An international workforce presents a potpourri of opportunities and challenges. Teams are global, often working remotely, and each company has a certain level of company-speak that all employees need to be familiar with. Maintaining clear lines of communication in these teams equates to incorporating the language required by the company into foreign language courses. This requires defining a common language for international teams as well as strategic planning and collaboration in the early stages of language course development. On the one hand this means upskilling team members who are communicating in their second or third language, but also reminding native speakers or fluent operators in the language to consider their co-workers in the context of their own communication. Adjusting language to ensure that all team members are operating on the same page is key.


According to the Harvard Business Review, good communication among co-workers drives effective knowledge sharing, decision making, coordination, and, ultimately, performance results. So, what does it take to equip employees with the right language and communication skills? Here are some ideas for you to improve communication and collaboration in your international organisation.

  1. Multicultural teams outperform monocultural teams

Did you know that multinational teams have the potential to outperform monocultural teams? In Nancy Adler’s book International Dimensions of Organizational Behaviour, she states that international teams can be more effective than domestic teams, but they take longer to get off the ground. The richness in diversity and their different values and communication styles create a level of productivity that is unbeatable. It is important to create a common language in these teams to ensure that it is easier for teams that are remote and co-located. But if training is offered from the start teams can build trust and create a team charter ensuring that all members are aware of each other’s working styles and information is communicated freely. This immediately transforms into more effectiveness and leverages team performance. The creativity that stems from diversity pays off in the long run. Lack of cohesion can have a negative impact on the benefits but by agreeing on common norms and strategies, an international team can work more effectively and reap the benefits from the added value that diversity serves.

  1. Many mother tongues

International teams are often a mixture of native speakers and non-native speakers. The language used in business is mainly English and there is a variation in the English we speak, depending on where we come from. There is a difference between British and American English, Australian and Canadian English as well as Global English that is spoken by 1.35 billion people worldwide. By keeping it plain, we are being inclusive. This means that native speakers need to align their language of communication with their fellow team members. This may mean providing more visuals before, during and after meetings as well as learning to communicate more clearly, employing plain English. The common language of international teams should be International English; if working in another language, native speakers should also be aware of regional dialects and accents so that team members who have learned a schoolbook version of a language are given a fair chance to speak up and are not led to believe they lack language proficiency.

  1. Team culture and language

 Language training is not just about grammar and vocabulary. Guiding the language learning process supports employees working in English, which is effectively a free Business English course. Turning working in English into a positive learning experience – this is half of learning a language. Language training that brings employees’ language into their language classes, and this is a win-win. Helping language learners to focus on one key message in a contribution (could be a point in a meeting or a slide in a presentation) as well as incorporating corporate language and company business jargon into the learning process kills two birds with one stone. Business jargon is often frowned upon, but it is fun and an excellent means to polish language skills. Internally, “company-speak”—the internal corporate language of an organisation—can act as a bridge and this needs to be blended into any language course. Including explanations of corporate acronyms to new team members until they are familiar with them. Language training is essential for empowering non-native speakers to feel confident contributing to meetings, ensuring that they feel more listened to in an international environment and should be a strategic priority.

  1. Create a team communication charter

Finding a common language to communicate in in an international team saves time and helps avoid miscommunication in the long run. Assigning someone in the team to monitor communication and checking comprehension levels can really help. In essence, it’s about creating an inclusive environment, building trust, and allowing team members to feel they can raise their hands and speak up if they don’t understand. Deciding what polite communication looks like is a great team builder as high and low context communication (indirect – direct) can often be the cause of miscommunication across cultures. Determining whether communication should take place synchronously (urgent business) or asynchronously (non-urgent business) varies culturally and establishing rules can help team communication enormously. When a new team is formed, assign a buddy to non-native speakers so they can discuss any details they may have missed out. It’s good for new international teams to establish a common team language and terminology as English is spoken differently around the world. This helps to avoid misunderstandings.  All these points can be integrated into a team charter that clarifies team direction while establishing trust and communication boundaries.


Creating an environment in which ALL your employees feel empowered to contribute to discussions can go a long way to improving team communication and coordination.

There will always be misunderstandings when working across cultures, but by slowing down and agreeing on company speak and language, communication will improve. By following up meetings with written communication is a big help. Establish these parameters from the onset! Not when things go wrong. And every now and then stop and make sure everyone is on the same page. You will find that communication will improve no end and your international teams will thank you for it. This helps maintain an organisation’s competitive edge in a global working environment and should be part of every company’s sustainability strategy.


Have you tried aligning communication in your international team with a common language? Let us know below!