The overcoming of culture barriers within Global teamwork

Global teamwork => required through globalization
Due to Globalization and therewith the process of international integration global teamwork is increasingly extracted over the last decades.
By seeing the world as a single place, universal questions start to arise, which shouldn´t be only of interest for one country or continent but for all governments, states and people who live on this planet. The problem is that these questions receive different answers depending on the nationality, the form of life, the religion, different political point of views, the own interests of different countries…  which all together form different world views.
Therefore global teams, with members from countries all over the world are required to discuss solutions and find answers for universal questions such as the “energy turnaround” (recently debated by Ferhat).
However global teamwork is not only inquired for such meaningful matters as the “handling of nuclear energies” but also gains importance for companies, who act in their own interests.

Effective teamwork differs across borders
Culture differences must be taken into consideration when it comes to global teamwork. Thus according to the nationalities, religions and the background of the different team members in general they might have different opinions on how to communicate on an appropriative way, how to resolve conflicts the best and how to effectively work together.
At a certain point these questions almost always arise in the process of teamwork. Plus those questions can easily turn out to be huge problems, which even become more complex in multi-cultural teams.
Global teams also have to deal with different time-zones, languages and the lack of face-to-face contact.
All in all you can say that the “behaviors that define” effective teamwork “differ across borders”. Kaztenbach and Smith for instance evaluated characteristics that high performance teams should acquire: “The group is self-conscious about its own operations.”,  “atmosphere tends to be informal, comfortable, relaxed.”, “There is a lot of discussion in which virtually everyone participates,”, “People are free in expressing their feelings as well as their ideas.”, “There is disagreement and this is viewed as good.”. These assumptions were made upon studies of teamwork across several companies in the U.S.

Hence the listed characteristics for effective teamwork can only be stated for western-oriented teams.
In other countries team members might be confused or even overextended when their leaders give them to much free space if they can act on their own without consulting their leader, they might feel uncomfortable when the atmosphere on the workplace is informal. “Thus some people are more comfortable with hierarchy and authority relationships. In countries such as Malaysia and Guatemala, people find it normal for someone to have more power than they do.”

How to add value to the outputs of global teams?

Now, knowing the difficulties a global team has to struggle with we should think about possible solutions. Therefore I would like to provide answers of how to conquer the barriers of cultural differences and time zones.

When working in a global team it is very important to understand and at least accept all cultures of the different group members. To ensure these requirements the team members could take part in cross-cultural-training.
I would like to explain this way of overcoming cultural barriers with the help of cross-cultural-training for the Chinese culture. Due to the fact that in the last years the economic market of China gained importance for the business issues of the Western world. (See Johannas post “China part 1: Business Culture and Success”)
Cross-cultural-training can be seen as a key factor of success considering that 70% of the cooperations with China fail through cross-cultural barriers. (“Psychologie heute”)

Global Cul­tures“  is a academy, which offers corss-cultural-training. Their courses are conducted by instructors, who originally come from the target region or worked perennial in China. The lectures convey comprehension for the Chinese attitude, the different understanding of roles and hierarchies in China and Western societies, historical knowledge about the country to avoid serious errors and how the Chinese mentality influences the behavior in business life. Though you also learn apparently banal things such as which clothes are appropriate, how you are going to welcome Chinese business partners, what to attend on a business lunge and last but not least you will learn that presents play a really important role in the Chinese culture.
These are just a few competences, which can simplify the communication within global teams of Chinese and German members or cooperations whith German and Chinese companies.
This is clarified by Martina Oberwelland, the Human Resources Manager of Microsoft, who said that the cross-cultural-training of “Global cultures” is really helpful and “has been memorized due to the great fun while learning about the Chinese culture and the humor upon our own culture”.
(If you want to know more about cross-cultural-communication check Johanna´s blog about the “misunderstandings in cross -cultural-communications”)

With Asana it becomes pretty easy to elude the problem of time zones.
Asana is a task manager, which “promotes group productivity through task prioritisation and project management”. It is very practical for global teams as it captures everything the team is planning to do and shows the different task that have to be done.
Each group member is able to see, “who is working on what and when” plus “how much more work has to be done to reach” the larger goal. Thus every participant of the team stays informed and gets “essential updates on progress “-  no matter when and where he starts working. Hence Asana is a great way to communicate and enables each group member to get an overview of the small pieces of a project, which all together will fulfill a larger goal.
The great thing about it is that it is for free for teams consisting of 30 people or less.
If you are working in a global team and “want to improve your efficiency and communication I say”  try it out.” (suggestion of the blogger of  “Asana – the future of team project work?”)
Asana might even help you to get your own life organized in a proper way. Just as the blogger of  “My New Task Manager of Choice: Asana“ states “Asana lets me craft my life better on all fronts”, which again might have a positive impact on your work within the global team.
However there are also negative opinions on Asana, as it “has no tools or functions within its application”  and the “consistency across the application is not apparent” (opinions expressed in the blog “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”)
But you can be sure, when working with Asana “there is very little to loose and maybe a lot to gain.” (assumption of the blogger of “Asana – the future of team project work?”)

Personal experience…

In my opinion it is a really important skill to know how you can do your bit in a global team. As our world grows constantly closer and closer together and team work gains in importance.
Therefore I think it is great that we already get some experience in working in multi-cultural-teams in our IBMAN course.

I already had to realize what it means to be part of a team in another culture. Given that I took Marginal Arts classes for about three weeks in China.
When I started to observed the different Marginal Arts teams I recognized that they seemed to function as an entity different from western teams. Where each individual acts based on their different characteristics.
By no means I want to say that Chinese people don´t have a own character but I think due to their culture they aspire not to drop out of this huge entity.

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One response to “The overcoming of culture barriers within Global teamwork

  1. Hey Korinna,
    you have written a very well-elaborated and detailed post! It is quite nice to read, although one of my first thoughts were that this post should be splitted up into two posts, but when I finished reading I thought that I also would not have splitted it up, because in this form it fits quite well to your last post where you gave a preview that you will take a closer look at teams and Asana. So you have done a good job and I especially like your choice of visuals.
    I have also found some material which fits quite well to your post, some tips for virtual teams:
    1. Be clear about your goals and roles
    2. Be willing to give and to receive feedback
    3. Respect difference
    4. Focus on targets
    5. Foster relationships
    6. Enjoy….
    Have you heard of the “Tangram”, the Chinese puzzle? I have heard about its use for strategies. I have also found some book recommendations for the topic: “Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools and Techniques that Succeed” by Deborah Duarte.

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