Do maps influence our language and how we judge our teammates?

Take a good look at the world map below? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you lose perspective?  Generally people feel distressed when they see this projection of the world map for the first time. Does Europe seem tiny and insignificant through this view?

Map 1: Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection, South Up

What about this one? What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you look at Map 2?

Map 2: Hobo Dyer Equal Area Projection, North Up

My first thought was, “Wow Africa is huge!”

Being brought up in the southern hemisphere, I have often felt that I am always most at ease when meeting others from the south. I have often queried that.  What is it about them that makes me feel so comfortable? We might come from different parts of the world entirely, Chile, South Africa, Australia and yet there is something that connects us. What could it be? Could it be related to how we were brought up viewing the world and therefore our position in this world?

Many of us were brought up with a skewed perspective of the world. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. At school we used the traditional, “Mercator” map below. As you can see, Melbourne is at the very bottom… you need to look hard to find it.

Map 3: Mercator projection

You’ll likely recognise the projection of  map 3 above, it’s the projection used by Google and other internet map providers[1]. It was created by the navigator Gerardus Mercator in 1569 as a guide to sailors to navigate the globe. Apparently it is still extremely useful for navigation purposes. However the world is a globe and it is very hard to project a globe onto a flat piece of paper, without distorting it. On the Mercator projection, you can see that Greenland looks bigger than Australia and Africa. In fact Australia is about three times the area of Greenland and Africa about 14 times the size of Greenland.

So let’s go back to map 1.

Map 1: Hobo Dyer Equal Projection, South Up

Ah… I love this map. Look at that, Melbourne uppermost centre… now I feel on top of the world:) There seems to be so much more water with this perspective. Of course this map is also not completely accurate as no flat surface can accurately project a globe, but this map does show the correct size of the countries.

Different perspectives offer different insights. How would our image of ourselves change if we were brought up looking at maps with our country always in the centre?

And yes, south can be up…  This “north is always up” perspective of the world does not only influence our image of ourselves (and others) but it also influences our language.  “I’m heading down south, I’m heading up north”. What about the negative connotations related to the south, such as, “My computer is only one month old, and it’s already gone south.” Why is south negative? Is it because we always look at maps that depict south to be at the bottom, and the bottom of the earth is not a pleasant place to be? In the Catholic Middle Ages of course the bottom of the earth referred to hell and evil.

So what do maps have to do with High-Performing Culturally Diverse Teams? We should never underestimate how important it is when working with people of other backgrounds to take the time to look at every situation through their perspective. I realise that statement can seem banal, but the way each one of us views the world, influences the way we see ourselves and the way we perceive (and probably judge) others in relation to that. This in turn impacts the way we behave and communicate with them. Do we speak in a patronising way when we speak to a person who comes from a country that on our map view seems insignificant? Are we more confident when communicating with people whom we perceive as being similar to us according to our map view?  Is there a natural connection or bond that allows us to be ourselves and show more confidence when interacting with these people? Where we position ourselves is central to how we view others and therefore how we behave, communicate and are accepted, or not, by others.

How do you feel your view of the world has influenced your communication and image of yourself?

[1] “The Mercator Projection was originally designed for nautical navigation by keeping lines of latitude perpendicular to lines of longitude. Land areas are distorted and the distortion increases nearer the poles, making countries in very low or very high latitudes look bigger than they really are.” Source: www.philmikejones.me & “Seeing Through Maps”, Wood, Kaiser and Abrahams, 2006 by ODT.

Team Culture – Europe is getting back into motion – Now is the time to realign and create the Culture the team can thrive in.

Europe is slowly opening up after the COVID-19 lockdown. After weeks of isolation people are finally allowed to go out for a walk, factories are re-starting their production machines and office employees will soon be starting back.  

Each team member has had their own difficult situations to overcome; some have had to share home office with kids who have been doing home-schooling, others who usually love being active are feeling claustrophobic at not being able to exert themselves in the gym or on a long outdoor bike ride. Maybe over the last few weeks work has not always been foremost on their minds.  Now is the ideal time to “re-align” and create or revise your team culture. Many of us have been obliged recently to contemplate what matters to us most. What are our values, whether at home or at work.

