the priority, and where they can offer less.

Now, that’s not to say that they need to (or should) fire a bunch of customers from the less valuable segment. It just means that they should reevaluate the time and money invested in areas such as product development, marketing, and customer service related to this segment. This group doesn’t need a whole bunch of extra features right now, nor can you afford to develop them. Now is the time to focus, and the best way to do that is to offer less.

3. Solve a New Problem

Though it’s easy to forget, the core reason businesses exist is to solve problems for their customers. But what happens when the problem you solve is no longer relevant?

Take Airbnb for example. With people not traveling, their customers no longer have the problem of finding unique, comfortable lodging while away from home. But many of their customers have a new problem: a desperate need for a quiet space to work remotely.

So, what should Airbnb do? Pivot, of course (at least temporarily)!

The company could adjust their platform so that hosts can offer reduced “daytime-only” rates to rent out their home office/bedroom with a desk (one that’s deep cleaned nightly). Customers with a less than ideal work-from-home situation would now have the option to head down the street to an empty, quiet Airbnb listing to work for the day.  And hosts would have an opportunity to still bring in some much-needed revenue.

Same business. Same product. Different customer problems solved.  Not necessarily quarantine approved.

4. Redefine Your Market

When there’s an overnight shift in the global economy, it’s not uncommon for businesses to see a shift in their target markets as well. Your core customer base might disappear overnight. But, there may be one waiting in the wings…a market you previous would have never expected to serve.

And for those businesses paying attention and acting swiftly, this spells opportunity…not only to stay afloat during the crisis but to perhaps emerge stronger than ever.

For example, take Instacart. This on-demand delivery service has traditionally focused its efforts on acquiring urban-dwelling Gen Z’ers and Millennials. These groups are early tech adopters and heavy eCommerce shoppers, making them ideal candidates for the service. But with nearly everyone forced to stay home, millions of Baby Boomers across the U.S. are suddenly signing up for Instacart. What a huge opportunity for the company! Baby Boomers comprise a massive share of the nation’s buying power but have traditionally shunned online retail in favor of shopping in physical locations. As Baby Boomers are forced to adopt the service en masse, this might be a turning point for the entire generation. And for Instacart, a chance to redefine their market. Hopefully, the company is already strategizing as to how they can retain this valuable customer segment once the pandemic subsides. Because if they can keep the Boomers coming back long term, they will unlock a massive opportunity to grow.

5. Update Your Business Model

For some entrepreneurs, the changes brought on by coronavirus will prompt a necessary change in their business model. Are you doing large corporate events? Think about the long-term outlook of the previous business model. Not a great place to be… Customers may no longer be willing to put the same amount of time and dollars when things go back to “normal” but they may be open to smaller events with an extended online experience that integrates opportunities for serendipitous connections.

So, what can you do? Don’t hanker down and wait for this to pass. Test a new model. Today!

Explore ways you can help customers create meaningful connections that go beyond video meetings on Zoom. What you learn may pay off  in passionate, loyal customers that stay with you into well into the future.

While it may be stressful to have change forced upon you, the ultimate expansion can be a positive outcome from an otherwise terrible situation.

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Seeing The Light

A Powerful Poem by Best Selling Author Robert Michael Fried

Some things hazy
Soon will be right

Some things hidden
will come into sight

Some things so wrong
will soon become clear

As we gallantly strive
towards a life without fear

Fortune 500 marketing strategist and best selling author Robert Michael Fried, has spent most of his career directing or repositioning the marketing and sales strategies for blue chip companies. He strikes a refreshing balance between making money and making meaning. Robert Fried’s Best Seller is entitled Igniting Your True Purpose and Passion: A Businesslike Guide to Fulfill Your Professional Goals and Personal Dreams. The book is acclaimed by Guy Kawasaki, best selling author and former chief evangelist of Apple, Cynthia Kersey, best-selling author of Unstoppable, and Marci Shimoff, best known for co-authoring 6 Chicken Soup For The Soul Books, and her prominent role in the documentary video The Secret.  Fried’s New York Times critically acclaimed book, A Marketing Plan for Life soared to #1 on the Amazon Best Seller List, in three separate categories; Success, Self-Help and Personal Transformation.

