Software Outsourcing - Q&A on Cross-Cultural Communications

October 19, 2016

By Mike McAuliffe

When a company from one country chooses to outsource software development to a group of professionals in another country, there are bound to be a few subtle differences. Yet, like learning any new skill, becoming an effective cross-cultural communicator is worth the effort – and it will help improve the offshore or nearshore relationship.

Steve Mezak, founder and CEO of Accelerancewhich connects SMBs with the most qualified software development outsourcing firms on the planet – shares some of the differences U.S. companies might encounter when outsourcing to global partners. He also offers observations and tips on cross-cultural communications in successful software development outsourcing.

Question: When a company outsources its software development, are cultural differences something it might run into?

Answer: Yes, you will almost certainly encounter some cultural differences when working with a company abroad. But that’s not something to dread. Just be aware, adapt and accept, and it can be a very positive experience for everyone. Of course, one added advantage of global outsourcing is the opportunity to learn a little something about other cultures and interact with fresh viewpoints.

Question: What should we know about cross-cultural communication when it comes to working with offshore or nearshore outsourcing companies?

Answer: Cross-cultural communication involves some unique nuances, particularly with high- and low-context cultures. Low-context cultures are common in the Western hemisphere and reflect an individualistic mindset. Businesses base decisions on facts and contracts. Employees are typically awarded for individual, not team, accomplishments, too. High-context cultures, like those found in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, are the opposite. In these countries, relationships and trust – the context around the deal – take center stage. Businesses base decisions on the worker and their commitment to the company, rather than on contract details. They also tend to emphasize team success over individual achievement.

Western cultures and eastern cultures also have different nonverbal communication styles. In the United States, gestures and direct eye contact exude confidence, but use them overseas, and you’ll be seen as overbearing and rude. These kinds of cultural differences can be considerations for companies looking for a software development outsourcing company.

Conflict resolution, project and time management, and disclosure of company information vary across cultures, too. Recognizing these differences and nuances early in a software outsourcing partnership can have a dramatic impact on success. You’ll spend more time moving forward than trying to recover from a faux pas.

After finding your perfect engineering match in an outsourcing partner, place culture at the top of your wish list. Some organizations even look for a cultural fit before credentials and experience.

Question: Do you have any cross-cultural communication tips, for when a company is working with a software development provider from another country?

Answer: Sure. Use these four tips to improve your cross-cultural communication skills and build strong relationships with outsourcing partners. This will improve the chances that the final deliverables are exactly what you need, when you need them.

1.     Be Self-Aware – For businesses working with an outsourcing partner, the first step is both simple and challenging: self-awareness. Self-awareness might be the hardest part of becoming a cross-cultural communicator because it requires humility. Be open to the fact that your way of project management or other means of collaboration might not be the only way. Recognize that you have verbal and nonverbal quirks that impact how others work with you, particularly those from other cultures. Being a truly self-aware business partner means you view your outsourced partner’s interests as being of equal value to your own. That’s true humility – recognition that two parties have business objectives and perhaps the means to be mutually beneficial to one another.

2.     Get to Know the Outsourcing Partner’s Culture – Next, familiarize yourself with your partner’s culture. Read about current events. Learn about the nation’s politics, history and current socioeconomic climate. Think of the work as building a bridge. You’ll gain insights into why your partner thinks, feels and acts the way they do. Spend time creating a sound foundation. The stronger you make the bridge, and the stronger the relationship will be. You may even be able to use the partnership to network with other businesses in the country and expand your international presence.

3.     Actively Listen – Listening is a trait that comes in handy both professionally and personally. In even the most strained relationships, when a person feels heard, they feel validated. The same is true in software outsourcing relationships, and the key is active listening, which can hold the key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page, even those from different cultures and backgrounds. Active listening helps you focus on your partner’s preferences – and complaints – to ensure that you’re always simpatico. Active listening is a muscle that needs a little training to be exercised in cross-cultural environments.

4.     Allow Partners to Save Face – Put aside the cultural complexities of needing to be right all the time and abide by the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Avoid situations that might embarrass or humiliate anyone, but keep in mind that this might look different in China than in the United States. What doesn’t bother an American worker in the least could be insulting to someone from another culture. The secret to allowing partners to save face is simple: give them dignity and respect.

Question: Thanks for your time – any additional thoughts on cross-cultural communication and outsourcing software development?

Answer: Yes, Accelerance can help SMBs find a technical and cultural match for their software development engagement. Our experts – who have acquired years of cross-cultural experience from personally meeting and working with software development outsourcing companies – can help you find the best team to work from around the globe, and help you successfully navigate your outsourcing relationship.


Learn more about successful outsourcing and get the latest from Accelerance.