Develop international and international teams

In the course of globalization, work teams in companies are becoming more and more international; moreover, their collaboration and communication are becoming more and more digitized. This creates new challenges in the area of ​​team development.

Just a few years ago, when people from different cultures worked in one department of the company, i.e. in the same location, people were talking primarily about an intercultural or multicultural team. Today, however, team members often live and work spread all over the world. In addition, permanent (working) teams were often replaced by loose collaboration and temporary project groups.

As a result, the requirements for so-called intercultural training have also changed. Until a few years ago, companies were asking primarily for team development resources for permanent teams in one place; today, on the other hand, more and more intercultural training courses are reserved, involving people from several countries and different cultures. Instead of intercultural training aimed at preparing German-speaking employees to do business with Japan, companies are planning, for example, online training, which can also be attended by Germans, Swiss and Austrians, such as the Japanese. , Koreans and Americans take part. Participants often do not belong to one and the same company. Collaboration partners, such as customers, suppliers or external service providers, are increasingly taking part in training.

Working in international teams is amazing

The fact that (working) teams are becoming more international and their collaboration is becoming more digital often causes the following problem: Some team members feel overwhelmed by this type of collaboration where a person rarely, if ever, meets. “We work more efficiently when we are only among ourselves” – this is the statement we often hear from employees from different functions and hierarchies. And rightly so, because when people from different cultures, who also live in different countries, work together, the need for coordination increases. It also increases the likelihood of misunderstandings leading to problems. Sometimes this gives the impression that multicultural teams are inherently less effective than teams that all come from the same culture.

This assumption is incorrect. Years ago, Canadian psychologist Nancy J. Adler said:

  • Culturally mixed teams have the potential to outperform those with the same cultural background. AND:
  • Different perspectives and approaches to the task can result in more effective cooperation and better solutions.

The potential of teams is often not exhausted

However, this potential is often not used. In internationally operating companies, you can often find international teams that are doing very well and those that are doing very poorly. The team’s results are rather average. This is often the case with teams all members of which come from the same culture.

But how can companies ensure that international teams develop their potential? To do this, you first have to accept that a newly formed team takes some time to work together well. After an initial euphoric phase in which team members are curious and looking forward to working with new colleagues, there is usually a disappointment phase – the so-called psychologist Bruce Tuckmann (see box).

Teams that are all members of the same culture usually find their way out of the Assault phase on their own. You know how to act in your own culture in your professional life. This allows team members to easily agree on principles of collaboration – for example, information, communication and collaboration.

Teams often get stuck in the assault phase

This is often not the case with international and international teams. Without outside help, it is often difficult for them to get out of the assault phase and move on to the third phase of team development, the so-called standardization.

The friction in the assault phase arises from different ideas of how to work. For example, the answers to the following questions vary greatly from culture to culture:

  • In what order should the tasks be performed?
  • Who should report to whom, how often and how?
  • What will decide who, when and how?
  • What tasks and expectations must managers and team members meet due to their function?
  • How do we deal with bugs, problems, etc.?

If the team is unclear in this respect, apart from the general uncertainty, there is usually also a great disappointment in everyday cooperation as to the way of mutual functioning – this applies in particular to teams in which there are people from rather non-conflict cultures (e.g. Japan, Korea, Vietnam ) People from more conflict-prone cultures (eg Germany) should cooperate. For them, the assault phase can last a long time – especially if they lack the “tools” for the approach.

Increase team spirit and performance

Here are some tips on what team leaders and team members should consider and do to move their international or multinational team from the storming phase to the normalization phase and then to the execution phase.

  • Be curious and get to know each other in person. Have private conversations with your collaboration partners from time to time. For example, share something about your weekend, your family, or something else that your counterpart might identify with. Finding common ground helps build trust, and trust is the basis of good cooperation.
  • Talk about the differences in the way you work. It is important to discover and appreciate each other’s ways of working. The easiest and fastest way to do this is by inquiry!

Tip 1: As a team leader, conduct a short workshop on “Learning to Value Other Ways of Working”. Discuss the different ways to work in it; For example, by giving each team member or subgroup the task of presenting in a workshop two or three working methods that are typical of their own work culture. They should also answer the questions: “I like / we like our (former) work culture … because …” and “I / we don’t like our work culture … because …”. You can also ask team members to create their own cultural profile in an app or web portal such as Country Navigator or Erin Meyers Country Mapping Tool and share it with colleagues. Mutual information and exchanges on individual cultural peculiarities facilitate agreement on new behaviors and working methods.

  • Never forget: There is no one correct way to work. People who work successfully internationally are very tolerant of work styles. Not only do they understand and accept that tasks can be solved in different ways, but over time they also integrate elements of this into their own work style, making them more collaborative and behaviorally flexible.
  • Get ready to incorporate new elements into your work style. Take what’s new to you as an opportunity to get off the beaten path.

Tip 2: Based on the first short workshop, you can mix the groups culturally in the second (online) meeting. Then you can commission them to propose principles of cooperation that combine the best of both worlds and meet the needs of people from different cultures.

  • Learn how to communicate well in a group. Communication in particular varies greatly between work cultures. We Germans, for example, are known to deal with sensitive issues very directly, while the people of East Asia and South America approach them in a roundabout way. Therefore, everyone on the team should practice what needs to be considered in a different culture, such as when delegating tasks, giving feedback, or classifying information.

The goal: to become an effective team

With a little time and creativity, international or international teams can be developed in such a way that they not only work more efficiently, but also make working together fun.

Tip 3: Treat yourself and your team to a “shower of compliments” from time to time: this exercise will often work wonders. With her, each team member briefly describes what they particularly appreciate about other people and what they do really well. This positive feedback strengthens the emotional bond between team members.

Author Ulrike Fröhlich is the owner of the consulting company Understanding Japan.

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