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Goodbye Grandma

My cũũcũ passed away today.

I’m told she died peacefully in her home and felt no pain.

My story began with my cũũcũ. Her story was one of will power, persistence and principle. She pushed herself beyond her point of endurance so her children would have hope, a future. She worked day and night on her farm so she had enough to provide for her children, enough to share, and enough to sell. She had her children out of bed working before dawn and made sure that was never a reason to cut out school. Late at night they all studied by the light of a kerosene lamp with their feet dipped in cold water to focus and ward off sleep. She instilled in them the value of service, sweats and smarts, discipline and delayed gratification and they in turn passed these values on to us.

As I spent time with her in her latter years, arthritis had stolen the spring in her step and age had mellowed the intensity in her eyes. It was hard to believe she was the same lady who tore through the fields with a hoe or a sickle, carried bales of Napier grass on her back and taught women in the village zero-grazing so they too could provide for their children.

Still, she carried herself with grace and the determination that rang in her voice spoke to her pioneering spirit. My grandmother was the first lady in her country to cycle to the dairy and drive to the market. She was the woman who saved her scarce pennies for a sewing machine so her children would not go naked. She is the only Kikuyu grandmother I know who can talk to her grandchildren intelligently about Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez, revolutionaries who fought for freedom many miles from her East African village.

I hope that my life is a tribute to my grandmother, who showed me the love of life and the people along the way who have given me joy and a meaning to it all. I hope that my life says I had a generous attitude towards people. That I worked hard, loved much and learned from my mistakes, that I had a vision and lived with a mission and that my perpetual optimism was a force multiplier.

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[Call for Volunteers] COVID-19 Innovations

Hope you are all keeping healthy!

I’d like to celebrate contributions of members of the Alliance4ai Africa community to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and ask if there’s anyone here with a knack for PR and creative writing who’d like to volunteer on telling this story so we find them more resources? Please contact me.

Natalie (South Africa) – her team at Robotscanthink is using their five 3D printers to produce 100 masks a day to distribute to 5 local hospitals. We are preparing an appeal for other South Africans to donate them more 3D printers, and to raise a fund to buy more

Darlington (Ghana) – his team at MinoHealth has built the most comprehensive map of Coronavirus spread across Africa. He has put out a call for volunteers to help with data labeling to allow him to continue to provide real-time updates on the current situation to aid decision-making

Prof Amo-Boateng (Ghana) – Well I call him Elon Musk of Africa. He’s got his students working on 6 incredible solutions. A few worth noting are Rapid Diagnosis with a mobile phone, novel drugs from Physics (new method), drugs from existing molecules. If any of these are of interest, there are always opportunities to help.

Others are Bayo (Nigeria) of Data science Nigeria, Getnet (Ethiopia) of Icog Labs, and Celina (South Africa) of Zindi.Africa

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Crisis Sparks Action! Let’s Find Our Creativity in Coronavirus

When it is dark, you can see stars.

Epidemics inspire innovation

Epidemics of the past have changed the way we lived and inspired innovations in infrastructure.

For example, Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death toward the end of the 19th century. I in 7 people around the world had died of the disease ranked as the third. While the medical community recognized TB was caused by bacteria, most people in the general public gave little attention to the behaviors that contributed to transmission. It was common for family members, or even strangers, to share a drinking cup, even when it was clear one coughed and expectorated.

The “War on Tuberculosis” public health campaign discouraged cup-sharing. States banned spitting in public spaces including inside public buildings, transit, sidewalks, and other outdoor spaces. Soon spitting in public spaces was considered uncouth, and swigging from shared bottles frowned upon too. These changes in public behavior helped successfully reduce the prevalence of tuberculosis.

