Having grown up bi-culturally, traveled, and worked abroad for several years, I thought I was quite conscious and culturally open. It wasn’t until I moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam a few months ago that I realized I have a lot to learn.
We've cracked the code on distributed work, but how have we managed to scale a global team culture? Program Manager, Giuliana Lucchesi, provides a blueprint for companies looking to maintain an inclusive corporate culture across borders, and seas.
The experience of moving to a country so distant from home, both geographically and culturally, presented me with an exciting and challenging opportunity. As a member of the People Ops team at Wizeline, part of my job (and our mission as a team) is to be a guardian of the corporate culture. For me, part of that responsibility also involves creating and sustaining an environment in which people feel culturally respected and comfortable. Being a guest in a new country, I understood that to fulfill that purpose I had to integrate more into the culture of Vietnam. I could not pretend to uphold a culturally conscious environment if I did not understand the culture of the country in which I found myself.
I can summarize all these changes to my personal and professional life in four key lessons that have helped me bridge our multicultural team. Before beginning any process of “integration”, it is necessary to understand and observe. This is my advice to other organizations who want to maintain a consistent, open, and inclusive company culture across offices.
1. Recognize that your beliefs are not absolute.
From a young age, we are taught that there are ways to behave. We know that there are behaviors that are correct and behaviors that are wrong. What we are rarely taught, however, is that these “rules” and behaviors change depending on which part of the world we are in. When it comes to culture, the reality is that there is no right or wrong. If your goal is to scale a team globally, it’s important to empathize and maintain an open attitude towards different traditions, ways of thinking, and ways of being. The change starts with what the organization intends to achieve.
2. Understand your people.
When you show interest and curiosity in another person’s culture, they will feel that you respect their culture. Taking the time to understand another person’s culture says “I recognize that our cultures are different and yet, I am interested in learning more about your beliefs.” It does not necessarily mean that you will agree with them, it shows that you respect the differences. How can businesses achieve this? Facilitating sessions with groups of 3-5 people can be a very effective way to deepen the cultural values and their customs. During these sessions, the facilitator can ask a few questions about the ideal culture and work environment. Take notes from the discussion between participants. Try to construct the questions without including the name of your company. While it is likely that details about your company will emerge, the purpose of the session is to understand the people and their cultural background.
3. Educate your team.
Now that you have enough information, what should you do with it? Create cultural awareness within your company by sharing this newfound knowledge. This can be done through an internal cultural workshop, by incorporating what was learned into your company’s onboarding program (highly recommended to ensure that new employees are aware from the first day), or by routinely organizing cultural events in the office. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel across offices and experience different cultures first-hand. The best alternative is to educate your team about cultural differences and show that the company values all of its employees’ cultures.
4. Create a consistent business culture.
In addition to respecting and recognizing cultural differences, the company must ensure that team members in all countries feel part of one unified team. Each office will inevitably have different characteristics and environments, but the fabric of company culture must remain consistent. Identify and communicate to all employees. If the company has a well-defined mission, ensure it is visible in all offices; everyone should know the values of the company where they work. A consistent business culture can help create common ground and a sense of unity.
We work in a world that is becoming increasingly global—we have to be empathetic and aware. We should never stop learning about the culture. Especially in an environment like Wizeline, where we have more than 15+ different countries represented by our team.
Regardless of the role or profession, we must take advantage of the multicultural world in which we live to learn from our friends and colleagues from other backgrounds. Taking a step back to analyze our own beliefs from someone else’s perspective, as well as understanding other ways of living and thinking, shapes us as global professionals.