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How to Increase Cultural Competence in a Remote Setting with Theresa Sigillito Hollema

Theresa Sigillito Hollema is a cultural consultant, an expert at team development and virtual teams, and the author of the book Virtual Teams Across Cultures: Create Successful Teams Around the World. She focuses on leadership and organizational capacity in three areas: Building cultural competence, developing high-performance teams, and leading virtually across time and space.

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Theresa Hollema

Luis Magalhaes:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob podcast. I am your host, Luis, in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. With me today is Theresa Sigillito Hollema. Theresa is a cultural consultant, expert at team development and virtual teams, and the author of the book Virtual Teams Across Cultures: Create Successful Teams Around the World. She focuses on leadership and organizational capacity in three areas: building cultural competence, developing high-performance teams, and leading virtually across time and space. Theresa, welcome to the podcast.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Luis, very nice to be here. Thank you.

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s an absolute pleasure. I have to say that we were supposed to start recording almost 30 minutes ago and we were just having such a good time with the conversation that I couldn’t stop. So hopefully this will be even better now that we recorded it and that we’ve practiced.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I think so, too. I’m looking forward to it.

Luis Magalhaes:

So, I introduced you, but tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and what you do.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Great. Well, so American. Almost a little more than 20 years ago, I left the US and came over to Europe on a three-month project, and I ended up marrying our consultant. So good for me. Good for the project. And he’s a Dutch man, which is why I’m now living in the Netherlands. And I love living in Europe. Sorry.

Luis Magalhaes:

Hopefully good for him as well.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yeah. I have to check regularly, but so far so good. And so I have a real business background, MBA type thing. But for me, what was always really interesting when I was working in Europe and leading teams and doing acquisition work was the cultural aspect. Why does it sometimes work on a team and why is it sometimes a source of pain and frustration and this type of stuff?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So about 15 years ago, I became a cultural consultant. And then I realized you can only go so deep when you’re working with teams. So then I studied to become a team coach as well. And then about seven years ago, my clients were saying, “Okay. We’re working across cultures, we’re working in teams, but we’re also working virtually. Can you help us understand that?” And so these are the three topics that I focus on, really how to work globally across cultures, with each other, collaboration. This is my sweet spot.

Luis Magalhaes:

Okay. So this is very topical, of course, because most of the world was forced last year to go virtual, right? In fact, as of the time of the recording, a new wave of COVID, the post holiday wave of COVID is hitting Portugal. And remote work is once again, mandated, starting today, actually. So anyone who can do their work from home is obliged to do so.

Luis Magalhaes:

And I have to wonder, 2020, what the year. Wow. During 2020, as someone who works in this area, just as I do, what assumptions were broken? What were some things that you believed about remote work and about more people adopting remote work that weren’t true? And what things you didn’t expect happened?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

That’s a really nice question. So remember, I’ve been thinking about remote work and virtual teams before COVID. So for almost seven years. And what I think we all knew, who are in this remote field, is that you can be productive at home and you can trust people. And trust means something different. I was working with people who were moving from in office to now remote.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And I remember one vice-president said it really nicely. He said, “Before, we used to talk about trust. And now we have to trust our people. And we’re doing it.” And that for me is really profound. What I noticed is leaders are recognizing that they just need to lead differently and they’re walking into that space and many of them are open for it, although some are struggling.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

But I see opportunities. Let’s face it. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So I will never say this is a good thing. But regarding remote development and assumptions that went away, I agree with you. A lot of them were broken, especially in the multinationals that were always requiring their people to come to work.

Luis Magalhaes:

There’s always this tension when I interview someone that has a book out. I always want the listeners to know that this conversation does not, in fact, in any way exhaust the subject of the book. If they’re interested in what my guests talk about, they should go out and buy their books because the podcast will never be a replacement or even a cliff notes for the book. That’s not the point.

Luis Magalhaes:

The point is not to spend 30 minutes or 45 minutes here so you can tell me what’s good about the book and what I will learn in the book so that I don’t have to buy it. That’s not the point. But since you talk about trust, it immediately struck me about something that you make a very big part of the book, which is trust psychological safety and having a shared team identity.

