Company culture is a tricky thing. If you try to dictate it, you’ll end up with something forced and insincere. But leave it up to chance and you risk missing out on the glue that holds everyone together.
So it goes without saying that when you get it right, you won’t want anything to knock it off kilter – which means it’scritical to protect it as you grow. Especially when your teams are in different places.
Maintaining a positive, cohesive, authentic culture can be a challenge as you expand. So to help you navigate this, here are a few things our team have seen work time and time again.
Hire people who share your values
When your team is spread across regions – across the world, even – it becomes more important than ever to hire people who share the same principles as you and your company.
Peter Larsson, Chairman of the Board for Outpost24, Itello, Viedoc, and MaintMaster emphasises this: “Your first hire abroad should be a cultural fit. Yes, you want the best salesperson – but when you’re setting up a new office, you need someone who believes in the same values as your organisation.”
Following this recruitment advice reduces the risk that teams in different countries will create their own vastly different cultures.
Take the time to really settle people in
When you’re in the same office, it’s easy to take people out for lunch or post-work drinks to help settle in. But when you’re spread across a region – or across the globe – things get trickier.
Per Ivansson, Board member for Palette and Viedoc, puts emphasis on the start of the relationship. “Onboarding is really important. You can’t set up a team, throw work at them, and expect them to feel part of the bigger company.”
And this initial bedding-in period should carry on for longer than you might think. Gustav Lagercrantz, Monterro CEO and Chairman of the Board for Next One Technology and Mashie, recommends putting a regular call in your diaries and sticking to it: “Call all the time – even if there’s nothing to talk about. Put in the extra energy to help that office feel like an integral part of the company. For the first year, I called an international colleague every single day. Even if it was just a few minutes to say ‘Hi, how are you’.”
Spend time with people face-to-face
Regular catch-ups go a long way towards maintaining culture through growth and across regions. But (as we’ve all learnt during COVID-19) being on the phone is no substitute for being somewhere in person.
“I worked at a SaaS company where we had a team based in Hanoi,” says Per. “They came over to the Berlin HQ to work for a month or two. Likewise, team leaders from Berlin spent a month working from the Hanoi office every year.”
The opportunity to travel isn’t just a perk that attracts talent: it’s a way to integrate offices all over the world. It’s the same for Viedoc, another of our portfolio companies. Employees based in its Swedish head office travel to its Japan office six times a year, for two-week stretches.
Peter seconds the importance of travel (when it’s possible): “If you’re a CEO or Head of Sales, in the beginning you need to spend a lot of time with your international teams and get stuck in: join meetings and calls, and embed yourself into their day-to-day.”
Send someone from ‘the mothership’ to international offices
“You should include someone from the mothership in your international offices,” explains Peter. To overcome cross cultural challenges in international business management, it’s key to integrate international teams with long-standing employees: people who love the company and who know how things work.
“The perfect set-up for an international office is someone from the local market who understands the sales process, and someone from your head office who knows how things run and really understands your company,” added Gustav.
Create well-documented working practices and policies
“This maybe isn’t the most exciting part, but you need to have documents or policies that lay out your working practices and systems,” said Peter.
People will always lean into the systems, tools and ways of working they’re most comfortable with – whether that’s CRMs, or approaches to expenses. From the very start, make it clear how your company works: processes to follow and systems to use. If not, you’ll have disparate teams using different IT, which leads to islands of processes, silos, and ultimately, teams that can’t work together.
Growth opens up more opportunities than just revenue
Company culture needn’t be a victim of international expansion. If done right, this cross-country growth can deliver new opportunities – and not just for revenue. Having offices and employees around the world gives you more access to talented, dedicated hires. And it offers a unique way to shape your existing culture and discover new ways of working.
To get your hands on more tips and insights about international expansion – from identifying new markets to hiring the right people – read The field-guide to international expansion for Nordic software CEOs.