How to maintain positive organisational culture in hybrid global teams

As discussed in my last post, Insights recently carried out new research that showed an incredible 92% of teams are more hybrid since the pandemic. Additionally, 72% of people want hybrid working to continue in the future world of work.

Head of APAC for Insights, I oversee three regional offices – in India, Singapore and Australia – covering around 30 countries split across two hemispheres, with 12 different time zones, 30 different languages, and 30 different currencies.

With responsibility for such an expansive geographic area, I’m curious about the impact of this shift in attitude and approach on organisational culture and what can be done to make sure this impact is positive. In particular, our research also showed that 40% of people lamented the lack of social connection in their business, confirming that post-pandemic, casual conversations are now a key challenge. Team culture (cited by 31%) and team identity (cited by 37%) were also victims of hybridisation.

Organisational culture includes your purpose, values and ways of working, management and employee expectations, performance, and overall engagement. It sets the tone for how people show-up, interact with others, and function together. A strong organisational culture is crucial as it can attract and retain top talent, enable greater collaboration, guide decision-making, help people reach their potential and improve overall performance.

There is definitely potential for cultural clashes and misunderstandings to arise in hybrid teams containing people from many different cultures.  So what can you do to build a cohesive organisational culture across multiple borders?

  1. Be culturally aware….

Firstly, when operating in teams with many different cultures it really is important to be aware of cultural context and keep this in the back of your mind during interactions. Doing some research into the countries you are working with is always helpful, as people will appreciate it if you have taken the time and effort to find out more about their culture. In fact, the report confirms that one in five of respondents believe exploring team dynamics and culture is a way to overcome the challenges of hybrid working.

For example in Australia, people tend to be more outwardly focused and will tell you what they’re feeling and/or thinking. I’ve seen that play out in performance reviews when managers are delegating, and when colleagues are interacting. But it can be quite different in India or Singapore, where it’s much more nuanced. That’s true in Japan also, where the culture of hierarchy and respect means an individual might be reluctant to tell you exactly what they’re feeling and/or thinking, so you may need to dig a little deeper.

It is not that Australian culture is more authentic and the Indian, Singaporean, and Japanese cultures less authentic – they are just different. So, it’s about developing cultural awareness and using that to successfully navigate interactions. 

  1. …however leave preconceptions at the door.

While cultural awareness is absolutely crucial, at the same time it is important not to stereotype or come to a meeting with preconceptions which negatively impact decision-making or outcomes.  Managers found in our report that establishing solid connections with all their team members is the second biggest challenge.

People can perceive particular cultures or groups to work in a particular way and that creates limiting beliefs. For example, you may go to a meeting with colleagues from Japan and Australia, expecting all Japanese colleagues to be quiet or Australians to be loud.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t outwardly focused and direct people working in Japanese teams, or people in Australia who might be reluctant to share information. Remember that every single person is a complex human with a range of different preferences - so tailor your communications to the person, rather than just the culture.

  1. Develop the common language of awareness

The Insights report suggests that there are no hard and fast rules around what will suit every team. Organisations should consider the behaviour and preferences of team members when deciding how best to support them.

One way to do this is to ensure everyone has a free way of communicating, which surpasses culture. For example at Insights our offerings are rooted in the belief that everyone is a unique blend of personality preferences, explained through an accessible language of colour.

Having a common language, such as colour, helps you move away from the culture and towards the preference. It’s something that can be understood by different cultures and can be used by remote, hybrid and office-based teams. We’ve seen a lot of success when teams come together to tackle a problem if they have a common language – it just makes things easier, more fluid and people can easily connect with it.

  1. Re-create the excitement of working in a team (wherever members are based)

A lack of social connection and casual conversation was identified as the biggest challenge of hybrid working within our research – 30% cited feeling disconnected from remote colleagues. Because of this, it is incumbent upon us to reprogram and relearn the way we bring teams together so that we don’t lose the human touch– regardless of working location and arrangement. To try to ignite that spark of excitement which comes from working in a team, even if you are physically thousands of miles away from one another.

I do personally believe that meeting in person is important where this is possible. For example, a few days ago Insights held its General Leadership Meeting (GLM) in Belfast, Ireland. It was incredible to see what can be achieved when leaders from all over the world come back together in person – there is just this huge renaissance of excitement.

Even if this is not possible, reinforcing a shared sense of purpose can certainly help to generate excitement and remind everyone – regardless of location – why they get out of bed in the morning. At Insights, our purpose is to ‘create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.’ Regardless of the fact that people live in constructs of their own culture, this purpose will always remain true and ignites everyone in our teams.

  1. Create psychological safety

At Insights, we hold a ‘check-in’ at the start of every meeting – whether it’s an in-person, virtual, or hybrid meeting. This creates a safe space for everyone to reconnect and share what’s on their mind – whether it’s challenges, opportunities, ideas or even distractions. In our report, over 30% of managers and 27% of employees said it’s difficult to establish collegial relationships, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to create team connections. It’s also how we nurture a culture of psychological safety, which is crucial in a multicultural context.

Psychological safety is the belief that you can share ideas, asks questions, disagree, raise concerns, and even make mistakes. It enables people to truly be themselves and share freely – and has the potential to unlock personal breakthroughs that can lead to business breakthroughs, increasing team unity and cohesion and driving productivity.

It’s always been a key ingredient in creating an inclusive and productive workplace culture – but in the new world of work, when dealing with teams based in many different countries, it is even more important.

As demonstrated by our new research, hybrid global working is here to stay – and while for most people, that’s a good thing, it doesn’t come without some challenges. However, people professionals have a real opportunity here to work with managers and develop bespoke approaches, with self-aware, culture-conscious teams that have the interpersonal skills needed to thrive and survive in the new world of work – enabled by new digital technologies.


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