With companies going global not only in terms of markets, but also in terms of hiring and contracting, there are bound to be cultural differences across the workforce. Rarely is the integration seamless, but great companies the world over are paying attention and try to ensure employees are not only aware of such differences, but also open minded enough to be accommodating of other cultures and work styles.
Though cultural borders are blurring with growing globalization and the reach of the entertainment industry, differences in cultural approaches to work, authority, communication and others can still cause friction and impact productivity. Hence it is more important than ever for business leaders, program managers and others to be cognizant of the differences and work towards mitigating the same.
Global Delivery Report spoke to some business thought leaders about their experiences with cultural issues at the work place, and best practices to avoid them.
Cultural differences across internal teams
helps organizations through the cultural challenges faced by global teams. He highlighted one such project where a large life sciences company based in the US Midwest sent several IT managers to Japan to assist with the rollout of a new system that was critical to the entire enterprise. He shared, “Because Japan accounted for a large volume of the sales coming from Asia, several lower level managers were “given the opportunity” to visit and work on the project. The Americans were a bit baffled by the red carpet and all the wining and dining. It was a frustrating week before they could get the Japanese to discuss the roll out plan. Though they got commitments, nothing moved ahead”
Once Hammond was brought onboard, he helped the US team through a series of cultural training sessions that helped put the Japanese team’s ‘strange’ behavior in perspective and helped them build a relationship of trust.
“In a collectivist society like Japan, building relationships though social activities makes you an insider. Once you are an insider you are trusted and can work together. If you do not take time to build the relationship and focus only on the rollout, you are not trusted. Commitments made by the Japanese IT team to support the rollout were superficial. It was not their priority until it was their boss’s priority.”
Integrating Overseas Acquisitions
Cross-border acquisitions are always a delicate matter, especially when it comes to integrating the teams and getting them to continue to perform at high levels. In an overseas acquisition, cultural and time zone differences can make that even more difficult. Stephane Lamoureux, Head of IT&Compliance APAC, at BRED, has over two decades of experience managing global firms. He shared his experience on one particular acquisition: “A major Indian telecom player had just acquired multiple companies in The Americas (and other regions). My role was to make sure we could take all development and operations activities done by hundreds of resources from the acquired companies, re-package them and centralize them into India where a group was being built to handle them.”
Though cultural borders are blurring with growing globalization and the reach of the entertainment industry, differences in cultural approaches to work, authority, communication and others can still cause friction and impact productivity.
Ensuring these multiple sites and multiple cultures could work together was not an easy task. He went on to explain how they achieved a level of cultural integration that most companies would be envious of.
“A big portion of it was using extensive collaboration tools such as video conferencing and chatting. The ability for people to see each other on a day-to-day basis, helped create a human link between the various organizations. Having a culture day, exploring other cultures through food, family life, fashion and day-to-day living will give the other cultures a totally new outlook on various and sometimes very different cultures. By sending people from one group (i.e. from the Americas or Europe) to another group (I.e. India) and rotating key resources, we were able to further strengthen the ties and cultures together.”
He believes this collaboration is key, since the majority of what they do is global and involves global resources. “The basic process of making sure the teams learned about each other created new friendships that still last today for some. This is a repeatable and efficient model for any off/near shore project and works. Of course, for this to happen, the individual needs to have the open mind and want to learn and this is not always a given for everyone.”
Working with Global Vendors
Many large outsourcing operations involve working with people from different cultural backgrounds; especially vendors and contractors. Amrita Tahiliani Joshi, CEO of Ahilia Inc., a consulting firm focused on the global services and outsourcing industries, helped a bank outsource their loan servicing process. As part of the transition, three people were
brought over from India to work at the client’s Midwest office. But two weeks into it, things hadn’t moved ahead much because the two teams weren’t interacting. “No one
from the India team had complained or escalated these issues because they
were embarrassed and culturally they would not go over their direct
supervisor’s head.” She had to step in, and among other things, bring in experienced cultural trainers for both teams. She has some sound advice, especially for work environments that are not already culturally diverse,
- Integrate teams immediately as much as possible to avoid an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. If possible, have supervisors and team leads from both sides managing or supervising people from the outsidecultural background
- Give specific training on how to work in remote teams and define processes to help eliminate grey space so there are less opportunities for misunderstanding
- Host social and team-building events on an ongoing basis. Once people get to know each other personally, the negative consequences ofcultural differences fade away.”
People are inherently resistant to change. It takes an open mind and a willingness to learn, to be able to truly accept and work smoothly with people from a very different cultural background. That’s why it is important that such acceptance must start and flow from the top. It has to be nurtured by the leadership, in order to ensure a productive and inclusive work environment.