One of the most challenging aspects of management offshore development teams is dealing with a large host of cultural differences. Fighting or ignoring the differences is likely to cause serious issues.
Expecting an offshore team to change their culture to fit yours is naïve if not insane. The key to success is learning the culture of your offshore team, finding the ways to work around the differences and even embracing and capitalizing on them.
While differences between Ukrainian and American cultures are relatively subtle they are still sufficiently profound and are worth learning. The good news is that just a handful of techniques will get you going. Here are a few most important considerations:
- Ukrainians and Russians. Understand that ex-soviet Union is extremely ethnically and culturally diverse. While you might not be able to tell the difference between Ukrainians and Russians, the differences exist, and given recent political tensions you need to be very careful with generalizations, labels, and blanket statements.
- Team vs. Individual. I find Ukrainians to be less individualistic than Americans. When motivating your offshore team you need to pay equal attention to praising the team as well as the specific individuals. Do not put your top performers in too much of limelight though, as they are more humble than proverbial Americans and excessive “popularity” of an individual can trigger negative team dynamics.
- One-on-one connection. Your Ukrainian employees need to know that you are a real person and are truly interested in their individual progress. Regular one-on-one chats will motivate your team members and increase the overall efficiency of the team.
- Respect of authority. Ukrainians have more appreciation for organizational structure and higher respect for authority than people in the states. A clear line of authority must be present through out your offshore organization. Make sure to clearly specify reporting relationships and relative seniority. It is also very important to identify communication and escalation channels. At the same time feel free to drop the formalities in your day-to-day communications. Abiding by the rules and following formal protocols aren’t innate traits for Ukrainians.
- Friendship. Personal relationships and friendship are very important for Ukrainians, and have deeper meaning than for most Americans. Building relationships with your team members will pay huge dividends in productivity, retention and reliability of the team. Consider investing in team swaps and team bonding exercises, the longer and closer you work with your team, the tighter the bonds, the better the outcomes.
- Bad News Delivery. Do not expect bad news to reach you immediately. Your offshore team is likely to take matters in their own hands and try to resolve issues before they notify you. That is not typically related to confrontation avoidance or desire to please you as a customer. More often it’s a result of pride and “us vs. them” mentality.
- Language. Learning Ukrainian would be a great step towards building a great relationship with your team, but I would not necessarily recommended it, unless it’s your life mission the ROI is just not there. You may want to learn a few phrases; the goodwill return on this investment will be huge.
- English. The number of English speaking Ukrainians is growing at decent pace, yet their ability to practice spoken language is severely hindered. Communicate in writing.
- Conflicts. Ukrainians can be rather temperamental and outspoken. Don’t expect them to hold back and sugarcoat the issues. Most of the time you are better off letting the tempers cool off before you can dig in and expect to get a reasonable and logical response.
- Uncertainty. Ukrainians are less adapt to dealing with uncertainty than most Americans. Consider that in every aspect of your communication with the team and individuals. For example, career path, raises and promotions should be treated in a well-structured and predictable manner.
- Long term planning. Ukrainians are far more long term oriented than their American counterparts. That comes across loud in clear in their readiness to invest in education, career decisions, and employment preferences. I do have to admit that events of the last couple decades, overall uncertainty and instability put a huge dent into this cultural trait. Take-money-and-run and carpe diem attitudes are far more prevalent nowadays.
- Holiday. Ukrainians are a very festive nation, and their traditional celebrations are beautiful and definitely something you should witness for yourself. And Ukrainians take their holidays seriously, so you need to be aware of the national holiday calendar as work efficiency of your team will decrease dramatically during the times of celebrations, and often a couple days afterwards.
- Time off. 10 days of PTO on annual basis? You gotta be kidin’. Not even remotely close. Think 3 times as much and that doesn’t include sick days and holidays. So plan accordingly.
Well, that baker’s dozed does it. Not by any means the full list but a good 80/20 approach that should keep you going. Do you think that I am missing anything important? Disagree with my observations? Please do let me know, I love to know your thoughts and opinions and am happy to share them with the readers. Please comment or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.