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How are you building trust across different cultures?

Fostering trust with global teams relies on a number of factors, including frequent communication and an understanding of the part different attitudes and cultures play.

Trust is not a given in the workplace and has to be buit
Trust is not a given in the workplace and has to be buit

Many managerial positions require frequent communication with employees from around the world but cultivating trust across cultures is one of the hardest success factors to achieve for a global team.

It is important to have the right mindset from the outset and that demands patience and understanding. Whether your employee comes from a high-trust culture, such as the US, or a lower one, such as Argentina or Brazil, is important. Those from the former working in the latter may become easily frustrated when they find that building trust with employees is harder than they expected.


For those who are naturally less trusting or who come from cultures that are more wary, their style of careful dealings with people will be familiar to colleagues who have backgrounds of similar levels of trust.


Investing time and effort

Learning about your colleagues’ background starts by spending enough time understanding your employees’ cultures: how trusting is their culture? How performance-oriented is it? How hierarchical is it? Importantly, how do people in their culture build trust between themselves. Have you ever asked these questions?


In hierarchical cultures, direct reports may feel uncomfortable opening up to their supervisor because they are used to mostly top-down communication. In other cultures, such conversations only take place in private and one-on-one. Knowing how and with whom to have conversations about trust is critical.

Finally, you need to understand the importance of results and character in building trust. For example, in the US, workplace trust is generally based on results. If you make a commitment to deliver something by a certain time, your American boss will expect you to follow through or, If not, needs to be given a clear explanation of why it didn’t happen. You may also have to show off your pedigree: where you went to school, what degree you earned, your title – anything that contributes to making you look important.


One building trust tip in the US is to be explicit and clear in your communication because American workplaces are uncomfortable with ambiguity.

In hierarchical cultures, direct reports may feel uncomfortable opening up to their supervisor because they are used to mostly top-down communication

From a French perspective, you want to make sure that you are giving your boss the big picture and spare him the details unless he is asking for them. You also need to be prepared for a vigorous debate and respect the chain of authority. When managing a French team, you may want to explain the logic behind your decisions before giving directives and to acknowledge the history, traditions and past accomplishments of your company.


In a German workplace, you should come to the table with details, evidence, facts and background to support your opinions and ideas. Running a meeting efficiently starts with sharing a clear agenda in advance and making sure that the meeting stays on track. Your boss needs time to formulate and articulate his thoughts, make sure you allow him enough time to speak and do not interrupt.


Importance of character


In other cultures, trust is built on character. For example, in the Middle East, having a family member or trusted person vouch for the integrity (regardless of expertise) of an individual goes a long way in building automatic trust. Most large firms in Arab and Asian countries are family-owned and tend to hire individuals who are known by family members.


These commitments vary culture by culture. To an American team, a committed leader provides resources, direction, and support to get the task done, but in many Asian and Latin American countries leaders may need to get to know, and show support for, employees’ family members.


Chinese employees for example, expect paternalistic leadership, while Brazilian employees expect their leaders to spend time with them socially and take an interest in their personal lives. Again, while to an American work group, credibility refers to what happens during work hours, to people in many other countries what happens outside of work hours is as, and sometimes more, important.

In culturally diverse remote teams, silence can be misinterpreted, languages are different, body language is not always visible or readable, attitudes to deadline and hierarchy vary. Putting in the effort, taking the time to know your employees and asking questions are a good way to start.


Nadia Chen is talent engagement director at Kurrant Talent


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