Many infrastructure improvements and healthy behaviors we consider normal today are the results of past health campaigns that responded to devastating outbreaks.

In many large cities, rot and horse waste were commonplace. For example, city streets in London and New York overflowed with filth. People tossed their trash, chamber pots, and food scraps out their windows onto the streets below. The horses pulling streetcars and delivery carts also contributed to the squalor, putting pounds of manure and urine on the streets every day. When a horse died, it became a different kind of hazard. Children would play with dead horses lying on the streets. A carcass would be left to rot until it had disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces.

There were also no sewer systems. When people would come to live or work in the city you had 25 to 30 people sharing a single outhouse. The privies frequently overflowed and folks would damp barrels dripping with feces into the nearby harbor. The frequent outbreaks of typhoid and cholera made cities recognize the need for organized systems to dispose of human waste. Filtration and chlorination systems were introduced to clean up municipal water supplies. Water closets became popular, first among the wealthy, and then among the middle-class. This led to plumbing and house reform.

Builders started adding porches and windows to houses as physicians said good ventilation and fresh air could combat illness. This fresh-air “cure” partly incited the study of climate as a formal science. People began to chart temperature, barometric pressure, and other weather patterns in hopes of identifying the “ideal” conditions for treating disease. Today ventilation, access to outdoor spaces, and parks still entice homebuyers.

Epidemics fuel altruism

For example, during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic, there was no formal crisis plan. Philadelphians selflessly stepped up to create a makeshift hospital, and build a home for 191 children orphaned by the epidemic. Volunteers collected clothing as well as food and monetary donations. Members of the Free African Society were particularly altruistic, providing two-thirds of the hospital staff. They also transported people, buried the dead, and performed numerous other medical tasks.

The diphtheria outbreak hit Nome, Alaska, in January 1925. This small region inspired national support and innovation. While there was an antitoxin serum available to combat the disease, the region was in short supply and the town was inaccessible by road or sea in the winter. This led to the creation of the Iditarod, the famous dog sled race. The dogsled teams and mushers carried a supply of the serum 674 miles from Fairbanks, in record time, facing temperatures of more than 60 degrees below zero. The challenges of delivery by dogsled also sparked an investigation into the possibilities of medical transport by airplane.

The polio epidemic of 1952 sickened more than 57,000 people across the United States, causing 21,269 cases of paralysis. In response, the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), which had been founded in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt distributed around $25 million through its local chapters. The March of Dimes, as it later came to be known, provided iron lungs, rocking chairs, beds and other equipment to medical facilities, and assigned physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and medical social workers where they were needed. The success of this campaign has served as the gold standard in public health education and fundraising since its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.

Disease can permanently alter society. Public health emergencies have inspired innovations in education, information circulation, and civic debate. The cycle continues today, as media powers and regular citizens flock to social media to discuss COVID-19—disseminating information and collaborating to create solutions.

What will we create in this pandemic?

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We’re in this together!

For many people, life was so hard before this pandemic.

My heart breaks imagining the stress, fear, and anxiety that some are feeling right now. I’ve received notes from single moms losing jobs, folks battling illness (physical, mental, emotional) while navigating all this, physicians in the frontlines fearful even as they make deep sacrifices to keep our communities healthy and people who are just straight anxious about everything.

Now, many people are feeling understandably alone and afraid.

