Management Across Borders

I spend a lot of time thinking about remote work and scaling teams. One of the biggest challenges I've found to date is accounting for cultural differences across an international workforce, especially when a company or team is in a formative stage of growth (startups, new teams within companies, organizations going through a change management process). 

This HBR article is golden. I've been in search of a framework or some shared vocabulary that can help a company or team establish some ground rules around decision-making as it relates to cultural preferences. I love the simplicity of this advice:

"Every global leader should know about two dimensions that vary from one culture to another: deference to authority and decision making style."

I remember when I first started working at Stack Overflow, half of our team was based in the London office. My first "culture shock" moment as a manager took place when we were discussing titles and the level of rigidity and discipline that my colleagues brought to the conversation. I've never been one to get hung up on titles because so many of my previous roles were the first of its kind (e.g. social media manager, community manager, etc.). I was also so used to seeing titles like "Digital Prophet" or "Chief Happiness Officer" that I simply assumed we could be fluid with how we disclosed ourselves publicly and do "what felt right to us". 

Did you know that there's no such thing as a Marketing Coordinator in the UK? The appropriate or corresponding title is Marketing Executive. What I initially deemed as superficial concerns were real workplace norms and values that I was directly challenging. It was insensitive of me as a manager to just assume my international colleagues would adopt my way of thinking. I can't even say it was an American way of thinking. It was more specific to my preferences around egalitarian or "flat" orgs and consensual or "bottom up" decision making. 

I'm so grateful that the team pushed me to understand their perspectives.  I can't say there weren't bumps along the way, but I do think we collectively evolved our way of thinking and did a lot of un-learning together as a group. I wish that I had this framework earlier on so that we could discuss and decide where we wanted to plot ourselves on the matrix. Having that operating agreement in place would have made our cultural differences so much easier to address. Instead of focusing on our differences, we could be much more intentional about designing a team culture together. 

I feel like I'm just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how to best manage across borders, but I couldn't be more eager to learn. I'm doing a lot of thinking around organizational design right now, team structure, and carving out a hiring plan for 2018.

Mapping out our leadership culture as a company and what our expectations are as a marketing team feels both timely and necessary. 

Special thanks to Angela, Brian, Chloe, Dom, Lorraine, Marion, Medi, Natalia, and Raquel for challenging my thinking over the years. I learned so much from you. 

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