Luis Magalhaes:

Those are what you call the soft topics of a team. And it’s crucial for many things, but particularly for innovation, as you describe it. So I wanted you to talk to me a bit about, these companies, how can stop talking about trust and actually trusting? Because the assumption there is when they say that, that they used to talk about trust, there was really no need for trust, only for the perception of trust. And now they find themselves having to trust. What companies are successful at that? And the ones that aren’t so successful, what are the processes that you find they need to put in place in order to be?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So I think it’s a nice question of, why did they talk about trust and not trust before? Trusting somebody is tough, because you have to then be vulnerable in that trust. You’re relying on them to do whatever they commit to. And so when you’re in the office, many leaders and managers rely on some sort of control, let’s say. So I can see them working. I can walk down the hall and tell them what to do.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I can make sure that they come to work on time, so that gives a signal to me that they are doing their work. The in-office manager can rely on other things besides trust in order to make sure that things are going in the right direction. And of course he or she attended a leadership training, which said, hey, try trust. You might get more out of your people. All right. Sure, I’ll do that. I’ll do that. But when they went back to the office, they did not.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

What’s interesting is that when you’re in the remote space, micromanagement just doesn’t work. You cannot walk down the hall. So the leader feels out of control. He or she doesn’t see the people. And so what does he or she do? Send a bunch of emails, trying to get the response and saying, what’s going on? And burning everybody out.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So what the astute leader realizes is that they have to rely on something else and they start to try and trust, and it starts to work. And the productivity stays the same or maybe even improves. And the people are still committed and engaged. So it was really interesting to just watch these organizations that I was working with during the during the pandemic start to say, “Our old techniques just were not working.”

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And so we start to go into these softer, what you call the softer, and I call them attitudes in my book. But I start to rely on the strength of the team instead of my own presence to lead. And I think that’s really powerful just for leadership in general.

Luis Magalhaes:

Trust is a really fragile thing, right? Here in my country we have a metaphor that it’s like porcelain. Once the dish falls to the floor, you can glue it back together, but you’ll always see the scene. So I’m suspecting that, at least in my experience, in most cases of companies that find themselves going remote, they find that they can trust their employees more than they used to, more than they thought they could.

Luis Magalhaes:

By and large, most people want to do a good job and feel motivated about doing a good job. Some people even want to impress. Now that they’re working from home, they’re extra motivated to impress because they really like the setup. But every now and then trust is broken. Every now and then you find that that person who was doing so well in the office, they actually were mostly pretending to do work, or at least a decent chunk of the time they were pretending to do work.

Luis Magalhaes:

So once trust is broken like this, and assuming you want to rehabilitate the person and not just get rid of them, what do you think are some good things to do first to set the new expectations, to set the actual expectations, and then to trust again, to rebuild that trust?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So not all employees, let’s say, can make that transition from office to at home seamlessly. Some people really thrive much better in an office when they have contact with the leader, let’s say. So now they’re at home working and they’re lonely and they’re struggling and their productivity goes down. So you can call that a trust issue, but let’s call it something else. Let’s call it they’re struggling.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And so therefore the leader needs to recognize that and to have those conversations that say, what does this take here? What are you missing? How can I support you? But the alternative is that that leader says, “I’m going to start monitoring you more.” And that’s going to be really challenging from a remote way.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

The alternative is then to try to go into these conversations to say, how can I support you and how can we look at these assumptions on what we’re expecting of your productivity? What do you need? Who do we need you to work with? Whatever that may be. So I think the trust can still be there, it’s just the conversation will be different.

Luis Magalhaes:

Well, there’s also another aspect of this that I’d like to talk about with you. One of your chapters in the book, I believe it’s a chapter, or maybe it’s a section, deals with the case of, well, diversity as well, but mostly inclusion. I believe you have a chapter about inclusion. Am I wrong?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yes, I do have one.

Luis Magalhaes:

I find that my experience is that when you go remote, it’s kind of inclusive by default because the voices in Slack tend to be more equalized. You don’t have people talking louder. You don’t necessarily see people’s physical presence so much. And then when you go to Zoom, a person can be more or less imposing in Zoom, but not so much as they would live and in real life.

Luis Magalhaes:

And then in addition to this, you start actually measuring the work output instead of just seeing who looks busy and who does a lot of calls, et cetera. And you actually tend to go more by deliverables when you go remote. So all this combines into a bit of equalization that brings about inclusiveness. And the thing that I notice is that sometimes you notice that the people that you thought performed the best in the office aren’t necessarily the ones that actually performed the best.

