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The Importance of Cross-Border Cultural Fluency

The most successful multinational team leaders tend to have these four key management techniques in common.

The Importance of Cross-Border Cultural Fluency

This article is brought to you by Velocity Global

Understanding cultural differences becomes increasingly important as business continues to globalize, and nowhere is this more apparent than with international teams. But why do some teams thrive while others seem doomed to discord?

Several things prove to be consistent. It turns out that the most successful leaders of multinational teams almost always embrace four key management techniques:

They have a nuanced understanding of time and punctuality. Your team members in Latin America might understand meeting times or deadlines as general guidelines, not strict obligations. Similarly, Chinese culture often emphasizes waiting until the right moment to complete a task. Neither of these is bad for business, as they can actually produce superior results. However, they might be difficult for hard-driving Westerners.

While new communication technologies de-emphasize the need for in-person meetings, collaboration remains advantageous. Explore practices that embrace continual conversation and establish expectations everyone can meet.

They ensure everyone is heard. Many multinational team members are exasperated by the way others talk and collaborate. Communication is deeply cultural, so even questions of when to speak up in a meeting and when to stay quiet can expose profound differences.

Different communication styles are inevitable. Be aware that certain team members may require different openings and opportunities. By assessing this across your team, you might discover a new way to communicate that offers space for everyone to chime in.

They have a flexible approach to authority. Team members from more egalitarian cultures can confound those from hierarchical cultures. What seems like a fair, flat organizational chart to one person can seem utterly disorganized to another. That being said, conduct your interactions with an awareness of what your team members expect.

Learning to wear different authoritative hats is key. Don’t take an egalitarian sense of collaboration personally; the division of power can be a benefit. Likewise, clear authority to some can provide a sense of direction and empowerment.

They don’t just tolerate different approaches—they leverage them. The innate differences on your team can produce inventive solutions that any one individual might never think of on his or her own. Use this to your advantage as much as you can.

Some team members may dependably provide the ruthless practicality and organization you need, while others can discard preordained structures and innovate freely. Because these ways of thinking are so natural to them, you can tap into multiple viewpoints.

Paying attention to how your team members solve problems in their native environments can be extremely insightful. As you continue to guide them down these individualized paths, combine their ideas to arrive at superior solutions.

Embracing diversity isn’t simply about recognizing differences; it’s also about cultivating these nuances and giving them room to thrive. For today’s businesses, cultural fluency and flexibility are prerequisites to successful goal achievement. Your workforce might be changing, but if you play to employees’ strengths wisely, your business prospects can be as rich as ever.

This story originally appeared in the July/August print edition of Middle Market Growth magazine. Read the full issue in the archive.


Rob Wellner, Velocity Global’s senior vice president of sales, draws on 12 years of experience in capital markets to help organizations expand internationally, including using Velocity Global’s International PEO service to overcome challenges associated with global M&A. To learn more, visit velocityglobal.com/acg.