In September, I took my second trip to our office in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). I was extremely impressed, as I was on my first visit back in May, with the intelligence, energy and commitment of the people in the office. It’s energizing for me to spend time with this team – to hear their ideas, to see the results of their work, and to get feedback on our future plans.
When I return home and tell colleagues and friends about my experience, they frequently seem surprised. “Really? Are they as good as employees here?” In many cases, the answer is Yes, they’re just as smart, just as enthusiastic, and just as creative.
Why are people surprised? Is it just “home town bias” – the idea that “others” aren’t quite as good as “our people” – or is there some other cause?
I think I found part of the answer – not surprisingly, provided by one of our managers in the Vietnam office. In my final meeting with him, on my last day, I asked for any final thoughts I should take away from my trip. He said that he hoped that people in Seattle (our main office) didn’t dismiss or discount the skills of people on his team, simply based on their English communication skills. There’s no question that some of the team members are better than others in verbal English (both speaking and listening). Communicating by phone (or Skype) amplifies the difference, making things worse.
Since I get the opportunity to spend time in the Vietnam office, I get to see people face-to-face, where communication is always easier. I can see their reactions and know if they understand what I’m saying. I can more easily understand them, with body language and facial expressions helping my comprehension. In the end, I can connect better and, as a result, appreciate the talent and intelligence that might have been masked by language and distance.
For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:
Communication barriers can block real teamwork. Remote teams with different native languages need to work to overcome biases that lead to misjudging others’ abilities.