Luis Magalhaes:

And I don’t think this is just because of them struggling. I think that this is really because of a perception issue. What do you think? Have you noticed this in any of the teams that you’ve worked with? That once they go remotely, actually the top performance shift around.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Not that I can say per se. I don’t have an example of that off the top of my head. So sure, everyone’s shifting regarding performance and contribution. I mean, people also have other things happening at home as well. So there’s caring for what’s happening. But regarding a leader coming over to me and saying, “Yeah, I’m really struggling with this one person because of other reasons besides what we’ve already talked about.” And it’s really well…

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And some people perhaps are also rethinking their values and their purpose and perhaps just starting to check out from the company saying, “I’m ready for the change.” So you see that happening as well. I want to take a step back to this topic of inclusion, because I think you’re right. There is research that shows if you use asynchronic communication, for instance, Slack, as you mentioned, that you can have diversity, at least people can be included.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So you can have a more diverse workforce. The negatives of an unconscious bias and things like that aren’t as prevalent when you’re using asynchronic. But let’s face it, most of us are using a variety of tools, also synchronic tools. So this idea of what happens when we’re working with people who are far away and from a different culture or some other sort of diversity, and we can see them and we can hear them and we see their names, that’s something we still need to think about, because that is the reality of what people are when we’re working in multinationals. So that’s important to me.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I noticed that’s something that you also point out, too, in the book, is that going remote tends to erase a bit the cultural differences, at least in a first instance, right? You tend to refer to people as this person is from America, or this person is from Ukraine, et cetera. But once everything gets meshed down, let’s say, in an internet space like Slack or Basecamp or stuff like that, and we start treating people as service providers by default, then the cultural weave actually starts to get meshed together into something blend.

Luis Magalhaes:

And one of the arguments that I liked the most in your book is that, no, you should actually try to get more into the culture of the people that you work with and figure out how that makes a more vibrant team. So I’d love to hear you talk a bit more about that and explain a bit more about that for the listeners, because I think it’s a really powerful concept. That it’s one thing to say diversity, that I find out that diversity is good, but I found out that the way you describe it is a really compelling.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Thanks. And the way I describe it is based… So just for a quick background for the listeners, my book is based on lots of academic research. So I read many papers to see what the research is on this topic. Also my experience and then interviews with leaders and teams. And so it’s not just me that’s having this compelling argument, it’s research and academia that’s having this compelling argument.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So it’s interesting to say that, yes, we are all coming together and we can be inclusive and we can maybe dampen down diversity, but if you want to innovate, then that’s not the best thing to do. What we want is what we call teams that are… Let me say it differently. There is research that shows diversity can lead to innovation. So if you are a team leader, diversity can lead to innovation and psychological safety plays a big role in that, especially on a virtual team.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So if you are a leader and you want to be able to innovate, take your products, take your ideas to the next level. There are some sort of actions to be inclusive and to hear all voices and even to encourage all voices in that team. And that takes some time. So for instance, one of the things that I really liked was this concept of perspective taking. Because often we think perspective taking is just standing in the other person’s shoes.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Actually, most people are pretty wrong when they try to stand in somebody else’s shoes. But when you are listening and trying to really deeply understand the other person and their ideas come into your head and crash with your ideas, then innovation comes. And that takes time. That takes a deliberate intention, that takes deep listening.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So just putting everybody on an email and having a lot of different countries represented is step one, but really tapping into it and being able to hear the different ideas, bringing those together so that people collaborate and can create something new is an effort. And one more thing I just want to say is it depends a lot on the leader.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

The leader does a couple of things. One is she role models. The listening and curiosity and openness to other ideas. She allows the team to have the time to do it. And she puts processes in place where people are encouraged to hear each other’s point of view. For instance, one idea that I have in the book is taking the notes during the meeting and having to explain other people’s point of view, or during a meeting where we’re sharing ideas, having to share somebody else’s idea. So they really deeply understand it and not just espouse your own idea.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. That’s actually a really good tip. I would like you to expand, if you would, a bit more on the topic of psychological safety and how leaders can can help generate it a bit more and also how they can identify it. Because as you know, again, we’re talking about the clashes of cultures and different cultures have their different leadership biases and even their own sensibility biases.

Luis Magalhaes:

As you point out many times on the book, people from some cultures tend to be very to the point, something that people from other cultures can perceive as coldness or rudeness even. So I noticed that this tends to be amplified on leadership, where when it’s a person in a position of leadership, going straight to the point. And even saying something as, “I don’t want this to happen again.” That can make someone feel that they’re really in trouble, right?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yes.

