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3 Simple Steps to Building a Culturally Competent Virtual Team


Working in global virtual teams can be tough.

It’s common for teams to face all sorts of challenges, whether different time zones or languages.

Whether it’s lack of engagement, poor leadership or just very different expectations around responsibility, there are several factors that can create a very challenging environment for a team.

However, this doesn’t mean teams can’t do anything about it.

So, here we’re going to give you a really simple 3-step process to help you overcome cultural differences and instead, build the cultural competence of the team.

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Wait, what’s ‘Cultural Competence’?

Good question. There is no strict definition; we define Cultural Competence as having the knowledge, experience and skills to work successfully with people from other cultures.

Here are 10 other definitions if you want to read more, but they all kind of say the same thing.

Essentially, being culturally competent means you can navigate differences like a pro!

Becoming competent however, is a bit of a journey and as a team, you’ll have to go back to the same starting point.

The following steps will give you a framework and process to go through with the aim of creating a collaborative team culture.

Step 1: Raise Awareness

If a team is going to get beyond its differences, it has to first be AWARE of them.

The team should be brought together in some way to raise awareness of the challenges people are facing and some of the potential reasons why.

Exposing examples of cultural (or even personal) differences and having the teamwork on finding solutions instantly begins to build bridges.

It’s essential team members understand the foundation to any future success lies in respecting one another's cultures.

Having the team run through some sort of SWOT analysis also helps members identify gaps that need plugging.

Colleagues on a zoom call

Virtual teams are challenging.

Discover 4 Cultural Reasons Why Global Virtual Teams Fail

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Step 2: Assign Clear Roles

Once the team is aware of differences then they should identify their STRENGTHS.

Which cultures or team members are best suited for what roles? Who has the best skill-set to complete different types of tasks? What sorts of projects do people like and dislike?

As a team, roles should be explicitly identified for everyone. Not only roles in terms of job titles and hierarchy, but roles on a cultural level. Who is the person with the energy to bring us together? Who is the detailed one in the team? Who can do the talking and who wants to be behind the scenes?

With clearer roles, lines of accountability and responsibility become easier to identify, helping the team reduce confusion and wasted time.

Confidence and Cultural Competence will grow in the team.

Step 3: Create a Third Culture

At this stage, it’s now time to come together and agree on some sort of TEAM CHARTER.

This should capture the main agreements from the team-building exercise and establish the way the team wants to do things, i.e. the team culture.

This can be referred to as a ‘Third Culture”, independent of everyone else’s.

Whether it’s how people speak to one another, expectations around email response times or developing channels of communication to encourage engagement, get the team coming up with something they can both easily stick to and something that will make a difference.

Keep it simple – a 50-point team charter is not going to help. It will hinder.

Over time you will see these shared expectations come to define the team’s culture, values, vision and goals.

Take an eLearning course on Cultural Competence

Online Cultural Competence CourseIf you want to learn more about cultural competence, then our eLearning course is a great place to start.

It takes you through an overview of cultural differences, before looking in detail at time, communication and teamwork.

Although it’s not specifically about virtual teams, it is still 100% relevant.


Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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