Managers in charge of remote Latin American teams often report having difficulty getting their employees to meet deadlines, but this failure to complete projects on time may have little to do with the tired stereotype about Latinos always being late.
Here are some ways to find out – and understand – the factors that could be causing continual delays with remote multicultural teams.
Get to Know the Team-One Member at a Time
While this may sound daunting, especially if the team is large, Latin Americans (like U.S. Latinos) are relationship oriented. The time you spend building rapport with each individual will pay off in higher efficiency in the long run. These employees also expect their managers to take a personal interest in them, to care about them as individuals. The more you know what’s important to them and what motivates them, the more effective you can be as a manager.
- If the team is in one or two locations, make the case for visiting the site so you can meet and talk to each team member and find out what’s important to them. Usually, they will talk about their family and other aspects of their personal lives and will expect you to share something of yourself as well. During this conversation, learn what role each member plays on the team.
- Should a site visit be out of the question, make it a point to talk over the phone with each member at least once.
- Maintain the lines of communication flowing through emails, chats and any other way in which you can let them know that you are approachable.
- If the team is too large, or there is a language barrier, consider working with the team leader (or with a leadership subgroup) so you can learn more about each member. Use the knowledge you gain to show that you care. Your relationship with these leaders must be highly personalized as well.
Give Each Member a Stake in the Outcome
Latin Americans are collective in nature so they prefer to work in teams where all members depend on one another to reach a goal. Appeal to those collaborative tendencies by asking each member to figure out how s/he can contribute to the success of the group. Likewise, it is important to point out that failure to produce results makes the entire team look bad and ultimately hurts the company.
Use a Collaborative Approach to Goal-Setting
Because of their strong relationship orientation, Latin Americans are reluctant to say no. This means that they are highly unlikely to tell you that the deadline is unrealistic in the first place. Unless you probe to find out how the work will be accomplished, you may be disappointed time and again.
- Set goals together, making sure to seek input from the team members on how they propose to accomplish the work – and if the pace is acceptable.
- Ask team members to think about what obstacles may prevent them from meeting those goals on time – and to brainstorm ways in which those obstacles can be overcome.
- Develop project benchmarks so everyone can come together two or three times before the deadline to check on their collective progress toward reaching the goal – and to make any necessary adjustments.
Learn the Real Cause of the Problem
Because virtual or remote managers rarely have the opportunity to see the team at work, they may overlook some factors that contribute to delays. Make sure you get the answers and consider the solutions to these questions. But ask them with an open-ended approach (beginning with What, Where, How or When) to get beyond yes or no answers.
- What unresolved conflicts exist among team members? When conflict arises, members are likely to spend more time attempting to repair or protect relationships than completing the work. The quicker you get to the bottom of those conflicts, the more efficient the team will be.
- What lack of knowledge or experience is contributing to the lateness problem? Perhaps some team members could benefit from refresher courses. If that’s not an option, the make-up of the team should be reconsidered. Adding people with the necessary skills – or removing those who lack them – is likely to help.
- What resources does the team need? Latin Americans often are reluctant to ask for help so they might try to “do without” or use inadequate substitutes, thus delaying work completion. Make sure they have what they need to succeed, be it software, equipment or meeting space.