Luis Magalhaes:

But again, in the leader’s point of view, they might not be feeling threatening at all. Their intention was never to track the person. It’s just to say, “Hey, this can’t happen again.”

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So this is why we need culturally competent leaders. Okay. I’ll ring the bell for that, because they need to understand impact of their communication on other people from other cultures. And it’s not easy. I understand that. But it is critical that… And you know. We all see in our organizations, those people who are smooth regarding being able to communicate in a way that the others can understand, and that’s not using always your own method of communication.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

It’s being able to adapt to the situation. And we need leaders that understand that. Because what do we start with? We always start with thinking that everybody else communicates the same way we do. And that’s where that story then would come in, where you just explained. But going back to psychological safety for a second, this is the concept from… A concept I can’t remember from who.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

But Amy Edmondson has written quite a few books on it and quite a bit of research on it. It’s this idea that people will feel comfortable to speak and say their opinions in a meeting, even if it’s against everybody else’s opinion. That’s pretty powerful. If everyone’s going in one direction and I’m ready to say, wait a minute, I have a different point of view. That I feel comfortable to voice that. It takes some sort of trust, it takes some sort of atmosphere in the group that says that’s okay and is welcomed. And that’s what we’re striving for when we’re in virtual teams if you want to create.

Luis Magalhaes:

Let’s talk a bit in deep about that. How should a leader manage tensions that can come up from people in the team feeling free to express their opinions? Because in some cultures, as you know, that can even be perceived as disrespectful. Let’s say that someone in my team is giving an opinion that goes against a more senior team member in a culture where seniority is of high importance. I have seen people, I have talked to people and I have tried to moderate because some people are actually offended by that.

Luis Magalhaes:

They say, “You know, that person, I know that they mean well, but due to the thing they are telling me how to do my job.” Obviously not so aggressively, but this is the underlying reality. Some cultures perceive other people giving their opinion about something that they hold dearly as a sign of disrespect even.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I find it interesting that as we start to think about developing cultural competence, that we only think one or two or three people on the team need it. And I would suggest everybody on the team needs to understand the concept of culture and how they have their own culture that they’ve been developed through their childhood, through whatever experiences in their life, so that they have a certain way of let’s say communicating.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So, for instance, that leader that you just mentioned, that person had a reaction to a colleague that was saying something to them, but that other colleague had no intention to make them feel uncomfortable or to challenge their authority or anything like that. But the leader was assuming. So this first step is to be honest becoming mindful. I know that’s a word that’s quite common now, but in this context, it is. Becoming mindful of their reaction.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And then trying to understand the other point of view. Where’s that coming from? Certainly not in the way that I’m interpreting it. And then perhaps even having a conversation. So I think the whole team needs to understand the different cultures, the different way of communicating, and practice and experiment with each other and be open to figuring this out together.

Luis Magalhaes:

Let’s say that the leader is onboard. Let’s even assume that the leader has worked hard to have above average cultural competency, let’s say. How can the leader help the rest of the team, the people working under him or under her, to develop their cultural competency as well?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Great. So first they think it’s important. That’s fantastic already. It is a challenge because we’re asking people now to develop cultural competence while we’re sitting at home. It used to be that we would travel and we would learn, but now we’re having to sit at home. So the first thing is for the leader to put it as a priority for the team, meaning that there’s courses they could all take together or whatever their companies offer regarding that type of support.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

But then once a month, they could have a part of one of their meetings is that somebody else talks about their country, a different person every month, or they have some sort of activities that start to bring culture to the fore so that everybody is learning this along the journey. Just making it a priority, using the resources that the company offers, and for the leader to set the role and be the example as well.

Luis Magalhaes:

So let’s shift a bit toward my area, which is recruiting, recruiting remotely. This is a question that I often ask my guests because I find that it’s always very helpful to get perspective on what makes a good remote team and what makes a good remote employee. But in this case, because you talk so much about cultural competence and how it influences, when you’re interviewing someone to join a virtual team, what are some of the telltale signs that they either have or will be able to develop cultural competence to the degree that it will enable them to perform well in the team?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Good. Well, this is a nice question because I haven’t hired anybody in a long time, I’m going to say. But that’s okay. But I do remember when I was in a position of hiring, I had exactly this question. I was hiring for a team and I was hiring somebody in Kiev. So I needed to hire a person positioned in Kiev. I was sitting in the Netherlands at the time.

