Ask Sophaya: Learning to Communicate with Global Teams

Hi, I work as a project manager for a large international software company. I’m American but I have colleagues from all over the world. During team calls, it can be hard to get some colleagues to participate in the discussion. How can I change this? 

Signed, A Globalized American

Hi Globalized!

It’s always a challenge getting group participation under any circumstances, but international teams have special considerations that need proactive management up front. If you want great group participation, make sure to notify people in advance that you need their input – be clear as to what you need from them so there are no surprises, then add these items onto your agenda along with your colleagues’ name so they know your request for participation is official. Put together your meeting agendas well ahead of time; distribute those agenda and any handouts well before meeting time so everyone has plenty of time to review and prepare.

If your team members speak English as a second language, be sensitive to their situation – they need extra time to prepare their response because they have to think through the translation. No one wants to look foolish in front of their colleagues, so the more prep time you can give people the better. Consider using video chat with screen share capabilities so your colleagues can “show” rather than having to just “tell”. It takes the pressure off them a bit and also gives everyone else on the team some reference points for your colleague’s presentation.

Managing Time Zones

Remember that time zones are a big thing. If you only schedule meetings when it’s convenient for your time zones, your colleagues may take this as a sign that you don’t respect them or that you aren’t informed enough to understand the impact of your scheduling choices. Either way, it will hurt your chances of engaging them. Take the time to learn time zones or use a time zone converter to help you book meeting so everyone shares a little of the burden of the time differences.

Getting Personal

Finally, show that human side! People are more alike than we realize regardless of their country of origin. The more you can show people’s faces, use their names, learn about them so they feel you respect them and care about them, the more likely they are to join the chat. It’s so easy to learn about stuff these days with the internet. We often look up the local news for the geographic locations we work with regularly so we know about the weather, politics, sports and holidays. It makes for a fun conversation starter and also breaks the ice for more in-depth chats in the future.

Photo by Kyle Glenn