Language is not the only barrier to effective communication between and within international teams. Another factor is often at play in communication break-downs, and that is cultural difference. Whilst every company has their own corporate culture, it does not, in our observation, override or extinguish a team member’s cultural paradigms from their country of origin. These national cultural differences are noticeable in most areas of business for example in presentations, meetings, negotiations, sales processes, quality processes and customer care.
Cultural differences can also affect:
- Organisational structure
- Organisational politics
- Communication channels
- Approaches to employee welfare and well-being
It is the skill of noticing, navigating and negotiating these cultural differences that can make an International Manager successful or not. For example, with a recent client we were discussing why a new matrix structure was not working effectively. The reason was that Country A has a family approach to organisation structure, and that the person at the top is like a father or a mother. This engenders loyalty, and everyone wants to curry favour with the big boss. A matrix structure imposed by Country B on Country A does not take into account that all communication and information will still be passed through County A’s big boss as a courtesy, and as a tacit request for permission to act.
A matrix structure is designed in effect to give an employee two bosses – a functional one and a hierarchical one, however in a family style organisational structure, only one boss is required and in fact respected. Hence the matrix structure seriously slowed down communication rather than making it more effective, and the functional bosses were just seen as unnecessary interference from HQ.
The skilled International Manager would identify why the matrix isn’t working and find a solution that both appeased Country A’s request for international functional working and Country B’s need to work in a family style. This skill is what Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner referred to as ‘Reconciliation’, in their seminal text ‘Riding the Waves of Culture’. The art of reconciliation is to respect both “truths” in an intercultural scenario and navigate both parties to a third truth and way of being that works for everyone. As you can imagine it takes a very skilled individual to pull this off successfully, it would be incredibly difficult without any kind of intercultural training or coaching.
An International Manager needs to be trained to notice when disagreements, inaction, lack of commitment to change or plain old mistakes are a result of cultural misunderstandings. But noticing is not enough, it takes a whole other level of skill to be able to coach a team and reach productive new ways of achieving the desired result.
If you’d like to talk about intercultural training or coaching, give us a call on +44 (0)1666 825060 or contact us here