Luis Magalhaes:

What position, if you don’t mind saying?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Finance manager. So I interviewed maybe four or five people. I asked about their qualities regarding background on academics and their experience and things like that. And then I just started asking questions about, well, what do you think about working with people sitting in Germany? What would you do if you had a phone call with somebody from Italy? And just started listening to their responses to see what they think about this stuff.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And I was surprised how many people, and it’s not just the people that I was interviewing, it’s many people that say, “Yeah, I would speak to them like I normally do,” or, “They’re there and I’m here and that’s okay.” And I did come across one gentleman who said, “Yeah, I would learn what it’s like to work in Italy. I’m curious and I’ve studied cultures,” this type of stuff. And that’s the person I hired and he fit perfectly. These are questions to ask and you can pull out what people think and if they’re interested and if they’re curious about other people.

Luis Magalhaes:

So off the top of my head, I do have to wonder if it makes sense for people to start including their travels in their CV. Because it definitely seems to me that a well-traveled person that has spent some time immersed in other cultures would have the edge here.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Interesting point, but not necessarily. And this is a little bit what we need to think about now, isn’t it? That we’re all remote. And especially now that we’re all remote, it’s not just corona, of course, but it’s the last eight years, people are just working more remotely across cultures, staying in their own location. So I think that I’m more interested in people that are open and curious than I am than well-traveled.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yes, well-traveled, at least you can immerse yourself. You feel it, you eat it, you hear it. But you can still sit in your own country and be curious about a culture and learn and discuss it with your colleagues. And I think I’m more interested in that person than the one who has been well-traveled.

Luis Magalhaes:

Interesting. I assumed perhaps wrongly that that curiosity is the impetus for the travel in the first place. Many years ago I lived in Sweden for about a month and even though many years have passed, I still go back to that experience and contrast to my experience leaving mostly in Portugal these days. And that gives me insights that I feel I would never have if I hadn’t gone there because it’s a pretty different culture. So that was the basis.

Luis Magalhaes:

But to your point, it does seem that curiosity without travel makes sense. Because obviously you won’t be able to travel everywhere. So it’s not within reach of most people to… Right now I have a global team with people from India to Eastern Europe, to Latin America, to North America.

Luis Magalhaes:

And it’s like, I could visit all of these places and spend a month or two living in all of these places, but not right now. So yeah, your point is well made. Any other characteristics that you think that make people remarkably good or especially good, especially adaptable maybe it’s the best way to say, at working virtually?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Self-aware. So self-aware of their own reactions. So quite mindful. Willing to look at their own culture and how they have been influenced. So these types of things. I think starting with self is a really good place to begin.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m a fan of mindfulness. I’d say that that is a great answer most of the times for much more problems than people actually give it credit. I was also impressed reading your book, perhaps you did just as a funny aside, that often you give examples of when I married my husband, who was Dutch, when I married my boyfriend… You say in the book, “When I married my boyfriend, who was Dutch, I learned this, this and that.” And I’ve recently married my fiance and she is Brazilian.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Congratulations. Wow.

Luis Magalhaes:

Thank you. And in the middle of a pandemic, no less.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yeah. Wow.

Luis Magalhaes:

As it so happens. Even though we are much closer, Portuguese and Brazilian culture are much closer than US and the Netherlands, I really saw myself reflected in some of the stories.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Well, my first question is, how did you meet?

Luis Magalhaes:

How does anyone meet these days? Over the internet. And then I visited Brazil and she visited Portugal and we were dating by plane, which let me tell you, it’s not the best for your wallet. Let’s say that. But it’s lovely.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Are you still distant relationship or has she relocated to Portugal?

Luis Magalhaes:

She relocated to Portugal and that was quite the saga. All right. Because we had everything planned to start living together this year. So there were complications. This year, I mean, 2020. We are currently in 2021, though for some reason I find a specter of 2020 is still hanging above us. So yeah, that was challenging. But I’ve always been involved in a lot of online communities.

