In the previous blog I briefly touched on the difficulties virtual teams face regarding language and cultural differences. In many international ventures the possible complications that come from misunderstandings as a result of these differences, are initially overlooked. And only when projects go awry and we sit back to take stock of it all, does this reality hit home hard.
Teams do not function the same all over the world. In the U.S., teams are encouraged to take responsibility and contribute towards decision making, whereas in Japan management more often than not leans towards having informal private discussions where decision are made, even before the team meets. The French on the other hand love debating and are very willing to embrace some conflict during the decision-making process. And when we move to Sweden, we tend to find drawn-out conversations across many meetings before teams eventually find a solution that is then swiftly applied.
An even greater potential pothole than decision making, is conflict resolution. Some team members may be quite frank and open about their feelings, while others are really uncomfortable with disputes and prefer not getting involved and/or not voicing their opinions, especially when individuals are confronted. Defining ways in which conflict or disagreement are handled from the start, may be wise, but definitely not the only solution, as we have learned that these are often easier said than done. On paper it may all make sense, but the reality is that, for some team members, harmony will always be more important than getting things done.
Let’s face it, currently there is no such thing as ‘a virtual culture’ or an ‘international language of business.’ People with diverse cultural backgrounds will always network and communicate differently. Before starting a global venture, you need to agree on how decisions will be made and conflict will be resolved. And then that strategy needs to be tweaked and changed as the project matures and the team changes. Together great things can be conjured and maybe even achieved, but when conflicts and disagreements arise in global ventures, it almost always ends badly.
How do you survive global ventures?
Your success in this arena doesn’t depend on avoiding teaming up with the wrong business partners or software suppliers, which is at best a hit and miss game. But rather focussing on how well you understand your own team and how well you can use the knowledge you have gathered regarding your potential partners and vendors to your advantage. Aim for the best fit for your local team, make an effort to find a team with whom you will be able to work things out with when everything is not working as planned. The rules have changed, success is not only built on understanding your clients and how they operate. You need to make sure the ventures you partake in and the vendors/partners you choose on that journey, can do the same.