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The Importance of Developing Cultural Awareness in a Global Company

As a global company with more than 41,150 employees across 35+ countries, EPAM believes in the power of hybrid teams to help our customers thrive in a market challenged by the pressures of digitization. Our global teams are proof that the best ideas come from a diverse and inclusive environment. 

With global teams that are fueled by different experiences and perspectives, EPAM recently held a panel for associates in North America to have a discussion that focused on best practices for interacting with people from different backgrounds and developing cultural awareness. Alexandre Pardo, Senior Software Engineer, moderated this event and spoke with Graciela Manzo, Service Delivery Manager, EPAM Mexico, and Broderick Jones, Managing Principal, Health & Life Sciences Practice, EPAM Continuum, who shared their experiences, tips and insights on leading global teams. 

First, here’s a little more about Graciela and Broderick and their backgrounds:

About Graciela

In her role as a Delivery Manager and Project Coordinator, Graciela leads a team in Mexico that works very closely with teams located in Belarus and India, as well as colleagues from Japan, the U.S. and Ukraine. She also acts as a resource coordinator for other managers within the team and is heavily involved in presale activities in Mexico. For Graciela, every day is about interacting colleagues from around the world with different backgrounds.

About Broderick

Broderick is focused on building EPAM Continuum’s Healthcare and Life Sciences practice. He’s involved in recruiting and hiring efforts, business development and executing client work on various projects. Throughout his career, he’s had the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of people at EPAM; not just from a cultural or geographic perspective, but EPAMers with different ways of thinking. He embraces the fact that engineers and consultants think differently, and when working together, they can innovate even more effectively. 

Here’s the panel conversation: 

What are your recommendations for accommodating time-zone differences in a global company? 

Graciela: I take advantage of the times of day I can communicate with other team members. I’m very conscious of the times during my day that work best to speak to colleagues in different locations. For example, I’ll prioritize the morning to speak with colleagues from Europe. If there’s something urgent that comes up, I’ll be sure to go out of my way to have a late call to make it work for whoever I’m working with. I want to be as understanding as possible: we’re all trying our best, located in different places and it can be difficult for some to work outside business hours. For the time zones that can be a little trickier to regularly connect with, I usually have a point of contact I work with. I find it’s easier to relay a message or get information from one person rather than a whole team.

Broderick: One of the things I'm conscious of is that if I have a team in two different locations, I’ll rotate scheduling meetings in different time zones: it shows appreciation and takes the burden off the global team. I also try to understand what some of my team’s personal routines are and be aware if something might impact their schedule. For example, if I know someone has children they need to care for, I’ll take that into account. There’s a cultural component but also a human component. I try to understand the individual needs of my team as best I can.

How do you best understand and align with our colleagues' cultural differences?

Broderick: I try to understand and get to know someone on a personal level. Understanding cultural differences means understanding generalities about a culture, but it's also important to get to know someone on an individual level. Some cultural nuances are perceived in different ways by different individuals. I also try to receive coaching as much as I can. For example, we wanted to have someone on our team from Belarus; we wanted to encourage and mentor him to accelerate in his career. I had a teammate of mine from Belarus advise me on how to approach the situation; he explained how my original approach might have been perceived to the mentee. When you’re working with new regions, it’s important for people to get coaching from those in that region or area.

Graciela: I agree with Broderick. I think it’s about being aware of challenges you could face before they happen. Understanding the nuances of different styles of communication and language is important when communicating with your team; sometimes, it takes re-evaluating your whole communication strategy. I also think it’s good to set ground rules about what optimal communications across teams will look like. My recommendation would be to set clear expectations and make your team aware that we’re bound to experience differences in the way we communicate.

What is the best thing about working with multicultural teams?

Graciela: There are so many great things, but something I want to highlight is the diversity in ideas, opinions and opportunities that can enrich your knowledge. Having different perspectives that are influenced by a cultural background is so valuable. In my personal experience when I’ve been stuck in a project, I ask for advice from colleagues from different cultures to help brainstorm a solution and we often come up with something I’d never have thought about on my own.  

Broderick: I agree with Grace completely. I will say that the overall performance of multi-cultural teams produces the best outcome, performance and results for our clients.