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First, describe the problem from each of the different country-culture perspectives. Second, describe the negative impact on your collaboration. Third, estimate as best you can what the problem is costing the team. Then send us your thoughts: pull@understand-culture.com

Currently: USA and Germany. Ten core topics. Forty-seven cultural differences. Six statements per difference. In both English and German. Over one thousand examples.

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Currently: USA and Germany. Ten foundational topics. Forty-seven cultural differences. Six statements per difference. In both English and German. Over a thousand examples illustrating the differences.

The Third Explanation

What happens when collaboration doesn’t work? Typically we have one of two explanations. Colleagues from the other culture are either incapable or unwilling. Sometimes we believe it’s both. Seldom does it occur to us that it could be neither, that our colleagues from the other culture are both capable and willing.

And that should lead us to a third explanation, an explanation which is the most probable: that cultures think and work differently. Different cultures, different approaches. It’s that simple. That’s the third explanation, the real cause, most of the time.

Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised. If we aren’t aware of cultural differences, if we assume that “people are people, engineering is engineering, we all speak English”, no one will think of the third explanation.

And that’s what we at understand-culture are all about. We provide the third explanation. Your colleagues in the other countries are capable. And those colleagues are willing. They, too, have bills to pay. They simply think differently, therefore work differently.

These are three great conversations enriching, valuable, exciting, business-oriented, bottom-line oriented. Once in them you will never want to leave.

Discussions

Content is our core. It is the foundation for understanding. Colleagues build on that foundation by then entering into discussion with each other. About the influence of cultural differences on their collaboration. On team-internal forums, behind company firewalls.

Exercises

We provide the content. You set up and engage in discussions. And if helpful, use our exercises.

Before learning about the respective topic, respond to its survey and case. And if decided by the team respond also to the story and/or the topic questions. Respond

We’re constantly adding examples to the patterns. If any cross your mind, please feel free to send them to us at: examples@understand-culture.com

Hard vs. Soft Factors

We all know the difference between hard factors and soft factors. Hard factors can be observed, defined, and most importantly quantified. Soft factors, in contrast, are difficult to observe, difficult to define and difficult to quantify. Everyone likes hard factors more than soft factors. And that is quite understandable.

But, what about national culture? Let’s think about it. Have you ever tried to change how Germans define quality? How Americans fundamentally persuade? How Germans set up complex work processes? How Americans establish and deepen business relationships?

Culture is our self-understanding, our self-definition, it is deeply-rooted, not easy to change. National culture is hard. Hard in the deeper, truer sense of the word: complex, not quantifiable, difficult to describe, difficult to manage, and very difficult to change. Culture is not soft, culture is hard. In fact, culture is the hardest of the hard factors in the global economy.

Many Words for Culture

We’re not big fans of the term culture. It’s wishy-washy, touchy-feely. We like the term country culture. It’s more robust, accurate, true. But there are many words we can use: logic, tradition, hard-wiring, dna, method, process, approach, self-understanding, beliefs, belief system, mentality, character, character traits, national character.

These are all synonyms different words with the same meaning. But what is country culture? The answer is very clear, very straightforward. Country culture is how we think and how we act.

People in Boxes

We often hear: “You can’t put people in boxes. Everyone is an individual. You can’t generalize.” We see it differently. We can put people in boxes. We can generalize. Let’s think about it. Two very sophisticated societies. Germany. United States. They couldn’t function if their people didn’t have a shared understanding in those areas which are essential to their society working.

A shared understanding is a common or near-common belief system. Not a least-common denominator, not a watered-down belief, instead shared at the deepest level, not in all of the details, but in the main points. These are the beliefs which define a culture, which hold it together. That’s what we do. We try to identify those beliefs. We can put people in boxes. The boxes are called cultures.

About them. About us.

Whenever we think about another culture we’re thinking about our own culture. Every conversation about another culture is a conversation about our own culture. It can’t be any other way. Every person is from a national culture. From meaning at home in, embedded in, coming from. And so, we all see other cultures through the eyes of our own culture.

