Friday, 18 December 2009

Are Cultural Issues Killing your Business?

You may have being involved in Cross cultural teams, as a part of your Software Teams or your company outsourcing your Business or Knowledge processes. Every time you dealt with teams out of your region you might have faced challenges... if you say that you never faced any issues then in Swami's language "YOU ARE GOD" in Aaron's words "YOU SHOOT"... in practicality "You are lying"... Yes.. as we are going global, we are facing more and more issues that are directly linked to cultural differences.. and since you are doing the same tasks or sharing the same tasks, you are definitely going to mess it up if you dont understand the issues and be proactive enough to work on them....

Exactly as we have the IQ , we should factor something called as Cultural Quotient, the thing that will help us build intelligence to factor the cultural issues that cross culture teams can face...Cultural Intelligence is a way of understanding diversified cultures and managing a balance in them, thus helping managers in steps achieve:

1. Understanding cultural barriers
2. Creating a framework to manage the base
3. Increasing productivity

Here I bring you some things that can help us collectively if we work together...so lets

1. Identify these issues
2. Find solutions to them
3. Improve our effectiveness and help our organization achieve more...

There are common challenges that you face in global teams spread across cultures... some ways to avoid them and some potential ways to penetrate the issue and kill them is what we need to work on. The post is not an answer to your problem... but instead a wake up call for you to contribute to this issue that can save us millions easily....

A few of the major areas of challenge in cultural diversified organizations are:

1. Communication

With tools and channels to support effective communication like Skype. Yammer, IM , VOIP, Collaboration tools.. it has become easier and easier now to communicate. However it is not really the channels that are the challenge here... its the way the communication happens in different cultures that cause the fallback for organizations to achieve their goals...The fruits of globalization...

Here are a few of those common things that affect you.. in day to day life...
You are in a conference with an American , A European, An Indian... During the conference somebody propose a solution and expects you to answer...
The European would say "Yes" to confirm that it will be done.
The Indian would say "Yes" which means that he understands the problem, He may not agree to the solution and means that he is not sure of doing it too...
An American would say "Yes" and it means that it is wide and clear to be done.

Similarly... Greetings have their own effect in different cultures..
For an American a firm handshake determines self confidence, A limp one can be taken as homosexuality, a long handshake would mean closeness and even sexual attraction. While in Africa a limp handshake is a correct one , if it is for a longer time it is the perfect handshake.

An eye to eye contact with anyone while any conversation is the right thing and shows your correctness in America, while an eye to eye contact by a lady in India maybe seen as dis respect.

Eventually due to all of such smaller but important reasons in different cultures, communication becomes key and more potential to failures... Imagine a Yes said by an Indian taken as a commitment by the client.. or a limp handshake to the potential biggest deal, or no eye contact during a business meeting with your boss?

2. Approach to work

Its the approach that is differently handled in different cultures... You would find a Japanese doing several checks, references , discussions and more and more analysis and planning before doing anything... while a General American would with some basic level of analysis kick of major projects.

Its also the approach to work that can cause bigger conflicts in between teams or people if they culturally differ. A few weeks ago I had being involved preparing a business plan for a friend's statrtup who is now pitching a VC. The friend also had an American partner who was involved in making this plan... Creating a cyclic analysis and report of revenue model, the American friend more focused on dumping the basics, while my friend waited and worked for few more days to get the analysis and data correct. Not that Americans jump into things, but the depth is analysed in more agile way.

The approach can be a decisive killer in between colleagues and bosses and peers.
3. Decision making style

Always Key... An Indian would assume that he would need enough direction and guidance under a leader before he kicks off his task. An Aussie would take the lead and begin the task. Also the way decision making is done is or can be different... A Chinese employee will go ahead and implement what is being told... A British may come and ask several questions and challenge the decision. A Chinese Manager would accept anyone to abide by the decision made, while if the Britisher sees a lot of loopholes would like it to be reconsidered.

Ready for a disaster?

4. Tolerance

There is a certain level of Tolerance low and high between the various cultures... Ambiguity of Tasks, roles and job profile may have very less tolerance as you go western... while Tolerance towards quality of work and results has very less as you move east.

A few weeks ago I read an email from a funny forward... the software vendor almost abused the company who was giving him a job to outsource since in various iterations it was not getting clearer to him on what is expected.

How we tackle them? Well I know this has turned out to be a big big post... But I think it makes sense to add up more of the reality challenges and then go for Solutions.... what do you think?