Industry Insights

How to Lead and Manage Diverse and International Teams

Posted by John Wills on Sep 28, 2023 9:35:52 AM

In today's global business landscape, adeptly managing a team that spans more than one country has become an indispensable skill for leaders of organizations aiming to thrive on the world stage. In this article we explore strategies for efficiently overseeing teams that operate remotely across diverse regions and time zones.

While it's widely acknowledged that diverse teams perform better, the reality is often more nuanced. Does this principle hold universally, irrespective of a company's context, specific situation, and the unique dynamics of each team?

Understanding the benefits and challenges of a diverse team

Joining a team of people from different geographical, demographic, professional or cultural backgrounds can greatly enrich your employees’ experience. Having a diverse team can:

  • Inspire creativity and drive innovation
  • Increase local market understanding
  • Foster cultural sensitivity
  • Unlock opportunities for personal and professional development

Nevertheless, there are some challenges that the organization and the team will need to overcome to achieve greater performance:

  • It can be hard to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to have their voice heard
  • Onboarding and integrating new members across multicultural teams may take more time and effort, especially when trying to avoid building stereotypes
  • Messages can be misinterpreted across languages and cultures

In addition to welcoming different cultures into the workplace, having an international team means employees could be spread across other countries, which in some cases can result in coworkers never having the chance to meet face to face. This could potentially raise significant challenges. However, with the right planning and strategies in place, this structure can also lend itself to be beneficial for organizations in many ways.

As a leader, understanding the challenges that managing diverse teams represents can help you identify policies for promoting an inclusive culture that get the maximum benefit out of diversity. As a member of a diverse team, being aware of these benefits and challenges will increase your willingness to collaborate and communicate more effectively.

“Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance (….) Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective (…) By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases.” Harvard Business Review.

From a diverse group of people to a high-performing team

Establishing a high-performing diverse workforce does not happen overnight. To develop a robust strategy, it’s important to consider different elements of the business in addition to employees. In our previous article 5-Step Plan to Improving Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace you will find our top recommendations to create a diverse and inclusive organization.

“It’s not just diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and cultural background. Studies show that employees from companies which are diverse in both inherent and acquired (traits you gain from life and work experiences) diversity are 45 percent more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70 percent more likely to report the firm captured a new market.” Andrea Hak, The Next Web.

The transformation from diversity to an inclusive environment that helps increase performance occurs when instead of hiding our differences, they are highlighted. It may be uncomfortable at the beginning, and it could generate conflict. Human beings prefer information that is familiar, and easy to process. Diversity will provoke additional and longer discussions, but this is how the team will come to more robust conclusions, considering different perspectives, experiences, and expertise.

“On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other, and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive. But in this case, their judgments were starkly wrong. Among groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better.” Harvard Business Review.

Getting ready to effectively lead and manage a diverse team

There are specific skills that leaders can cultivate to build a safe environment for culturally diverse teams to thrive.

Emotional intelligence and self-awareness

How well you know yourself will have a major impact on your personal development and growth, but it will also play a relevant role in the success of a diverse team. During our leadership development programs, we always emphasize the importance of leading yourself to then be able to lead the team. Being conscious of your identity, your style, your strengths, and areas of improvement will help you understand and accept those from your team members.

It’s natural to have biases. However, good leaders will exercise self-awareness to identify their prejudices and those from the team. The leader should listen, promote empathy, help to create bridges and communication channels to manage conflict and enable everyone to thrive and perform better.

Conflict management

Conflict mediation should be seen as a constructive exercise that enables the diversity of your team to be a catalyst for growth. Managing conflict is a development opportunity for leaders and will benefit the entire team as they will feel more comfortable voicing unconventional ideas, disagreement, and proposals for doing something disruptive but innovative. Frequently, conflicts occur because of miscommunication.


Any leader should have good communication skills. When leading a diverse team, creating the conditions that encourage open communication across the team demonstrates that diverse opinions are appreciated and respected. In addition to that constructive environment, you and your team might need to master communicating effectively across different cultures, languages, and generations.

