Software Outsourcing and Cross-Cultural Communications

July 15, 2020

By Rich Wanden

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. But, as with learning any new skill, becoming an effective cross-cultural communicator is worth the effort. Not only it will help improve the offshore or nearshore relationship, but it lays the foundation for a strong and successful partnership.

Andy Hilliard, CEO of Accelerance – which connects businesses with the most qualified software development outsourcing firms on the planet – shares some insights on getting the best out of cross-cultural communications with global partners. 

When a company outsources its software development, are cultural differences likely to be an issue?

Almost certainly, 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.

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

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 non-verbal communication styles. In the United States, gestures and direct eye contact exude confidence. But use them in some countries 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.

What other advice do you have for communicating effectively with a software development team in another country?

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.

  • 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 non-verbal 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 both parties have business objectives and perhaps the means to be mutually beneficial to one another.
  • Get to know the outsourcing partner’s culture. Familiarize yourself with the country culture. Read about current events. Learn about the nation’s politics, history and current socio-economic climate. Think of the work as building a bridge and creating a strong foundation. You’ll gain insights into why your partner thinks, feels and acts the way they do. The stronger you make the bridge, 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.
  • 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. The key is active listening, which helps ensure 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 – so you’re always simpatico. Active listening is a muscle that needs a little training to be exercised in cross-cultural environments.
  • 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 how such situations are perceived may be different in Asia 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.

Why would a company come to Accelerance for advice if they’re looking to outsource offshore?

Accelerance can help any business find a technical and cultural match for their software development engagement. Our experts have acquired years of cross-cultural experience from personally meeting and working with software development outsourcing companies around the globe. They’ll help you find the best team to partner with and navigate your outsourcing relationship.

 

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