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5 Ways Startups Are Effectively Building International Teams

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While companies have always had to put extra effort into team building, it is now becoming particularly more challenging. Startups now face new stumbling blocks in their team-building efforts when it comes to having international employees. The differences in cultures, languages, and time zones make it difficult to build relationships at work. 

This is a serious challenge for startups, as research clearly shows that having a diverse team can benefit companies. The Boston Consulting Group studied 1,700 companies from eight countries in 2018 and found that companies with more diverse management teams had 19% higher revenue. Another study in 2017 by Harvard Business Review showed that companies with above-average diversity had higher revenues because they had innovative products to offer.

So, based on the advantages of having a diverse team, many startups are now striving to beat the challenges of having an international team. They use innovative strategies and modern technology to foster teamwork amongst diverse teams. Let’s look at five of those strategies below. 

Applying Poker Strategies to Team Dynamics

While it may seem less related initially, the strategies and principles of advanced poker play offer useful lessons for managing team dynamics across cultures and borders. Just as skilled poker players must carefully read situations, understand incentives, and adapt their approach, international team leaders need perceptive skills to navigate cultural differences, motivations, and changing circumstances.

Specific concepts from game theory found in advanced online poker strategy can help build trust and cooperation within remote, dispersed teams. In poker, players need to carefully balance cooperation and competition. While it is ultimately a competitive game where you are trying to win chips from opponents, successful players also have to develop trust and reputations for reliable play.

As an example, in the prisoner’s dilemma, two parties must decide whether to cooperate, and the highest reward typically comes when they do. This shows the importance of teammates working together versus individually. Team managers can learn to always prioritize teamwork, as it has proven to be more efficient than working individually.

Similarly, successful poker players must also devise flexible strategies to adapt to changing situations. In the same way, international team leaders must implement strategies that can accommodate cultural nuances or changes in team dynamics over time.

Other core poker skills, such as resilience after losses, managing risks and uncertainties, and strategically mixing actions, translate into leadership traits for persevering through failures, dealing with ambiguity, and modeling cultures of accountability.

Understanding Cultural Differences

Cultural differences in communication styles, work norms, values, and traditions present a major hurdle for dispersed international teams to overcome. One of the cross-cultural consultancies has estimated that cultural misunderstandings cost companies over $2 billion annually in missed opportunities and lost productivity.

Smart companies strive to provide cultural training to help their employees understand the diverse cultures represented in the workplace. For example, some tech companies have made courses on working effectively across cultures mandatory for all employees.

Establishing Clear Communication  

With teammates scattered across time zones and speaking different languages, miscommunication is bound to happen frequently. It is one of the biggest challenges for international teams to overcome. Establishing clear rules and protocols for how, when, and where to communicate is crucial for alignment.

Many startups use modern collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, and Notion to share information quickly and easily among their remote workers. For example, GitLab is one of the world’s largest all-remote companies, with over 2,187 employees across 65+ countries. They stay aligned by following transparent processes documented in their extensive team handbook.

Clearly Defining Team Goals and Metrics

A team’s success depends on the members’ cooperation towards achieving the team’s goals. For this to happen, company managers need to ensure that every team member is aware of their individual role in the team and the metrics for success. This is especially important as studies already show that only about half of employees truly understand what is expected of them in their leadership (or else) roles at work.

One way that many startups today are employing to achieve an alignment of goals and mindset is by providing ongoing training. Many companies organize webinars and online sessions to train their team members. These programs can help bring the employees up to date on the company’s goals and what is expected from each team member.

Establishing Strong Work Relationships

Research by top schools like Stanford and Harvard shows that employees who feel included and have good relationships with teammates tend to be more productive. This shows the importance of building trust and strong relationships within teams.

However, building strong relationships – be it for sales or outsourcing – is more difficult on remote international teams than on co-located ones because of several reasons, one of which is the lack of regular interaction. This is why companies need to put extra effort into establishing team spirit among employees. 

Some companies have taken an innovative approach by hosting themed “virtual lunches” where employees cook the same meal together over video chat. When possible, companies invest time and resources into virtual team bonding through fun activities like online games, virtual happy hours, and annual in-person retreats or offsites.

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