How StratX ExL can help

There are specific skills that leaders can cultivate to build a safe environment for culturally diverse teams to thrive. One way to hone these skills is by leveraging experiential learning. Our programs offer immersive simulations and hands-on experience that can help leaders understand the dynamics of diverse teams, anticipate challenges, and develop strategies to foster inclusivity and drive high performance.

Discover our leadership development page for more information.

Mastering International Team Management: Overcoming Global Challenges

What about an international team that doesn’t operate from the same place… or even time zone? With the rise of remote working, this is an increasingly common situation, faced by ever more organizations. So, how is it best dealt with?

Regular Check-Ins: Meetings Tailored for All Time Zones

Seamless communication across borders and time zones is at the heart of efficient international team management. It entails a commitment to scheduling regular team meetings that thoughtfully consider the availability of members scattered across various regions. This practice goes beyond mere convenience; it is an inclusivity strategy that ensures every team member can actively participate and stay well-informed. Furthermore, these routine check-ins foster a sense of unity and cooperation among team members who might never physically meet.

Working Towards the Same Goal

A sense of purpose can serve as a potent motivator for international teams. Research indicates that professionals driven by a shared sense of purpose are more likely to find satisfaction in their roles. As a leader, it’s important to encourage your international team to rally around a common mission or purpose.

Navigating Cultural Barriers

As mentioned above, understanding cultural differences is a key component when nurturing a diverse team. One of the fascinating aspects of managing international teams is dealing with the vibrant mosaic of cultural diversity within your team. When cultural differences are not properly understood and respected, they can result in misunderstandings, communication breakdowns, and even conflicts.

To navigate this terrain effectively, it's essential to take a culturally sensitive approach. Encourage open discussions within your team about these cultural differences and offer resources and training to help team members get to know each other's cultures better. By fostering an atmosphere of cultural awareness and appreciation, you can bridge gaps, strengthen team bonds, and tap into the creative potential that comes with diverse perspectives.

Strengthening Your Organizational Pillars and Value

An organization’s culture and values are the building blocks that support all its teams, even those working across borders. It's really important that these basic principles stay the same throughout the whole organization, giving everyone a clear guide for how to make decisions and how to behave, no matter where they are. When your international team shares these common values, it brings people together and ensures everyone is working towards the same goal.

Standardized Communication Tools

Good communication is like the heartbeat of a team, especially when it's spread out across the world. Using the same communication and project management tools can really help make things run smoothly. Whether you go for Microsoft Teams, Slack, Asana, ClickUp, or any other tool, the important thing is to keep it consistent. When everyone’s on the same page with these tools, it makes work easier for everyone, no matter where they are or time zone they’re in. Plus, it makes sharing information and documents simpler, which leads to more transparency and accountability.

Adapting to Shifting Dynamics

Flexibility and adaptability are vital attributes for international team management. The global landscape is ever-evolving, and as a leader, you must be prepared to adapt your strategies and approaches as circumstances shift. Embrace change, stay open to new ideas, and encourage your team to embrace a culture of continuous improvement. In this dynamic environment, being agile and responsive can set your international team apart and position it for sustained success.

Incorporating these strategies into your leadership approach empowers you to manage international teams effectively, fostering collaboration, innovation, and high performance across geographical boundaries. It's not just about managing diverse teams; it's about cultivating an environment where diversity becomes a catalyst for growth and success on the global stage.

By adhering to these guidelines, you'll construct a systematic workflow that elevates productivity, fosters collaboration, and ensures your international team functions seamlessly and efficiently, irrespective of geographical dispersion.

Enhancing and reinforcing these foundational elements can be significantly bolstered through experiential learning. StratX ExL offers programs that immerse leaders in situations that challenge and strengthen their understanding of organizational pillars and values, ensuring that they resonate across diverse and international teams.

Further reading to inspire diverse and international teams

Harvard Business Review: Why diverse teams are smarter

The Next Web: Why diverse teams make better business decisions

Harvard Business Review: Diverse teams feel less comfortable — and that’s why they perform better

McKinsey: Diversity wins – how inclusion matters

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