Managing Culturally Diverse Teams: 3 Lessons from Global Payroll

Jan 24, 2017  | Topic: Human Resources

Few areas of the enterprise are as diverse as global payroll: To pay employees around the world, global and regional payroll managers interface with internal employees and external partners from many different cultural backgrounds, working from a variety of different international locations. 

The inherent diversity of global payroll is something stakeholders in the space should (and do) take pride in. And yet, the inherent diversity of global payroll can also create substantial challenges. 

The day-to-day difficulties of working with people in multiple time zones and speaking multiple languages are just the beginning. Those concerns are arguably the easiest challenges to address, now that 24/7 technological connectivity and simplified translation services are more accessible and inexpensive than ever.

More serious struggles often emerge from management. In overseeing a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed team of payroll professionals, a global or regional payroll manager is responsible for motivating, engaging, and leading individuals that may have vastly differing personalities, worldviews, aspirations, expectations, and experience levels. Doing that in-office is hard enough; doing that virtually is even harder.

Over their years of managing diverse, multicultural teams, the specialists at CloudPay have developed deep expertise on the skills and sensitivities required to lead multicultural teams effectively. Here are just a few lessons we've learned over our two decades in global payroll.

Maintain Cultural Competence & Never Make Assumptions

Cultural (or “intercultural”) competence is essentially the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultures. Yet before an individual can interact effectively with those from differing cultural backgrounds – especially from a management perspective – that person needs to understand his or her own cultural starting point.

It begins with self-awareness. What’s your own worldview? What perspectives do you bring to your role that have been influenced by your own background? If you don’t have a real sense of where your management outlook comes from, and why you approach work the way you do, you can’t expect to grasp the perspectives of the people who work for you.

From a self-aware mindset, managers should invest time and effort into gaining knowledge of the common cultural practices and norms of the individuals they work with. Keep in mind, however, that doing ‘homework’ on cultural differences is not the same as establishing a cross-cultural managerial skill set.

Relying solely on baseline knowledge can lead managers to make assumptions and broad generalizations based on stereotypes – which is never, ever ok. Once you have a broad sense of cultural competence, it’s time to go deeper.

Acknowledge & Adapt to Different ‘Styles’ Among Your Staff

Peoples’ culture – their values, norms, and traditions – come from more than just their background. It’s also about individual experiences. Ultimately, there are a million factors that influence the way a given person approaches work every day. Regardless of language barriers, getting to know your team members as individuals is crucial to being a successful manager.

Building a genuine rapport with your reports is the starting point for adapting your approach to create a sincere cultural fit. Just as you have a unique management style, your reports have ‘employee styles’ all their own: Learning styles, communication styles, collaboration styles, and so on. If you don’t adapt to the different behaviors and ‘styles’ of individuals from cultures outside your own, it can be easily let frustration and hostility infiltrate your interactions with employees.

While you can’t shift your approach to the needs of each person, you can make a sincere attempt to acknowledge how culture plays into the preferences, expectations, and motivators of your employees. In fact, rethinking how you motivate your reports is, crucial since the motivation system you deploy as a manager is a direct product of your own cultural and professional experience

Every manager thinks they know how to motivate their reports, but having a multicultural team changes things. Some of what you may find extremely motivating – financial incentives or scheduling freedom, for example – may have the opposite effect. It’s all about finding the right balance by having the right conversations with your team.

Engage in Open Communication & Team Building

Conversation may really be the ultimate key. Cultural differences can be a touchy topic, but if they affect the relationship between a manager and his or her reports (or if they impact team dynamics or performance in a troubling way), then they need to be addressed in a straightforward, honest way.

People chalk a lot up to personalities, but ignoring the differences that exist in a highly diverse group is a big mistake. You must have honest conversations with your employees about group dynamics and differences, and you have to get their feedback on an ongoing basis. If you don’t, you’ll play favorites while you leaving struggling performers out to dry.

Since communicating with remote or long-distance employees is less convenient, managers must schedule time to meet with their reports virtually on a regular basis to discuss how well individuals are gelling in their roles and on their teams. And they also must engage in efforts to build an ongoing team mindset and foster communication among staff members. In payroll, communication portals and knowledge sharing are key to monitoring team collaboration and seeing where they may be lapses or gaps. 

For example, CloudPay Collaborate helps our internal team members stay engaged across our ten global locations and encourages them to share knowledge and ideas among one another. On top of regular team meetings and goals, technology tools can make it easier for diverse team members to connect – and we see that benefit extending to our clients, as well.