Luis Magalhaes:

I joke that I started working as a voice in the remote world five years ago, but I’ve been working remotely actually for 18 years because I’ve always been very strongly involved in online communities and on online projects. So I worked with and made friends all around the world and that’s how I met.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Well, I think it’s lovely. And I must say you’re… So, in addition to the challenges of corona and all the things that you had planned to do, and then you had this pandemic, let’s put that aside for a second. I can imagine that your Beyonce at the time, or now your wife, when she moved to Brazil, started off by saying, “Wow, this is fabulous.” Some certain sort of honeymoon period, we call it. But then the culture shock. The deep darkness of, what am I doing here? What decision have I made? I want to go home. And then coming out of that…

Luis Magalhaes:

So she moved from Brazil to Portugal and it wasn’t so much a culture shock as a temperature shock. Because she was supposed to arrive in the summer and we actually managed to make it happen in the winter.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Okay. Yeah. That’s also part of the journey of learning a country. Congratulations. Exciting for you.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I brought this up because it’s impressive, we tend to be our business and to talk about the teams and hiring and this, but actually it’s a human thing to connect between cultures. And the challenges that can surface in the team are not so different from the challenges that can surface in a relationship of two people from two different cultures. And that’s where in your book we got to the part about humanity, which I want you to tell us a bit about what you mean by bringing in the humanity. Because of all the books about remote work that I read, that was the chapter that felt more different to me.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Oh, that’s really interesting. I’m curious about that. That’s nice. Thank you. So just for a background for the listener, I have a model and I have some ways that culture impacts virtual teams. But then after I’m looking at this, there comes a point to say for the poor leader, “Hey, what do I do?” And so from that, I have what we call four leadership levers.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

And the first one just quickly is eliminating uncertainty, so the unknown knowns. Create the team, bring in the humanity, and complete the work. And so Luis is pointing out number three there, bring in the humanity.Because we’re in a very technological relationship or environment, based environment, where we have to use technology to communicate with each other, it can become very task oriented and very start the meeting, end the meeting agendas and things like that.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

But in the research that I was doing and in the conversations I was having, this idea of staying connected, building the relationship, caring for each other was the element that made the difference between just getting things done versus thriving as a team. I mean, it came through in so many of the leadership stories of people I interviewed as well. Just reaching out that extra emotional intelligence, listening between the lines.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I was speaking with one leader and she was saying, “If I hear somebody in the other line speaking more quickly than normal, after the meeting I give them a call and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” So I have a lot of stories like this in the book because it felt like and it even was proven in the research that caring can make a difference.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

In that chapter, I also talk about what we talked about earlier, which is perspective taking. I had to think about that. Why would I put perspective taking into the bring in the humanity part of the book? But for me, when you’re deeply listening to somebody else, whatever tools you want to use at that time, when you’re really deeply listening and paying attention to them, that is a human relationship connection type of experience. And I wanted to remind people that that’s what we’re about as well. We’re not just about the email sending and the checking the box type of relationship.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. It makes total sense to me about it’s not only being about that. And it kind of brings us back to mindfulness. Maybe I should get a mindful app sponsor for the show or something else. But it does strike me that work is most of our day for most people, right? For most people, work is most of our day. And if you’re doing that, if you’re spending most of your day as an automator, what are you doing? If you don’t enjoy the work you do as a human being, then what does that say about your life? Aren’t you being a human being during most of your day? That doesn’t strike me as something worth pursuing, right?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Agreed. I think this is why you enjoy your work, or you’re doing work you enjoy, let’s put it that way.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, let’s put it that way. But again, part of my point is that every job has its ups and downs in terms of work. As much as I enjoy my job, not all the work that I need to do in my job is pleasant, but that’s where the human connection comes. I usually give the example of my world of Warcraft days, playing World of Warcraft with the guild of 40.

Luis Magalhaes:

