While nearly everyone in today’s global workplace recognizes the need (and appreciates the value) of collaborative work, it is not easy – especially when cultural differences, time zone challenges, work and communication styles enter the equation. Despite this, true global collaboration is simply too valuable not to take advantage of because it provides you, as a leader, with a significant opportunity to leverage learning, negotiate meaning, and share aptitudes – creating high potential sources of competitive advantage.
The rapid pace of globalization and the growing number of collaborative technology solutions have enabled virtual work while the demand for skills from around the world have made it a necessity. However, collaborative teamwork in virtual environments is not intuitive. It’s far more than dealing with technology and time zones – it is about people and the value that cross-cultural, virtual collaboration can bring to the organization.
An increasingly significant number of people lead geographically dispersed teams or work on international projects that attempt to draw expertise from across multiple regions and functions. If you, as a leader, want to harness the power of that expertise worldwide while simultaneously maximizing the cost benefits of virtual teams, you need to not only understand, but develop the capacity to leverage the multi-dimensional talent and diverse viewpoints available to you through global collaborative efforts.
As you build your network of global collaboration, be sure you do not ignore fundamental leadership principles in global business:
- No Sacred Cows
Be relentless in looking at policy, procedure, process and solution development from every possible angle. Take into consideration the different ways diverse team members conduct business in their part of the world and develop “systems” solutions that integrate best practices. Review one a quarter and adjust according to business and personnel requirements.
- Demand Integration
Hold regular meeting that distinctly address how local requirements can integrate into the global solution. Experience has shown again and again how every region, function and person believes they have unique requirements and should be able to operate under local process and procedure. This may be true when working directly with the local entity, but when they come to the “global table”, everyone must operate under the agreed central guidelines. Bring the teams together, leverage best practices and establish “the third best way” to conduct global business.
- No Stovepipes
Be unyielding in your insistence that information is shared openly across geographies and functions. Establish a knowledge repository where data and information – internal & external – can be accessed and require every single person across your global team has access and makes regular deposits (hint: build it into your team IKO’s).
… the only way to accomplish this is through cross-functional, cross-cultural collaboration. As a leader with global responsibility, you have a distinct opportunity to leverage virtual work to create innovative solutions. A true collaborative effort creates something new – new philosophies, processes… new products and services. Collaboration that crosses boundaries and borders creates unique opportunities – the ability to leverage diverse perspectives and viewpoints to create something exceptional.
Virtual collaboration is hard work and is not easy to achieve. Differences in cultural preferences, communication styles and working practices can easily become amplified and cause a loss of efficiency if not addressed and channeled with purpose. Simply asking people from differing backgrounds and experience to work collaboratively across boundaries and borders (especially when there is limited face-to-face interaction) will not guarantee that they will do so. Not surprising, virtual collaboration places significantly more structural, interpersonal, and cognitive demands on individual team members than local teamwork does. It requires constant attention and is not for the faint of heart.
Collaboration does not come naturally to people within the traditional organizational setting. However, when working across multiple cultures that may or may not encourage collaboration, things become very complex. Think about it—we generally assess performance based on individual effort and results. When we ask people to collaborate across various cultures, it may contradict the structure they are used to and become a major challenge – both emotionally and cognitively. In order to overcome these challenges, you need to ensure communication channels are open and prepared for global collaboration.
In order to lay the foundation for global success, consider that communication is the key to collaboration. When individuals from different cultural backgrounds miscommunicate, it inevitably leads to a lack of collaboration that is responsible for failed projects and suboptimal results. Culture forms the way we think and act – across all spectrums – often causing members of your global team to perceive reality very differently across boundaries and borders.
Your global teams have the capacity to generate significant results through collaboration… IF you follow a clear methodology for establishing successful cross-cultural communications. In order to mobilize the virtual power in your organization, you should contemplate integrating CIPATM (Cultural Integration Practical Application):
1. Internalize Cross-Cultural Collaboration Principles: Create Awareness
Knowledge is power. Incorporating cross-cultural context will provide your people with a mechanism not only to understand that we all see things differently, but also to comprehend that these perspectives have an enormous impact on attitudes, beliefs and behaviors… and on their ability to work together effectively. It is not enough to simply tell your people about different functions and cultures – they need to gain a deeper understanding of why they are different from their colleagues. Everyone must internalize the value and meaning of cross-cultural collaboration…or significantly increase the likelihood of failure.
2. Incorporate Cross-Cultural Inventories: Conduct Assessments
Cross-cultural assessments provide insight as to how best to interact with and leverage organizational diversity – but more importantly, they provide each person with insight as to their specific cultural norms and preferences while also allowing them to better identify cross-cultural norms and preferences amongst their global colleagues. These assessments allow people to discover how they can best communicate and leverage one another for organizational success. In order to effectively collaborate, people need to understand what is enabling success or hindering progress in a global context.
3. Integrate Cross-Cultural Orientations: Enable Alignment
Orientations provide your global teams with a way to understand their own and their colleagues’ behaviors. Once team members begin to understand the specific components of culture they see differently from their colleagues, they will gain the ability to identify specific behavioral differences that an inhibit the ability to build bridges between perspectives… and effectively collaborate across boundaries and borders.
4. Incite Strategic Intention: Empower Action
Strategic Intention provides your global teams with a toolbox of reliable methods for strategically evaluating any situation – cultural, functional, or organizational – very quickly. It delivers a clear process for them to intentionally prepare for interactions with their colleagues from alternative cultures on the spot – or uses the same tools to strategically prepare in advance for almost any situation that has the potential to thwart global collaboration.
Understand that one or another of these tools is not enough to equip your organization for its’ best chance at success. What few realize, is that these tools build upon one another to enable global collaboration. An assessment may provide insight, but it will not tell you what to do with that insight…cross-cultural principles may provide a foundation from which to go forward, but they will not help your global team members to understand their colleagues… and while orientations may provide inherent understanding of behaviors and perspectives, they will not provide a strategic process from which to interact. Each step is necessary… each step builds upon the last…. each step is mutually inclusive.
Give your people a critical advantage – equip them with a toolbox that facilitates global collaboration.
Are You Providing Your People With The Collaboration Tools They Really Need To Succeed Across Boundaries & Borders?
Please engage the discussion and let us know how you will equip your organization to work across boundaries & borders. Do you need an expert to help you with cross-cultural communication and global leadership? Contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.