Expanding Your Business Globally? Here’s How to Prepare Your Team.

Our expert looks at three main ways to overcome communication barriers in cross-cultural business.

Written by Rick Hammell
Published on Nov. 01, 2023
Expanding Your Business Globally? Here’s How to Prepare Your Team.
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As a global human resources professional, venturing into worldwide business expansion is an exhilarating journey that promises numerous opportunities, such as gaining entry into new markets, tapping into diverse talent pools and unlocking substantial revenue potential. Ambitious expansion has its complexities, chief among them being cultural and linguistic barriers that can impede collaboration across borders.

Let’s delve deep into the importance of global hiring strategies and best practices for conquering the challenges inherent to global expansion. By doing so, your organization can pave the way for a triumphant international expansion that fosters diversity, inclusivity and prosperity.

3 tips for expanding your business globally

  1. Conduct cultural sensitivity trainings.
  2. Implement diverse hiring practices.
  3. Invest in employee language learning and translation and localization services.

Read more about global expansionHow to Navigate Global Expansion and Protect Your IP as a Young Startup


How to Conduct Cultural Sensitivity Trainings

Being cognizant of the nuances that distinguish different cultures is critical to an organization’s success in creating a workplace that celebrates diversity. Cultural sensitivity training should be at the heart of your global expansion strategy and should eventually become part of your permanent onboarding process.

Realistic, immersive workshops help illustrate cultural differences and potential challenges. Some scenarios could include negotiating with international clients, managing a culturally diverse team or resolving a misunderstanding caused by cultural differences. Such role-playing exercises give participants a safe environment to gain experience in handling cultural friction points. For these trainings, you should:


Use case studies

Design a training program that meets your requirements, and use examples to show real-world cultural misunderstandings in the workplace (e.g., an employee making insensitive remarks about a co-worker’s religious practices).


Select a trainer to support

Whether it is someone in-house or external, it is important to have trainers who are specialized in diversity and inclusion, not just general training skills. Consider hiring trainers from diverse backgrounds.


Collect employees’ opinions

Evaluate the success of the training by sharing an anonymous feedback form. Unlike other activities where you might measure skill acquisition, here it’s essential to gauge shifts in behavior and attitude.

Encourage participants to engage in constructive dialogues and brainstorm solutions, promoting empathy, problem-solving skills, active listening and strategies for adapting to different communication styles.

Also, be sure to tailor the trainings to the specific region or country you are entering to navigate the intricacies of each individual culture with respect. Each culture boasts unique values, norms and etiquette, necessitating an approach that eschews the one-size-fits-all mentality. These cultural norms and social dynamics are in a constant state of fluctuation, as well, so to ensure that your training remains relevant, administer regular updates to your workforce via email or a company portal.


How to Implement Diverse Hiring Practices

Establishing a diverse workforce gives you a competitive edge, boosting innovation and the bottom line for your organization. To achieve this, your company needs to review how its recruiting and hiring is done. Here are three steps HR leaders should follow when hiring for a diverse workforce.


Set up diverse interview panels

Involve employees from diverse cultural backgrounds in your interview process. Their unique perspectives can be instrumental in identifying candidates who possess the requisite qualifications and align culturally with your organization’s values and ethos.


Provide bias mitigation training

Consider a tech company that notices that, despite receiving applications from a diverse set of candidates, few women are making it to the final rounds of interviews for technical roles. To address this, the company conducts bias mitigation training, asking interviewers to evaluate resumes with gender-neutral names attached. Later, they reveal the gender associated with each resume, and the interviewers discuss any biases that influenced their decisions, ultimately helping the team become more aware of their blind spots.


Conduct structured interviews

Deploy structured interview formats with standardized questions and evaluation criteria. This structured approach mitigates potential bias and endorses equitable assessments across all candidates. For instance, imagine hiring for a project manager position. In a structured interview, the interviewer would ask every candidate: “Describe a time when you managed a project that faced significant challenges. How did you handle it?”

The responses would be evaluated on a scale of one to five based on predefined criteria such as problem-solving ability, leadership, communication skills and adaptability. Sticking to the same question and evaluation criteria ensures you are judging the candidates based on actual competencies and not on factors like their personal background and appearance.

Read more by this authorBeing Out in the Corporate World Is Scary. Here’s How to Help Employees Thrive.


How to Address Language Barriers 

To ensure seamless communication, establish clear language proficiency prerequisites for each role, contingent upon the role’s communication needs. Consider internal, external or multilingual communication requirements when setting these standards. Whenever possible, construct teams composed of members with proficiency in the same languages. This alignment facilitates smoother communication within teams and with external stakeholders.

Let’s say a global tech company that primarily communicates in English merges with a German tech company. Most meetings and official documents are in English, but there are significant interactions with German clients and stakeholders.

First, when creating project teams for German market products, the company ensures that at least half of the team members are proficient in German, making for smoother interactions with local stakeholders and understanding of market nuances. Meanwhile, they announce a raft of initiatives to:


Partner with language institutions

The company strikes a deal with a renowned language company to offer German and English classes to employees. The courses are available at various levels, from beginner to advanced. Additionally, it provides subscriptions to online platforms like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone for free.


Encourage conversational practice

Employees are paired with native speakers within the company for weekly language exchange sessions. For instance, an English-speaking employee aiming to learn German might be paired with a German colleague interested in improving their English.


Offer exchange programs

The company establishes an exchange program where employees can spend a few weeks or months at the German office (or vice versa). This immersion not only helps improve language skills but also provides firsthand experience of the local work culture.

Perpetually invest in professional translation and localization services for critical documents, customer-facing materials and your digital presence. Find reputable translation agencies that have a good reputation in your industry. Invest in software that saves translated phrases and sentences, such as SDL Trados Studio or memoQ. This will help your business save time and money by avoiding repeated translations of the same content. Localization, on the other hand, is about adapting your content so that it’s culturally relevant. This might involve considering local customs, values and even humor.

Some experts understand the local culture inside and out. They can guide your strategy and ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Reach out to organizations like the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) and the American Translators Association (ATA). Universities and academic institutions are another great resource.

By consciously integrating these best practices into your global HR approach, your organization is poised to triumph over the challenges of international expansion. This comprehensive strategy fortifies your company’s operational prowess and underscores your unwavering dedication to honoring and celebrating the rich diversity within your global workforce and customer base. International success awaits those who embrace diversity, bridge cultural divides and champion inclusivity.

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