Sometimes to defeat the boss and to be one of the few guilds in our server that could defeat that boss, it took hours of losing to same boss several times a week. Sometimes we would lose 12, 20 times doing the same content on the video game. Can I say that losing to that boss was fun? That playing that part of the game for the 20th time was fun? Not really. It wasn’t fun to do the work of playing the game for the 20th time, but the fact that you were doing that with the people that you cared about and that you had a connection with, that’s made that time fun even if the actual actions weren’t.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Really nice. Love that. And I don’t know if you’re familiar, but there is some research on World of Warcraft. Sorry, I’m not that familiar with it, but I am familiar with the research, which is something about these young people that are involved in this actually are developing fantastic leadership skills. This concept called shared leadership. You mentioned the boss, but there is also some sort of sharing; you take over this moment, I take over that moment. And so people come out of that ready for virtual working. So it’s kind of cool.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. The only one I have any extensive experience with is World of Warcraft, but it does tend to be impossible to progress in them if you don’t have the ability to act as a team and to delegate tasks and to take responsibility for your own part, for sure. I highly recommend these games. I don’t know the research specifically that you are referring to, but I do have many books on the subject and it’s eternally fascinating to me. That’s part of what I say that I was doing remote work a long time before I was officially doing remote work, because that kind of coordination and team building is key.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Well, it’s a fantastic development program, then organizations should put their people in there.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. So let’s wrap up with some rapid fire questions. I want to be respectful of your time. And this has been great. But I want you to answer my questions, which you are prepared for because you’re a listener of this show.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I am a listener. That’s true.

Luis Magalhaes:

Thank you for that. I really appreciate it, by the way.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I like it.

Luis Magalhaes:

So let’s start by talking a bit about your virtual office. What are the apps and browser tabs that you have open as soon as you begin your day?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Great. So Google Calendar and New York Times. So I go straight to the news. I am involved in some of the Slack chats, some Slack groups, a couple actually. And that gets me started. Very simple, actually. When I was writing the book, Scrivener was open immediately. It’s a fantastic program for writers. So I really like that one.

Luis Magalhaes:

You’re a Scrivener person. Nice.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I am. Are you as well?

Luis Magalhaes:

I was for years. In fact, my first novel was written on it. Now I’m trying, and I have to say, I quite enjoy Ulysses.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Okay. I’ll have to check it out for next time.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, for sure. So if you had one hundred dollars, or euros, we are multi-cultural after all and have experiences across both continents, to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

This isn’t really a nice question. It’s not going to be technology, but it’s a hour with either a therapist or a coach. I think this is a tough time for all of us. At least I’m raising my hand. This is a tough time. We can get the technology to work and we’re able to feed ourselves and all that stuff.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

But this is tough from a emotional point of view. Nobody would ever say remote work means don’t see these people. We’re missing the humanity. So I would give people a chance to just express themselves and sort of speak to somebody who could help them make sense of it.

Luis Magalhaes:

Got it. Love it. Love it. So what about your own work life? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Well, a fast internet connection, for sure.

Luis Magalhaes:

The fastest.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yeah, the fastest, the best, because that has become very important. I have two computers, one for work, one for play. My microphone here. My Yeti microphone has been fantastic. So I’m pretty simple with this, I must confess. I’m not a huge high-tech person. I’m more interested in what happens with the technology versus having the technology.

Luis Magalhaes:

Now that you shared the Yeti, I have to ask, because I wasn’t aware when I researched for this conversation, when I did my homework, do you record stuff for YouTube or podcasts or whatever, or do you just have Yeti for clarity of communication?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I have Yeti because I started to do podcasts and it was recommended by Pilar Orti. Do you know her?

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh, yes. I know her. I’ve had her on the show.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

I know you have. Yeah. She’s great.

Luis Magalhaes:

She is awesome. Yeah. So I recommend the Yeti to anyone actually working remotely, even if they don’t record shows, because it’s just so good to be able to talk with a microphone that doesn’t require you having your ears covered with the headset. I just feel like I can talk to my colleagues and they can talk to me without feeling like we’re in a technical support call.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So, so true. I’m not one that likes to plug a product, but I’m very happy with it. And it makes me look like Robin Williams on Good Morning Vietnam. So it’s kind of cute.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Okay. So are you a book gifter?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

My own book?

Luis Magalhaes:

No, not your own book.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

That I’m giving everybody.

Luis Magalhaes:

We all gift our own books. That’s a gift. So what books have you gifted the most that’s not your own book?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yeah. I must say, I’m more of a linker to podcasts and things like that, but the book that I have given away is Riding the Waves of Culture by Fons Trompenaars. So he’s now in his fourth edition and I’ve given away a couple of those. And I’m about to give away to somebody a book called When Things Fall Apart by the Buddhist meditator, I always can never say your name. Well, let me just say it’s called When Things Fall Apart. And I just find it a nice book especially to go deeper with especially during the pandemic. It has been a nice source for me.