Remember, we are in this together. In San Jose, we just received the order to shelter in place. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be researching resources available for people seeking help. Please message me if you have suggestions.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can help small businesses in your local area:

  • Support the service, arts, and small business owners in your life individually – reach out and ask them if they need help or Venmo them to support!
  • Drop off groceries at your elderly neighbor’s home or ask how you can help
  • Pay your house cleaner anyway – and caregivers, hairdressers, landscapers, etc. Offer an advance if you can
  • Buy gift cards to use later
  • Shop online but from small, local businesses only
  • Do one thing that inspires you daily – yes, you matter too!
  • Tip service workers extra… delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, transit and utility workers and so many others are our unsung heroes in this crisis
  • Order food for delivery or takeout from local independent restaurants
  • Support a local business as you stock up on essentials — coffee beans, bread, and meat all freeze well.
  • Sign up for a community-supported agriculture box to get produce directly from a small farm
  • When you go out to a grocery store or pharmacy, choose an independent one, not a chain, if possible
  • If you’re a property owner, offer rent relief or forgiveness if you are able
  • Support less tech-literate folks setup GoFundMe etc
  • Purchase museum memberships
  • Save your favorite local restaurant – If you live in the SF Bay Area here’s how: https://saveourfaves.org/southbay

I’m 100% certain that if we pull together as a global family, we’ll make it through. In fact, I believe that within this crisis lies an opportunity for us to grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient as a result.

With so much ❤️

Wandia

 

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How to Create Cultural Context in Global Campaigns

Global leaders often want to have their products and services in as many parts of the world as possible.

Despite applying an approach that has been validated in the market of origin, many fail within a few months of market entry. In fact, I was surprised to learn that a whopping 85% of internationalization efforts fail.

What is going wrong?

A crucial step in preparing to go global is a localized marketing strategy. Companies do an in-depth analysis of the market, the demographics, needs and opportunities, and then try to push their product out if they see a fit. It all seems straightforward, but something’s missing.

In most cases, cultural context is a blindside.

Intercultural elements are not taken into consideration or are only touched upon superficially.

In order to overcome this, I’ve adopted this principle: direction from the center, decisions on the ground.

Think about it like this – the global team builds the plane but must rely on the regions to fly it. I’ve found that culture context awareness is key to the success of global campaigns. Regional teams need the freedom to adopt campaigns to their local markets. Regional teams can also provide valuable feedback on shared context that ultimately enrich the brand. For example, “are campaigns getting ran alongside unfavorable news content?”

At a practical level, for example, we build centralized, shared worksheets for all paid and owned tactics across markets, to capture and learn from what is being decided locally. Every team around the world has access to this worksheet in real time. The local nuance has helped us make better strategic decisions, particularly around scale.

 

 

 

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Are You Accidentally Killing Your Team’s Creativity?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about where creativity comes from and how to nurture and grow it in a team. As a result, even well-meaning leaders can end up killing the creativity of a team when they need it most.

 

If your team is in the midst of solving a problem or generating a new product or project idea, you might be killing their creativity without even trying. Here are three of the most common things managers do that have deleterious effects:

1. Spending too much time on brainstorming.

There’s lots of documentation on benefits and drawbacks of brainstorming. However, one key thing  good leaders recognize is that brainstorming is just one step in the large creative process, a step often referred to as divergent thinking. Researchers have developed a variety of different models of creativity, from the Osborn-Parnes creative problem-solving method to design thinking. Most of these methods share some common stages, of which brainstorming is only one.

Before divergent thinking can have any benefit, your team needs to have thoroughly researched the problem and be sure that their brainstorming answers the right question. Afterward, divergent thinking should be followed up with convergent thinking. Here ideas are combined and sorted out to find the few answers that might be the best fit so that they can be prototyped, tested, and refined. If your entire creative method is to get your team into a room and fill up a whiteboard, you are missing out.

2. Fostering too much cohesion.

When you’re leading a team, team building is a high priority. The long-standing Tuckman model of group development emphasizes that new teams go through three phases – forming, storming, and norming. It’s easy to look at models like that and think that cohesion and friendliness should be the ultimate goal. But surprisingly, when it comes to creativity, the best teams fight a little (or even a lot). Structured, task-oriented conflict can be a signal that new ideas are being submitted to the group and tested. If you team always agrees, that might suggest that people are self-censoring their ideas, or worse, not generating any new ideas at all.