Culture is often overlooked by leaders because it can seem too abstract. Actually, it’s quite concrete once we sit down and discuss it with our team. A strong team culture creates cohesion, pride, team spirit, accountability, open communication, inclusion, productivity and therefore a high-performing team. Creating a team culture is the way to bring that cohesion and team spirit back to the forefront if it is has slipped a bit during lockdown.

What are we referring to when we say culture? Culture is a set of norms accepted and encouraged by the group; acceptable ways of behaving, communicating and getting things done, for example:

  1. What is the acceptable way that our group gives feedback to one another or?
  2. How do we move forward with a risky decision?  Do we plan and wait until we are more “certain” or jump and “fail fast”.
  3. How do we disagree? Is it acceptable to disagree openly with another teammate in a group meeting and encourage constructive conflict or is that rather frowned upon?
  4. What is a productive way for us as a team to make decisions?
  5. How do we problem-solve when we have little time on our hands, etc.

There are different methods of creating your team culture. What is essential is that it be created by the team, not a few individuals or leaders. Below is a 4-step activity you can start with, there are obviously other methods. This exercise can be done face-to-face or virtually. If you plan to do it virtually then consider planning 4 short sessions rather than one long session. If you do the below 4-step activity you need to invest time in the discussion part of the activity (step 2). Give every team member the opportunity to express themselves and allow for possible introverts to have their say about how they also envision the team functioning well. The important message here is that it is the team that creates the culture it believes in. You’ll need to discuss common values and therefore have every member speak up. This could be difficult on a virtual culturally diverse team, so prepare well for that moderation hurdle.

Step 1: Plot a Culture Map

Each team member plots themselves on a Culture Map along 4 scales related to behaviour or communication. Each scale shows  each team member’s preference (see sample culture map below). The four scales can be varied, but those that create strong discussions often are:

  1. How you build trust and manage conflict
  2. Problem Solving techniques
  3. Decision making – do you feel the need to be involved or not
  4. How you deal with uncertainty / risk taking,

Once everyone is plotted it is more obvious to see similarities and differences between team members. Remember, differences can be complementary and can enhance creativity and problem solving solutions, therefore don’t play them down.

Team Culture Map

Step two: This is the most essential part of the exercise. Do not skip it. This is the time for discussion. Let’s zoom in on scale 1 above and use it as an example:

Team Communication Preferences

Ask each person to discuss their preferences according to what they plotted. In the above example, which looks at communication and how we give feedback or disagree, Elena might come across to Emmanuel as being domineering or aggressive. She may not realise it. You could probably discuss here what the benefits are of having somebody always play devil’s advocate and on the other hand discuss how important it might be with clients to have colleagues who steer away from conflict, such as Emmanuel. Consider how team behaviour might differ according to what Elena’s role is. If she is the leader of the team it might come across differently compared to if she is not. You might discuss what conflict actually means to the individuals. For some it could mean saying, “I think your plan is really inefficient and our client will hate it.” This could come across as quite aggressive for some Asian cultures. For others, conflict could be as simple as a gentle disagreement. Another topic to discuss here is when (if ever) do the individuals feel comfortable disagreeing; do they need a relationship of trust before being able to disagree?

This discussion is the heart of the workshop. Each person openly speaks about what their preference is.   Each scale needs to be discussed and once you complete the discussion of each scale move to step 3. If you do this as a virtual workshop you may prefer to do one complete scale from step 1 to step 4 during each virtual session.

Step three: Discuss a strategy to be more efficient (if necessary) thereby creating your ideal team culture.  For the above scale, your discussion could start with:

  1. How can we come up with good ideas and exchanges in the future and get everyone involved, including those who don’t like conflict?
  2. How do we create more open/transparent discussions within the team?
  3. How can we make sure everyone on the team is listened to, both the risk-takers and the risk-averse even though some of them have stated they don’t like to enter conflict?
  4. How can this knowledge help us run more productive meetings?

Step four: Once the points in step 3 are agreed to by all members, write your team charter. These are the “behaviour and norms” you will follow as a team according to what was discussed in step 3. It is important to write them somewhere where the whole team has access to them so you can occasionally go back to them. They can be used for example before starting a meeting or after a few months when some points seem to have been forgotten.

The Team Charter should be “Our Culture”: Not yours, not mine, but ours. It is a culture in which each team member thinks: “I feel comfortable working here because my values are appreciated. I feel I can be myself and therefore it brings out the best of me.”

