Fitting in the Missing Pieces of Global Teams – Understanding Work Culture

October 18, 2016

I have written many blogs about ways to manage a global team.  One of the areas which is oftentimes overlooked when managing teams, either global or domestic, is the difference in culture – both business and personal, that each person brings to the team.

For example, I live in the United States and in California.  Therefore, I will bring a certain approach to the team and project that is indicative to those living in the USA and California.  However, my personal cultural make-up along with the business ethics of those cultures will also impact my work and approach to a project.  My mother was a first generation US citizen, being born and raised in Scotland.  My father was a second generation US citizen as my grandfather came from Mexico in the early 1900’s.  Both of these cultures have also imprinted on my business ethics.

Like me and my upbringing, everyone on your team may also have a mixture of business ethics.  You need to understand these in order to direct and manage a team so that you get the maximum performance from each team member.

I have another example.  While I have a Hispanic background, my approach to work time is based more from my Scottish background.  I had been taught that to be on time was to be late.  Recently, I had been giving a daylong session on working with global teams with another business colleague, whose background is also from a Latin based culture.  I had our presentation timed to the minute, with notes as to where we should be time-wise on each section break.  My co-presenter, to my chagrin, continued to talk about the subjects until she felt they had been fully covered.  During the break we discussed this and realized we both approached the session timeline differently due to our differing ethnic backgrounds.  Once we realized this, we were able to do the session multiple times without frustrating each other (and retaught the session multiple times together).

While you need to take the ethnic cultural background of the team members you are dealing with into account, you must also consider the business culture of the team member.  While they may have been raised in one culture, the country where they are working will also impact their approach to your project and how they participate in meeting and design sessions.

There have been four (4) distinct business cultures isolated.  They are: Family, Eiffel Tower, Guided Missile, and Incubator.  Each have different approaches to business and work.

The Family Culture is one that has a focus around a singular head who will direct everything.  Those people working under this culture will be looking for the team to operate more like their personal home hierarchy.  You will find this approach with those with work backgrounds from the Mediterranean, such as Spain, France, Greece, and Italy.  This is also prevalent in those from India, South Korea, and New Zealand.  When working with these people, you need to provide a family based approach to leadership which you, as manager, direct.

The Eiffel Tower Culture has very defined roles and can be bureaucratic.  Focus is on the role being played and not the person.  Process is steep and symmetrical.  All output must be able to be quantified.  This approach is centered in countries such as Germany, Austria, and Hungary.  When working with this group, you need to have a very defined plan and deliverables fully understandable and measurable.

The Guided Missile Culture can be seen as impersonal and task oriented.  Members of the team will share in problem solving, and each person feels they need to be assessed on how they perform and contribute to the success of the project.  You find this culture in countries such as the United States, Norway, Ireland, and Finland.  When working with these members, you need to provide an environment of team work and specific goals.  Everyone will need to fully understand the objective of the project and how their participation will provide them with focus on their contribution.

Finally, there is the Incubator Culture.  Here the organization of the team is less important than the fulfillment of each team member as an individual.  Creativity is fostered here and structure is of little importance.  Team members will have intense emotional commitment to the project and enjoy the process of innovating.  These traits are found in those who have a background in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, and Denmark.  When working with these team members, they need to understand the process and be allowed to reach the goal.  You must keep them focused, but not micromanaged.

No one person has a singular culture in them, but they may have traits from various groups based on their personal cultural make-up and their business background.  As a project manager, it is your duty to understand that these various cultures exist and assess how best to get the full potential from your team members.

HRchitect has a wide understanding of working with multi-cultural employees and teams.  Our clients have included working with teams on six of the seven continents throughout the past two decades with organizations of all sizes and industries.  We provide full Human Capital Management (HCM) technology consulting services from strategy, evaluation/selection, implementation, project management or change management assistance as well as serve as an advisor with your team to assure your next global project is successful.