The Power And Responsibility Of Managing A Multinational Team

Raghavkumar Parmar is a portfolio manager at MMA Pan Asia Fund Management.

Over the past decade, multinational teams have become increasingly common in every industry. Even before the pandemic, the digital revolution and the increased dependence on BPOs led to more global workforces. When COVID-19 hit, the reliance on workplace conferencing and collaboration platforms facilitated and accelerated the recruitment of multinational employees. With everyone working from home, it became more widely apparent that, as long as individuals were on the same team and focused on the same goals, it did not matter whether they were sitting across a desk or across an ocean. As long as the work was getting done, and fast, we could all be working from anywhere.

This is not to say that managing multinational teams is always a cakewalk. Whenever you have a multinational team, everything from work schedules to holiday schedules to office norms differ from one team member to another. Ultimately, the goal is to not only navigate these differences but leverage the human capital behind them to yield greater levels of innovation and productivity.

Differences In Cultural Norms

As managers, navigating cultural differences is our obligation—but it can also be a challenge. For instance, my company maintains teams in continental Europe and in southeast Asia. The perception of work-life balance can be different among employees from these regions, particularly when in many countries in Europe, there are simply more holidays built into the standard government calendar, as well as more rigid government stipulations about when a workday starts and ends. Their perceptions of what is a reasonable schedule are very much influenced by the social and governmental norms in their respective countries.

On the personal side, I’ve seen that many of our employees from southeast Asia shoulder more responsibility when it comes to caring for sick relatives than their average European counterparts do. I’ve found that they may not use their own sick days when they are ill, but rather, they save them in order to care for family members. This, too, speaks to cultural norms, and these employees need to be given the flexibility to simultaneously work and fulfill their familial responsibilities.

These are just some examples of cultural standards that managers of multinational teams must be aware of, and sensitive to, beyond mere differences in time zones and religious holidays. Being able to empathetically support and work with these employees’ priorities and sensibilities is crucial to good management.

Keeping Common Codes

A good manager for a multinational team isn’t only focused on employees’ respective cultures, however—this individual is also focused on the company culture. From the recruiting process, it’s important to assemble a team of individuals who understand the culture of the company itself and identify with it, whether they’re working out of New York or Taipei or Riga. You have to have a common code of understanding and clarity about the way the company operates. Defining this ahead of recruitment makes it easier for you, as a manager, to know you’re hiring the right people—and for candidates to understand what kind of company culture they’d be walking into.

It’s also important to have standard business protocols. In our world (we invest in publicly traded companies), if data is released when the markets are closed, then we need to work on that data and come up with updated models before the market opens. This remains a standard rule no matter which office you’re working from. As soon as previously unknown data is obtained, it needs to be analyzed before the market opens again. Having these kinds of standard protocols keeps everything fair across all offices.

Benefits Of A Multinational Team

In my view, the primary benefit of a multinational team is the range of unique and diverse perspectives on the challenges we face, and solutions for the problems we’re working on. Assembling multinational teams enables us to bring in talent from anywhere in the world, and often these individuals can be our eyes and ears on the ground in different markets, helping us understand the issues and concerns in a particular region. For instance, take a sales team: It is absolutely beneficial to have sales operatives in locations where your company is trying to expand its business so that they can understand the sentiments of local customers and, if necessary, devise different sales strategies than those that work in other markets. Having a far-flung talent pool expands your reach and understanding of the different regions you serve.

Local teams can also help with recruitment in that region. In one of our offices, for instance, we recruit math and science graduates directly out of the local university and offer them the chance to work for us, because we know that’s a fruitful talent pool. This is knowledge we would not have if our offices were only based in one location, or if we worked with a more homogeneous team.

Lastly, the impact of a multinational team on productivity simply cannot be ignored. When you have people working from all over the world, it is always daytime somewhere—and this lends a lot of efficiency to our operations. Someone is always awake to steer the ship and watch the horizon, ready to leap into action at the first sign of a storm. This allows us to offer truly global products and services, ready to meet the needs of a diverse and far-flung pool of customers with agility.

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