Research suggests that teams that forgo traditional brainstorming rules and debate over ideas as they’re presented end up with more and better ideas. As a leader, it may seem like your job is to break up fights, but don’t be afraid to act as a referee instead — allowing the fight over ideas to unfold, while making sure it stays fair and doesn’t get personal.

3. Judging ideas before they’ve been tested.

In most organizations, once an individual or team has settled on their new idea for a product or project, they prepare to pitch it to whomever they need approval from. Whether the idea only needs your approval as the team leader, or whether it needs to be pitched through the entire hierarchy to win a green light, how new ideas are treated can dramatically and negatively affect creativity.

To begin, research shows that we aren’t really that great at judging new ideas. We tend to favor ideas that reinforce the status quo and managers often tend to reject the ideas customers say they want. Compounding the issue is that, once an individual or team presents the idea and is met with rejection, the likelihood of them continuing to “think outside the box” is diminished. The result is the safe, stale ideas our biases favor—the very ones we don’t need.

Instead of judging ideas first and then testing them in the marketplace, the best leaders find ways to test ideas first and defer judgment until they have early results. Focus on first getting real results to demonstrate proof-of-concept rather than the pitch. You can do this by giving people permission to prototype like Adobe’s Kickbox or by selling the product before it actually exists... These ideas may seem counter-intuitive at first, but you’ll get more worthwhile insight.

Accidental creativity killers seem positive on the surface. But there’s a growing body of research and case studies suggesting that underneath the surface, they’re causing more harm than good.

So try the inverse and see what affect it has on your team’s creativity.

 
 

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Doing Business Beyond Our Borders: 4 Cultural & Context Cues to Consider

All humans bleed red and smile in the same language.

We have many common elements in our shared humanity. However, as we think about doing business beyond our borders, there are many cultural cues to consider. I have had years of trial and error, working with global teams in London, Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, India, Ireland, Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya, etc. I’ve learned that a few small nuances can make potentially positive interactions go completely awry and vice versa.

It’s important to:

  • Recognize that we don’t all work in the same way.
  • Take into account language and cultural barriers.
  • Overcome the mutual knowledge problem.

Based on the LITT framework, here are 4 key elements to keep in mind in order to prevent team dysfunction and connect in spite of the distance: language, identity, technique, and technology.

Corrections and additions are welcome! Contact me.

1. Language

Good communication among coworkers drives effective knowledge sharing, decision making, coordination, and, ultimately, performance results. In global teams, varying levels of fluency with the chosen common language are inevitable.

There are also other variations to adjust to such as spelling differences in words like color versus colour or organisation versus organization and terms like lift versus elevator or trunk and boot. And there are differences like the MM/DD/YYYY date format in the USA compared to DD/MM/YYYY elsewhere in the world.

In the ideal world, strong speakers would dial down dominance by slowing down their speaking pace, and using fewer idioms, slang terms, and esoteric cultural references when addressing the group. They would actively seek confirmation that they’ve been understood, and practice active listening by rephrasing others’ statements for clarification or emphasis. This hardly happens.

Less fluent speakers are forced to extend themselves by monitoring the frequency of their responses in meetings to ensure that their contributions are heard. They also need to confirm that they have been understood, by routinely asking if others are following them. It can be tough for nonnative speakers to make this leap, yet doing so keeps them from being marginalized.

2. Identity

Many of us suffer from a cult of ignorance. While we think of ourselves as open-minded and objective, in fact our approach is often filtered and even obscured by pre-existing notions and ideas – by our upbringing, our values, our past experiences.

In the context of global teams, it’s important to see those filters for what they are—an all-pervasive influence that profoundly colors our relationships with people, circumstances, and even ourselves. An awareness of these filters also provides the ability to strike the limits that they impose, allows for a refreshing freedom.

With this recognition, how we approach people of different backgrounds, situations, and life in general can alter dramatically. Global teams work most smoothly when members “get” where their colleagues are coming from and take into account cultural cues.

