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What is the Simple Strategy for Cross-Cultural Team Success

What is the Simple Strategy for Cross-Cultural Team Success
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I have often learnt from cross cultural team leaders that international experience and cultural knowledge were not necessarily the key to the success. Some leaders are successful on their first overseas assignment, while others might struggle even after many years of experience abroad.

What are the real leadership skills that lead teams to succeed in a diverse environment?

How does the brain react to foreign-ness?

Why is it so difficult to manage a cross-cultural team?

The different cultural mix in multinationals is a frightening experience for many. A number of studies (*1) have shown that when struggling in a new environment, a person has the same reaction as a hunter or soldier who enters a dangerous zone.

In other words, when put in a new environment, the amygdala which is the limbic system's central threat control center is immediately activated. Thus, we are made to believe the people around us as unpredictable and suspicious. (*2)

Regardless of the type of the culture, what is new or unfamiliar to a person is instantaneous. Stress is induced from the amygdala. It activates a mechanism that interprets an unfamiliar attitude or behavior as a personal attack. And then, it will present the question "Is this the enemy or not?" which triggers us to defend ourselves.

As a result, we tend to create reactive words and actions such as;
"All Americans are..."
"I knew it. Chinese are..."
"The pattern of Indians is..."

Actually, there is no one way to define an American, and each Indian is different. As such, the amygdala is biased, and it uses national and cultural differences as an excuse in the form of an antidote to fearful experiences.

Thus, training that provides knowledge about cultural diversity may be able to mitigate fear. However, when faced with a serious situation, this prior knowledge may take away our flexibility in perspective.

A word from a woman officer who activated the debate about the lack of a common aim

My ex-client, John's organization, had to face cultural differences issues as a result of a cross-border acquisition.
The eight management team members are from five different countries, and the executives do not have a good mutual understanding of each other. The situation is obviously difficult.

John thought there must be a lack of cultural understanding amongst the members, so he introduced traditional Japanese culture to each of them and also organized a training camp on cross-cultural understanding.

However, as soon as the training camp started, John's concerns began to erupt. Each explanation on their own culture were too extensive in order to protect themselves or to avoid offending each other.

"As I explained in my lecture, the U.S. and Japan are different, so..."
"The Chinese market has its own unique business practices..."
"The cultural differences between Japan and the rest of the world may cause..."

With each statement, many preliminaries and exclamations were added, and the eight members gradually fell apart as they cannot reach any commonalities.

John abruptly interrupted as he cannot tolerate the situation.

A woman executive, in charge of HR, began to speak immediately. She offered her view in a calm tone which changed the direction of the conversation.

"I think it's time to talk about business", she said, "It's not the cultural differences that we should talk about. It should be about how we can get results as a team. Why don't we focus on that? Also, I have one suggestion. When you speak, don't use the term like Japanese or American. Shall we focus on a person or a department? It's more productive to be specific on who is going to play which role."

The members seemed to freeze for a moment, and then some people started nodding their heads.

She later told me that every time she was involved in cross-border mergers and acquisitions, she always experienced scenes where cultural differences were used as a source of criticism and justification, rather than as an object of mutual understanding.

This is when we need to get back to the original goal, which is the business and what we want to achieve, and keep our eye on the success of the business and the role of each person, rather than discussing the differences of racial and cultural background.
She found it was the key to the solution.

What do the most successful leaders in diversity look for?

When you find it difficult to lead a team in a multinational, cross-cultural environment, it may be worth taking a closer look at what you aim to focus as a leader. If your focus is on the differences brought by different cultures, your brain may be creating a defensive response. On the other hand, we can choose to create a new focus.

Do we want to have a choice of focus? Or do we bring in our core aim?

This might be the potential for leadership to succeed in a multinational, cross-cultural environment.

[References]

※1
Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills Are Not What You Think
May 10, 2018
Gabor Holch
2018 Chief Learning Officer ? CLO Media.

※2
Robert Maurer, “One Small Step Can Change Your Life”
The Kaizen Way

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Language: Japanese

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