We don’t have any other eyes. Americans see Germans and Germany with American eyes. The Germans see Americans and America with German eyes. None of us is floating way up in the stratosphere detached from the world, detached from their culture, from their home, looking down at other cultures as if from some neutral perspective.

Why is this important? We can’t work well together, unless we understand each other. We can’t understand each other without understanding ourselves. Understand your self. Understand the other. They go hand-in-hand. They complement each other. Depend on each other. Cannot work without each other. That’s the beauty of it. We need each other.

Bell Curves

People always ask: “Wait, aren’t there differences not only between, but also within cultures?” Our answer is always the same: “Well of course there are. Lots of differences.” America is diverse. Germany is diverse. Humankind is diverse. East Coast. West Coast. Northern Germany. Southern Germany.

Christians. Jews. Muslims. Non-believers. Female. Male. Gay. Straight. Bisexual. Young. Old. Extroverted. Introverted. From a big family. From a small family. Grew up in the city. Grew up in the country. Trained in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, law, business, economics, humanities. Working in marketing, manufacturing, supply chain, sales human resources, service, general management. Diverse.

But, consider this: capable Americans, capable Germans, can switch at any time from one company to another company within their national culture, within their national business culture, without a problem. How is this possible? They have common – or near common – beliefs. Beliefs which are critical to the stability of their societies and critical to the stability of the companies which are rooted in their societies.

But, here’s the difference, when Germans and Americans collaborate two sets of belief systems come together. So, we’re interested not so much in the diversity within the U.S. or within Germany, we’re interested not so much in the distribution along their respective bell curves, we’re interested in the gaps between the two bell curves as such.

North. South. East. West.

We all know what a compass does? It provides orientation. We begin with: North. South. East. West. Then we get more accurate, more precise. North by northwest. South by southeast. Another image: first we see a field, then a stream, a bit further a wooded area. We enter into the wooded area we see different kinds of trees. Field. Stream. Wooded area. Trees.

When we discuss cultural differences we begin with the general then, over time, we become familiar with the specifics. We become more accurate, more precise. We get to know each other in order to work together. Think of Google Earth. Zoom in. Zoom out. First in 30,000 feet. 3,000 feet. 300 feet. 3 feet. Then out 3 feet. 300 feet. 3,000 feet. 30,000 feet. In. Out. General. Specific.

Capable. Proud. Determined.

Germany. The United States. Germans. Americans. Two successful societies. Two successful national economies. Nation. Economy. Companies with successful approaches. Both peoples are capable, proud, and strong-willed.

Both peoples are determined to have the say, to run the show, to be in the driver’s seat. Whenever we discuss the German or the American approach, we’re talking about approaches which are proven, which work. Whenever we discuss how we do things, we’re talking about what leads to success. Both approaches lead to success.

Differences. Not Commonalities.

We get asked all the time:”Why do you focus only on the differences? What about the commonalities?” We always have the same answer. “Commonalities work for you. There’s no need to discuss them.” Differences, on the other hand, are far more important and far more valuable. That sounds like a paradox. But it’s not.

For two reasons. First, differences can lead to serious problems. People working against, instead of with and for each other. And these problems can be very painful. Second, differences offer tremendous potential. Imagine what could be accomplished if national cultures understood each other, and then combined their inherent strengths?

Contract Research

Tell us which countries are key to your success. We do the research. Then upload the content. Countries. Contrasts. Patterns. Discussions. Exercises. Research

Corporate Sponsors

Colleagues in cross-border teams use UC. It’s integral to their success. We want you to sponsor our work. Out of your company’s own self-interest. Sponsors

Discreet Posts

No one likes ads. Unless they’re informative, discreet, and enjoyable. We enable companies to feed their messages into the natural flow of our content. Posts

Member Donations

People are good. Be nice to them. They will be nice to you. We help you and your colleagues to understand each other. Please help us to help you. Donations

Not Addressed

There are reasons why many global companies do not address culture. Reasons which are reasonable, rational, logical, human, deeply human. However many things we do which are reasonable, are not reasonable enough, not rational enough, not logical enough. Many things we do are human, but not human enough.

