dealing with intercultural teams
If your enterprise spans across multiple countries, you are in the enviable position where you can truly change the world.
Never think you are too big to fail, though. Your power can turn into a weakness if your size and diversity lead to reduced flexibility or efficiency. This can be caused by misalignment of departments and internal managers, or even a lack of intercultural management competencies.
Probably all large companies are constantly facing one key question: how is it possible to stay on top of innovations and quickly adapt to the ever-changing economy in different areas of the world, while at the same time maintaining one unified corporate identity to leverage R&D budgets and the bundling of internal resources?
We know this question from own experience as an international firm.
When change becomes an international affair
Change management is always challenging. For international corporations, this challenge can easily be multiplied with the number of markets, languages and cultures involved.
It’s not that you wouldn’t know how to do it: assess the current situation; communicate the vision; plan responsibilities and new processes with the feedback from your employees in mind; inspire and empower your team to become open minded towards the change; make sure that the outcome works to your clients’ advantage, and so on.
Easier said than done, when internal managers stick to what worked for them in the past and have developed powerful bonds to resist such “unreasonable demands”, made their employees too afraid to point out pressing problems, and one business unit hardly knows about the existence of the other.
And who’s actually responsible for informing head office that your latest product update caused an uproar in some part of the world, because its name is highly offensive in their dialect? Did you consider that local contacts would have never told you this, because in their culture saying no to a superior is an absolute no-go? These are just some of the naturally developing obstacles that every multinational corporation is struggling with. In no way does it imply that your internal managers were doing a bad job. It’s simply not possible for any of us NOT to learn a certain way to do something or to be influenced by one’s (corporate) culture.
Even though it might not be possible to prevent these resistances and friction from evolving altogether, it’s a great idea to launch initiatives and install managers with the objective to shake things up a bit, thus shedding light on the blind spots, and create links between business units as well as local offices and the headquarters.
This can only be achieved by fluently “speaking” various cultures, and leading project-specific international, interdisciplinary teams. It also helps to enhance your internal management team with “outsiders”, as they are forced to ask questions, therefore making explicit what internally only used to be assumed. This helps to prevent cultural misunderstandings, as internal assumptions will be “lost in translation”.
At the same time, you cannot fill your top positions with executives who’d first need intensive training before being able to do their jobs.
Instead, they already need to be familiar with the cultures involved, experienced in project as well as innovation management, and inspiring communicators with a talent to transform abstract concepts into actionable steps.
Being considered “outsiders”, their authority and trust will mainly stem from a profound advance in new knowledge that is highly sought after in your organisation.
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