These are the risks – topic by topic – when colleagues in cross-border teams do not understand the influence of cultural differences on their collaboration:
In its most basic form communication is the spoken and the written word. Emails. Telephone calls. Face-to-face conversations. Meetings. Written reports. Formal presentations. Communication with colleagues, customers, suppliers. If communication breaks down so does collaboration.
Agreements are like the air we breathe. We discuss, enter into, and fulfill agreements. Many agreements. On a daily basis. Most are simple and routine. Others are complex and situation-based. Some agreements are linked with still other agreements. Cultures, however, handle agreements differently. Misunderstand those differences and you get chaos.
Before there is action, there is a decision. But there can be no decision without options to make a decision. And decision options must first be presented. Present. Decide. Act. Presenting means persuading. We want to get a yes. But national cultural logics are not the same. If the differences are not known, suboptimal decisions will be made.
Decision making is about what to do and why. Wait, it’s also about decision making approaches. What if there’s a difference between how business cultures fundamentally make decisions? Can they business cultures collaborate effectively, if they they’re not aware of the differences? Not very likely.
Every team has a team-lead and team-members. People who interact with each other. Personally, on a regular basis. Leadership is all about that interaction. But, do countries define effective leadership in the same way? Do they lead – and want to be led – in the same way? For example, where they draw the line between the what meaning the strategy, the goal or objective, and the how meaning the tactics, the path to that goal? If teams don’t get that right, teams fail.
We give and receive feedback on a constant basis. With colleagues, suppliers, and customers. Feedback, when it works, gives us a common understanding of where we stand, what the score is, what’s working and what isn’t. However, if colleagues from different national cultures handle feedback in different ways, they’ll have a different views of reality. Not good.
Conflict is normal, unavoidable, it’s even healthy. We’re all capable, proud, and strong-willed peoples. When we collaborate, we can disagree about things. No big deal. Critical is that we resolve our disagreements in a transparent, fair and just way. But what if our methods to conflict resolution are dissimilar? One culture’s approach can appear to the others as not fair. And no organization can succeed if conflicts go unresolved or if one side feels that they’ve been treated unjustly.
A culture’s product philosophy defines what a good product is, its characteristics, its very character. Because there are differences between cultures, there are differences between product philosophies. If there were no differences their products would look the same, or similar. But, they don’t. When colleagues collaborate it’s to produce a result: a product, a service, a solution. If they don’t understand the differences they’ll bicker and fight with each other.
Processes are the rules which govern the inner workings of a company. Processes, whether formal or informal, documented or undocumented, describe how the work is done how the work should be done. Those who have the say about processes, have the say about how the work is done. But what if colleagus don’t share a common understanding of what makes for an effective process? Those inner workings won’t function very well.
Every individual, every team, and every company is part of a business ecosystem, is a participant in a complex web of customer-supplier relationships. We receive something. An input. We add to it. Hopefully our contribution is valuable. We then pass it along. Our approach to these interactions – our logic – is shared by both customer and supplier. The question is, do cultures take the same approach? If not, and if colleagues are not aware of this, they could damage important business relationships rather quickly.
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