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh yeah, I’m sure. I’m familiar with that book too. I haven’t read it. And the thing about things falling apart is that they do all the time and in fact constantly.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Exactly.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s just the way the universe is. So great choice. And now I do have to ask, since you are a linker of podcasts, what podcasts do you link to more often?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

So I do like onbeing.org. That one is great. Yours. Pilar Orti’s Virtual not Distant. I’m sorry. I’m drawing a blank on the ones that I’ve listened to, but it depends on what I’m…

Luis Magalhaes:

I love Pilar. I’ll plug her as many times as necessary. She doesn’t really need me. She has about three times my audience, or five times even. But hey, I’m always pleased to recommend her.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Okay. Great. Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:

And also has like a million episodes by now. She’s doing well.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Yeah, she’s fantastic. And to be honest, I wrote this book, I self published, but I referenced podcasts to learn how to do it. I mean, the podcast community is amazing for when you want to write a book or publish a book or something like that. I highly recommend it.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. Okay. So let’s move on to the final question. Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner in a Chinese restaurant where attending the dinner will be… First, let’s go back and assume that it’s perfectly legal and safe to meet together for dinner. That should be a given. But people from tech companies from all around the world are attending your dinner and the round table at the end is about remote work. You, as the host, get to pick the thing that goes inside the fortune cookie. So what will be the message that goes inside the fortune cookie for all these people?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Good. I forgot you were asking this question. I wish I had prepared, but I haven’t. So here’s off the cuff. It’s something about that the technology will continue, thankfully, but the humanity and the caring and the diversity of thought and of background, racial equality, these will become the issues that these tech giants need to embrace as we all go into the future together. It’s a lot of words for a fortune cookie, but they can’t ignore this anymore.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. You can make it big. It can be a fortune pie. That’s fine. It’s a good message and an important one as well. I think it’s a great place to end. Well, actually, the best place to end is you telling our listeners where they can reach out. How can they continue the conversation with you? Where can they learn more about what you do and what you offer?

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Great. Thank you, Luis. Well, they can link with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to do that. They can visit my website, interact-global.net. They can link with me on Twitter and they can find my book on any online bookstore that they usually purchase at. Amazon, bull.com in the Netherlands, Barnes & Noble, everywhere. So I’m open for connections. So please reach out.

Luis Magalhaes:

So just to reiterate, because it’s going to be on the show notes linked, of course, but some people just listen. So that will be Virtual Teams Across Cultures: Create Successful Teams Around the… Obviously I didn’t have on my notepad. It’s on another window. So didn’t get the full title. I’m sorry about that. Again, take two. Virtual Teams Across Cultures: Create Successful Teams Around the World.

Luis Magalhaes:

I highly recommend Theresa’s book. I got two. I’m gifting one. So thank you so much for being a guest, Theresa. It was a pleasure talking with you and I hope that once it’s okay to travel in Europe again, we can meet up. I’m looking forward to show the Netherlands to my wife now. And it would be a pleasure to have a repeat of this conversation about life.

Theresa Sigillito Hollema:

Luis, it’s been really a pleasure, and you’re always welcome to the Netherlands. I would love to meet you. But I’d also like to interview you and your wife sometime. A multicultural relationship is always interesting for me. And perhaps in a year we’ll speak again and tables will be turned and I’ll be interviewing you.

Luis Magalhaes:

That would be my pleasure. Thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, this was the DistantJob podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. Thank you for listening. See you next week.

Luis Magalhaes:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

Luis Magalhaes:

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast guests to have more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode, really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you’ll get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversation in text form.

Luis Magalhaes:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you, Adios. See you next week on the next episode of DistantJob podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Leading a team in a virtual environment is entirely different than leading from a physical office, especially when your team members are from different parts of the world. Leaders need to develop different skills to make their teams feel connected despite the distance.

Cultural competence is one area that requires the most work because leaders need to understand that having a diverse team is also about understanding their backgrounds. In this podcast episode, Theresa Sigillito Hollema shares how to increase cultural competence remotely and how to be a better virtual leader for your team.

''This idea of staying connected, building the relationship, caring for each other was the element that made the difference between just getting things done versus thriving as a remote team.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Why micromanagement doesn’t work in remote work
  • Why is understanding your employees’ culture and background is important
  • How can leaders generate psychological safety in a remote environment
  • Understanding and adapting to communication with other cultures
  • Why cultural competence is crucial in remote teams
  • Important skills when hiring remote workers

 

Book Recommendation:

 

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