For example, the way we communicate with our friends at an open-air concert is different from the way we communicate at the library. Imagine your friends’ reaction if you were whispering to them at a concert or shouting at them in a library. In the first case it’s unlikely you’ll be heard and in the second case, you’ll certainly catch some angry looks before being escorted out.

This illustrates the hidden contexts from which we live and cultural cues which are not often explicitly communicated. In his book “Beyond Culture,” Edward Hall identifies and describes how low-context and high-context cultures need to be approached differently for any form of communication. Low context cultures can be perceived as impatient or aggressive whereas high context cultures can be perceived dishonest, misleading or long-winded.

Here are some differences: 

  • Low context cultures 
    • direct style of communications — taking the shortest path to a pragmatic goal. 
    • task-oriented cultures that value the meticulous wording of a legal document 
    • expect messages to be explicit
    • prefer precision in the written and spoken word
    • references to statistical data, studies and scientific research
    • found mainly in North America and Western Europe
  • High-context cultures  
    • non-verbal cues and between-the-lines messages are expected to be understood
    • verbal messages play a comparably small role in communications
    • context in which a conversation takes place is more meaningful 
    • personal bonds or informal agreements are far more binding than a written contract
    • metaphors and emotions are used over statistical data, studies and scientific research
    • found mainly in  Asian, African, South American, and Middle Eastern countries
3. Technique

There are many considerations that factor into our technique for communicating and connecting with others in geographically dispersed teams: time of day, physical location, ambient noise, etc.

As leaders, there are 3 other factors that should inform our technique: the location where team members are based, the number of sites, and the number of employees who work at each site.

Any perceived power imbalance can set up a negative dynamic. Geographically dispersed team members often come to feel that there are in-groups and out-groups. This situation can be exacerbated when team members at one site feel like their needs or contributions are ignored. For example, people in the majority group may feel resentment toward the minority group, believing that the latter will try to get away with contributing less than its fair share. Meanwhile, those in the minority group may believe that the majority is usurping what little power and voice they have.

When adapting to a new cultural environment, a savvy leader will avoid making assumptions about what behaviors mean. Take a step back, watch, and listen. In America, someone who says, “Yes, I can do this” likely means she is willing and able to do what you asked. In India, however, the same statement may simply signal that she wants to try—not that she’s confident of success. Before drawing conclusions, therefore, ask a lot of questions.

4. Technology

The modes of communication used by global teams must be carefully considered. Videoconferencing, for instance, allows rich communication in which both context and emotion can be perceived. E‑mail offers greater ease and efficiency but lacks contextual cues. Other communication tools like WhatsApp, Slack, Teams and Chat fall somewhere in between.

In making decisions about which technology to use, a leader must ask the following:

  • Should communication be instant?
  • Do I need to reinforce the message to ensure that it’s understood and remembered?
  • What are the team’s interpersonal dynamics?

Teleconferencing and videoconferencing enable real-time (instant) conversations. E‑mail and certain social media formats require users to wait for the other party to respond. Choosing between instant and delayed forms of communication can be especially challenging for global teams, particularly when a team spans multiple time zones.

Instant technologies are valuable when leaders need to persuade others to adopt their viewpoint. But if they simply want to share information, then delayed methods such as e‑mail are simpler, more efficient, and less disruptive to people’s lives.

Leaders must also consider the team’s interpersonal dynamics. If the team has a history of conflict, technology choices that limit the opportunities for real-time emotional exchanges may yield the best results.

Flexibility and appreciation for diversity are at the heart of a thriving global team. Leaders must expect problems and patterns to change or repeat themselves as teams shift, disband, and regroup. If leaders can mitigate difficulties caused by language differences and identity issues, while marshaling technology to improve communication among geographically dispersed colleagues, distance is sure to shrink, not expand.

When that happens, teams can become truly representative of the “global village”—not just because of their international makeup, but also because their members feel mutual trust and a sense of kinship.

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