International teams: knowledge of English is not enough

This article is an excerpt from our colleague’s real-life experience, which we found very instructive and helped us draw some conclusions for our teams. Therefore, we decided to share it with you.

In the world of IT, international teams are not surprising anyone for a long time already. Companies from all over the world search for talented developers, and my previous company was no exception. Initially, I believed that the main difficulty would be related to the English language and pronunciation. But I was wrong: the main difficulties turned out to be cultural.

We have developed products for Eastern and Asian markets several times. And after one incident, we began to include a specialist who had lived in the desired region for at least 10 years in the team, and ideally, a local resident. The fact is that it is impossible to deeply study other people’s habits, rules and traditions in a short time. Some features of thinking and decision-making become obvious only after a long immersion in the culture.

So, in one of the projects we were developing an application for booking a taxi and did not take into account that in this region they still prefer to pay cash in order to keep the tax office away from their income. This was the main reason why local taxi drivers did not want to work via our application. We learned about this feature after the first releases, when a significant part of the budget was spent.

It is also important to consider production calendars when working with international teams. It is quite obvious that holidays and weekends are also different in different countries. Once we tried to combine all such days from four countries, and it turned out that working hours were reduced by almost a third. This would make the employees happy, but it would greatly delay the project deadlines. As a result, we agreed that each team member would indicate obligatory holidays for him, and included them in the team calendar. So, there are even more working days, on average 3-4 extra. We have also introduced three days of personal family holidays. Everyone could choose their own days, the main condition being that they must be family holidays (birthdays of children or spouses, wedding anniversaries, etc.). Almost 95% of the team wanted to spend their birthday with family.

Of course, these are not all the problems. There were other disagreements, including intracultural ones. Most often they concerned three topics: politics, religion and football. Therefore, we have decided to avoid such discussions whenever possible.

It seems that all these difficulties are quite simple and understandable. However, without being a part of a multicultural team, you do not even think about such nuances. The practical experience of our colleague provided a lot of useful information for our company, and we hope that this experience will be useful to you when working with international teams.

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