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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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What is the best way to improve cultural integration in a MNC?
Article Type: Q&A From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 11, Issue 1
Leading industry experts answer your strategic questions
Our first recommendation would be to specify. Do not work with generalizations. In most intercultural team programs the degree of customization is simply too low. Many cross-cultural trainers explain a lot of general regional facts but fail to address the relevant difficulties their audience struggles with. If you do not understand where in the workplace the problems appear, you cannot solve them. To remedy this you need to gain a very deep and clear understanding of the business, the context of the problem and the problem itself. A thorough understanding of the performance problem is the only key to get close to a solution that is realistic and sustainable. Generalizations will not help.
Beyond the fact that the problems are often not specified enough, we would secondly suggest to refrain from predefining the source of the problem. You should not assume that culture is the problem just because there are collaboration problems within a team. We experience again and again clients that claim culture to be the problem, but what we actually identify are collaboration problems, such as unclear processes, missing job designs and poorly communicated expectations. In order to avoid this wrongful assumption the easiest thing to do is to focus on the performance management system first.
Many difficulties in teams exist because people are different, not only in culture, but in all aspects of their background, patterns and mindsets. Our advice would be to turn only to those differences that are relevant to create a shared approach.
It comes down to expectations
A third and key factor to consider are expectations, which really do represent one of the core-problems in teams and which need to be explicitly clarified. Expectations are partly culturally influenced, but exist in all teams, whether they are intercultural or not.
Usually expectations in the workplace are mutual. The company has expectations towards the team; for example, which things should be done, how and when. The team has expectations towards the performer; for example, who should do what, how they should interconnect and what they should produce. And the team member has expectations too; for example, how independently they can do their work, how they are informed, how their performance is appreciated and how they learn about this appreciation.
These and other such expectations steer how we behave at work. They reflect our experiences and patterns, and they are culturally influenced. We have pre-assumptions about how we expect others to work with us. Following is a metaphoric example. In the Japanese culture teamwork is the “synergy” of two, whereas in the German culture teamwork is a “summation” of two. A Japanese performer expects very close team work with a lot of mutual micro-management, whereas a German performer expects to work absolutely independently. For Germans team work means to combine results; for Japanese it means to create results together.
As a summary, one could say if you focus on integration of culture, you need to manage relevant expectations. Even if you do not have an intercultural team, you still have to manage expectations. Regions are just one “color” of culture. Culture can be company, family and more.
Focus on collaboration rather than culture
If you want to improve collaboration problems, your first goal would not be to integrate culture, but to improve the results. Thus you would focus on analyzing the existing difficulties within the team. Most of them will not be cultural but common collaboration problems. These could include process disconnects and bottlenecks, unclear responsibilities, missing consequence-systems and delayed or missing feedback-loops.
To improve collaboration, it makes sense to look at the performance management system, including the processes, the job design, the standard operating procedures and so on. To learn more about performance management in intercultural teams, visit us at: www.collaboration-excellence.com.
Luise SchneiderBased at performance design international.Claudia RombergSpecialist in intercultural cooperation and the implementation of the Toyota Production System
About the authors
Luise Schneider, CPT, is General Manager at performance design international (pdi), Germany, providing HPT expertise in Europe, Asia, and the US. She holds a Master’s degree in adult education and business from the University of Cologne and holds systemic and resource-oriented coaching certificates from the German Psychology Academy, the Milton Erickson Institute, and the AML Institute. She is on the board of directors of ISPI. Luise Schneider can be contacted at: email@example.com
Claudia Romberg is an expert in intercultural cooperation and supports companies in their collaboration with Japanese partners. Additionally, she is an expert for the implementation of the Toyota Production System. Claudia has an MA in Japanese studies from Leiden University, The Netherlands. She was a visiting scholar at Tokyo and Nanzan Universities, worked as Assistant Professor of Japanese Religion at Amsterdam Free University and served as Executive Director of the German East Asiatic Society, Tokyo. Claudia Romberg can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org