We need to face problems. And one of those problems is the influence of culture on cross-border collaboration. We need to face them for our own good as colleagues, for the good of our organisations, an for our customers and suppliers. Not addressed

Not Supported

There are people within global companies who sense the differences between cultures, differences in how they think and how they work.

These people know that the differences influence collaboration. And they want to address them. In fact, they know that they have to address culture, but they cannot find real support. Not supported

Expertise

The big question, the overarching question, is who can help global companies to understand and manage the influence of culture on collaboration? Stated differently, how is expertise in this are defined?

We believe that expertise is experience understood and explained. Experience in and across cultures is not enough. Expertise is more than a long list of interesting anecdotes based on having lived and worked in the Germany:USA space.

Nor is theoretical knowledge enough. Theory must be based on experience. Without experience theory is empty words. Instead, authentic expertise has three components:

First, extensive experience means having lived and worked in the culture not one year, not five years, but at least ten years.

Second, the person has to step back in order to analyze those experiences. What are the differences? What is their impact on collaboration? How do we get the differences to work for not against collaboration?

Third, the expert has to be able to explain all of this effectively. Their delivery must be pragmatic, practical, and effective. If we apply this definition to groups discussed thusfar, frankly, none of them meet the criteria.

You are Colleagues

You are colleagues. From different country-cultures. Working together in cross-border teams. The company will have a headquarters. Most likely located in the country where the company has its historical roots.

The company is operating globally. Because it grew organically. Or because it grew via mergers and acquisitions. It doesn’t matter. Often there is tension between HQ and the regions. And tension within individual cross-border teams.

Here’s the key: You are colleagues. Do your best to fight any tendencies, any dynamics, any people, who try to drive a wedge between you and your colleagues based on country-culture. Do your best to fight any form of us-against-them thinking. Colleagues

Our Terms. Your Privacy.

Member-Feedback is key.

Colleagues in your organization collaborate cross-border. They experience cultural differences. We help them to understand those differences. So that they succeed.

Research

We identify, describe, and contrast how cultures think and work. By answering the three key questions stated above. Research is our core strength. We strive to get to the truth. By doing our homework. With care, diligence, and respect. Research

Questions

The Questions section on UC is in beta-mode. It is a discussion space for members. We cannot guaranty that we will always offer this space. Nor are we obligated to answer any questions. When you join, you are paying for access to our core content.

Exercizes

The Exercizes section on UC is also in beta-mode. We cannot guaranty that we will always offer these or any other kinds of exercises. When you join, you are paying for access to our core content.

Questions

We enable colleagues to help each other. To submit and to respond to questions. Not a low-value chatroom. Instead specific, concrete, practical. Where members can gain deeper insight. About how culture influences collaboration. Questions

Exercises

We provide exercises. These are real-world situations. So that colleagues can apply to their work what they have come to understand at a deeper level. As colleagues. Together. It’s their collaboration. They decide how best to work with each other. Exercises

We’re constantly adding examples to the patterns. If any cross your mind, please feel free to send them to us at: examples@understand-culture.com

If at the beginning you prefer some guidance, that’s fine, too. Guidance

Three Questions

We address three key questions: Where do we differ in how we think, therefore in how we work? What influence do these differences have on our collaboration? How can we get the differences to work for, not against, us? 

And, you have a fourth option. We have begun building a network of professionals. Who can accompany, direct, and guide you and your colleagues. UC Guides

Advantages

Internal guides and guides offer three distinct advantages: cost less than external support; are familiar with the company and its culture; can share their knowledge with each other, thus continuously improving.

As a team you might want to be guided along the five steps. Guidance.

There are differences between cultures. The differences influence cross-border collaboration. The better colleagues understand them, the better they collaborate. We explain cultural differences.

Zero Risk

We have reduced the risk of working with us to zero. By explaining to our customers how we work. Enabling them to do it themselves. Why? For three reasons:

First, this builds trust. Helping global companies address culture is a sensitive matter. Companies need to trust us as people. And to trust our approach.

Second, companies might choose not to continue working with us. For whatever reason. That will not be for us to question. Key is that they continue supporting their people.

Third, we intend to do such good work that our customers will have no reason to take on a complex task not core to what they do as companies, nor to hand this task off to others.

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