Few of us need any convincing that we’re living in a multicultural world and yet most of us rarely think about communications in ‘cultural’ terms until an issue like this one strikes: ‘We can’t work with them!’, was the shout from the London and New York offices.
I was leading a global bid process for an international consultancy when the whole project threatened to implode. » Read more
Colleagues in London and New York were experiencing the Munich team’s involvement as negative, critical and unsupportive.
What do I need to know, what do I need to do to get the work done – to help people avoid this cultural stuff? These were the questions that kept me up at night during a series of issues involving colleagues in Europe and the US.
Being part of the same organization and operating in the same business language (English) the team and I had simply fallen into the trap of “assuming” that cultural differences did not play a role in our collaboration. How wrong we were…
I remember after one conference call, the London and New York team sharing with me their frustration with the German colleagues. “They don’t seem to be excited about or supportive of the project. They are always incredibly negative and just focusing on the weaknesses and what might go wrong.” Being German myself, I was rather surprised by this comment, for I knew how much the Munich team was committed to this new business opportunity.
What had happened?
Simply a clash of cultural mind sets. In general, the people in the US and in the UK seem to have a more “we can do it, let’s make it happen” and positive approach, while the German way tends to be more cautious and needs to make sure that all potential risks have been assessed and dealt with.
Both approaches have their merits and, when combined, actually complement each other. The solution to the dilemma in this case was simply recognising and addressing the cultural differences in an open and frank conference call. Understanding and respecting diversity allowed everybody to focus on the strength of each cultural group. Within the project team, New York now took over the role of “motivator” and working on creative solutions, the UK colleagues bridged the gap between US and Europe, while leading the project management part. Last but not least, Munich focused on risk assessment and playing “the devil’s advocate” by providing regular reality checks.
As a result, fewer misunderstandings and false expectations led to a more effective and successful (as well as enjoyable!) collaboration and great team spirit.
This was my colleague, Nicole’s, experience nearly 10 years ago – and since then we have been called upon to help numerous teams and organisations flex their approach across different cultural contexts – national, ethnic, organisational, virtual, generational and more.
We have now built some of this experience into a one day open workshop for individual leaders. The most recent of these was held in London in April. And for 2019, this workshop will be available on request only. Full details of the Culture Factor workshop are available here.