by Angela Weinberger
Values are the Foundation
Values are the foundation of your global virtual team. Values are what clients feel instantly when they work with your team. Values are shown in actions and come from the heart.
If you are a leader of a global virtual team you have probably faced many intercultural challenges until your team was ready to perform. You might have underestimated the challenges of global communication under pressure or you might have taken promises at face value.
When you bring your team together for an offsite, you have probably already developed the team vision, mission and brand statement. But have you considered your values? I am not talking about the value statement you read in the corporate magazine. I am talking about the values you and your team members all share and the ones that your clients feel.
We recently found ten key values in an intercultural team intervention. In intercultural settings, values could be expected to go into various directions. But when you break them down you will see that there are similarities or universal values that we all share.
Research by Schwartz and Bilsky (1990) suggests that we have seven universal values, although their research was mainly conducted in Western cultures (and Hong Kong): achievement, enjoyment, maturity, prosocial, restrictive conformity, security and self-direction.
Derive Team Principles for your Global Team
From values you can derive team principles of communication and of working together. Then, in case of conflict, you will have principles to base your decisions on.
When working with my clients during 1:1 career or executive sessions, I always build in a session on values at work. From my experience, these are the seven most commonly cited values (this is anecdotal, not academic data):
Let’s assume that these seven values form the basis for excellence around the world.
If you are now thinking about working on this basis with your global virtual team I’d love this approach. You just have to remember that the meaning behind these words is culturally different, so in a team setting you should ask your team how they show these values at work.
Ask them for examples and stories. You might get different views on leadership and integrity, and having discussions or collecting stories will help the team see those differences.
Before you can formulate team principles, ensure that you are all on the same page. Suggest to each team member to contribute with their own wording. Even if it is messy. Create a team page or social media space where you can share your wording for values.
When you develop team principles it is important that you word them in the form of “We do…” (i.e., active and positive). For example, “We support each other to achieve excellent quality by giving honest feedback.”
Take photos, videos and allow images
Whenever you see the values at work, take photos and allow your team members to create videos or graphics. Put them on your coffee cups or shared file area. Be creative.
Aligning language of your global virtual team
When you start this exercise you might notice that the language of your team members is not always aligned. They might say similar things with different words. Aligning the language of your global virtual team means that you come up with definitions, quotes and images. I often hear people telling me that “they work hard.” I need to understand what that means in their context. In Switzerland, working hard means getting up at 5 AM, being in the office at 7 AM, and leaving the office at 5 PM to work in the community fire brigade or study in the evenings or raise four kids. In the US working hard might mean working 80 hours per week, no matter when. In India working hard might mean coming to the office even if you are unwell or even if your family needs you at home.
Drop the assumptions
The more I work with global virtual teams the more I would advise you to drop your assumptions, or at least to critically reflect on them. You might only have a glimpse of understanding of the values of your team members until you have a personal conversation at a business conference at 2 AM. Sharing values requires trust and trust is only built over time by people who show their values towards their colleagues constantly.
Schwartz, Shalom H.; Bilsky, Wolfgang (1990). Toward a theory of the universal content and structure of values: Extensions and cross-cultural replications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 58(5), May 1990, 878-891.