Archives For synergy

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Building and maintaining a strong, resilient organizational culture is one of the few phenomena that is truly all inclusive. Creating a successful company ethos depends on the positive collision of the right people (at all levels) and the right context. But what does it actually take to create a sustainable, remarkable company culture? The answer is complex, so over the next two weeks, we will look at culture first from a larger organizational perspective… and then again at ground level.

“It’s complicated” … A common response to developing organizational culture.

The lack of a clear, simple response as to how to build and sustain organizational culture is the reason most companies don’t have a great culture. All leaders theoretically want a great culture… and believe, if they repeat it enough, it will magically happen. However, wanting an amazing corporate culture and being willing (and committed) to creating one are two vastly different things.

Why? It’s just not obvious how to create a great organizational culture. After helping many clients through this exact same challenge, we know that there are some critical components in developing and maintaining an exceptional company culture.

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Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity I had to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, swimming in The Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick in my hand and a pre-brief on lion behavior in my head, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

Here is just a bit of what I was reminded of through my encounter with the lions:

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People in companies around the world think, act, work, learn and lead differently, based for the most part on their culture. Culture both consciously and unconsciously shapes values, perceptions and behaviors, as well as setting systematic guidelines for how we should conduct business.

Last week we took a look at how we can combine different components of culture to move virtual teams forward. This week we will explore how you can effectively manage cultural differences from a practical viewpoint that will allow everyone to benefit from cultural diversity.

By its very nature, the make-up of virtual teams is diverse. This is good – it allows you to maximize different perspectives and, hopefully, leverage the differences to gain new insights and fresh perspectives. However, there are factors that need to be managed if a virtual team is to not only survive, but thrive, within the complexities of a virtual team environment. Here are some common challenges you may have as a leader in creating synergy within your virtual team:

  • Leveraging the differences in cultural norms of team members
  • Understanding how different people manifest their cultural norms
  • Influencing the different functional, professional and alternative subcultures
  • Being empathetic to the functional and geographic dispersion of team members
  • Managing the the perception of status differences within the team
  • Leveraging culturally different leadership styles
  • Controlling differing expectations regarding key processes and procedures

These challenges need to be managed throughout the lifecycle of the team. The sooner they are acknowledged and worked on, the more efficiently the team will be able to deliver results.

Despite these challenges, there are also unifying factors that can connect a virtual team with their diverse team members. Virtual integration can occur based on common agreement as to accepted principles and processes and mechanisms such as shared vision and values.

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As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! This past summer I had the opportunity to return to Turkey to speak at a conference and meet with clients in Istanbul. I returned to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I was observing the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I began to think (once again) about how there are unique leadership lessons inherent in every environment. If  we pay close attention, there is also learning inherent in each of these environments. It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and deploy. In our western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attended client meetings that were focused solely on getting know one another better, I was reminded how Turkish people usually only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I made a visit to the world famous Spice Bazaar, I was reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stopped to chat with a shopkeeper and was invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chatted for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchanged contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

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Globalization and rapidly changing technology continue to sweep the world. Organizations working across international and cultural boundaries face significant challenges as they seek to reach and maintain market leadership – however, inherent in those challenges are often unrealized opportunities. One such opportunity, Multicultural teams, offers a wealth of leverage to the discerning global leader. Our research repeatedly identifies the following advantages when multicultural teams are leveraged effectively:

–       Global economies of scale and scope are realized

–       Effective global learning & knowledge transfer takes place

–       Global strategic capabilities are enhanced

–       More innovative products and services are developed

–       Better understanding of customers across multiple geographies is achieved

–       Strong cultural intelligence fostering competitive advantage is accomplished

In today’s complex global marketplace, success depends on a company’s ability to work effectively across different geographical locations and cultures in order to drive innovation and capture market share. Leaders must go beyond motivating people from very different cultural backgrounds, experiences and leadership styles – they must create an environment that facilitates multicultural teams to collaborate effectively across boundaries and borders. There is simply no better better way to understand and strategically exploit the global marketplace.

The truth is that most organizations under-utilize their multicultural teams as strategic assets. When properly developed, such teams contribute significantly to the growth and success of the organization and to its bottom line. In fact, multicultural teams are one of the most consistent sources of competitive advantage for any organization who deploys them – they are effectively the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace.

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It is inevitable – change creates drama in most organizations. However, you have a choice as to whether you deal with change effectively or let it spiral out of control  – controlling you and creating unnecessary drama! Leaders need to be able to present a unified vision and convey support if they expect their people to embrace change. Indifference can lead to a rapid demise of the change effort. As a leader invoking change, make sure you provide:

  • A vision for how the change will impact the individual, team, division and organization
  • A firm commitment to change goals, while accepting input on the details
  • Specific, achievable objectives along with plans for achieving them
  • A roadmap for success with realistic timelines, budgets, and owners
  • A communication framework to support change adoption
  • Opportunities for people to give feedback during and after the change

Admittedly, organizational change is complex, but we often make it harder on ourselves than it has to be. Just as in the board game Clue, it is easy to engage in false assumptions that can lead our people down the path of suspicion and drama – away from the truth and the ultimate win. The result? A whole lot of ambiguous thinking regarding the application of structured, human-focused, change within the organization.

Here are just a few examples of how we can easily fall victim to false assumptions over our own realities:

People Resist Change: Actually, not always. People frequently seek out drastic changes in their lives and voluntarily embrace them. People do, however, resist being forced to change.
 How change is presented and managed will impact its success or failure far more than the change itself.  Most of us respond far better to change when we comprehend a valid reason for it – without solid justification, most people are likely to resist anyone who tries to force change upon them… and cause drama along the way.

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