High Performing Global Teams – Three Steps to Building Trust Remotely

If trust is the glue that connects and creates a High Performing Team, and if trust is created through spontaneous “coffee-corner chit-chat” or sharing a beer or coke after work, it’s no wonder we often struggle to feel connected to our team members when working remotely.

A recent study found that although remote teams have caught up with centrally located teams in terms of brainstorming, setting goals and project management, they are still lagging when it comes to feeling connected.

Ideally, our virtual communication techniques should replicate what we do (often without much effort) in a same-office team. The three small gestures below can help you create that bond which builds trust, which in turn builds team spirit and accountability and which finally helps increases team performance.

1.    Replicate the office coffee-corner virtually

Invite a colleague for a morning coffee just to say, “Hi”. The invitation is literally for 5 minutes. It doesn’t involve talking about work, it is purely to say, “How are things?” Don’t forget to switch on the camera.

This might seem unnatural initially, but just think about what happens naturally at the coffee corner in the office. While preparing your preferred drink you see colleagues from other departments and business units and you have that quick, 3-minute chat about the weekend, about your kids, about movies or perhaps about a new running route you’ve just discovered.

What is so important about these quick exchanges? These short dialogues show who you are as a person other than just as a business colleague and they create a bond. By opening up like this, we show, and see in return, a human side to the person that we find difficult to imagine through email exchanges. We discover what we have in common and these commonalities are what help us build a relationship, build trust and therefore accountability. 

2. Virtual after-work drinks

Before Coronavirus this seemed like a far-fetched thought for many. Since we have been locked up for weeks and craving conversation, it seems more natural and it’s been great to see how many people have picked up on it. Invite your colleagues for a drink after work. You grab a beer, they grab a coke, an ice -tea, a prosecco, maybe a cappuccino depending on what time zone you are all in. Whatever the refreshment, it’s time for relaxing and talking about whatever comes to your mind and exchanging on a more personal note. This is not the 3-minute chat from above. Allow some time to give people the opportunity to open up. If you’re not a natural talker, or you have some introverts on the team who might struggle to open up, think of easy subjects to talk about that are not too personal such as travel ideas, food, national celebrations and traditions in your colleagues’ countries that you might be curious about.

3. Include ice-breakers into your weekly virtual ops meetings

When we go to a same office face-to-face meeting, usually one or two people arrive a few minutes earlier than the crowd and a short discussion starts. As each person slips into the meeting room the discussion opens up with more people adding what they have to say and each new added sentence gives us insight into the person sitting in front of us. Often, these spontaneous discussions lead to creative ideas. This is a an element that is often missing in team conference calls. When we join conference calls where one person is sitting in Kuala Lumpur, one in Sydney and a third and fourth in Zurich and Stockholm, we don’t take the time to break the ice this way. We log-into the meeting one minute before it starts, the host welcomes everyone and the meeting begins.

If you’re running a virtual team meeting find some 3-4 minute icebreakers you can use. Make them short and fun. They can be as personal or impersonal as you feel is appropriate for the team. For example, ask each team member to send a photo of themselves when they were 5 years old. The others have to guess who it is. Or everyone uploads their favourite film /book/football player/pair of shoes and you need to guess which object belongs to which team member.

Always remember to switch on your camera in these sessions and find a way to convince the others to do so too. It is extraordinary how a smile can help interpret emotions that are usually very dfficult to read over the phone or through email. The visual aid helps us read between the lines when communicating with people who don’t normally say exactly what they think.

These easy to apply communication techniques help us create a connection with our colleagues, which allows us to bond and thereby create trust. Without trust and without accountability team spirit crumbles and when it does, your goals slowly become unattainable.  

Inclusion: It can be as simple as Listening

A few years ago, the company I was working for sent me off to Brazil to lead a small team of 4 Brazilian women, all with different work and life experiences. The most experienced was the manager who was about 35 and the least experienced was an assistant who was about 24 years old.

After a few months with the team, I thought it was time to analyse how things were moving forward. Had I built trust with my team? Had they built trust with one another? Was our communication clear? I asked myself all these questions, and more,  and I was fairly content with my answers and gave myself a pat on the back. Boy was I wrong! About a week later, one of my team members, (let’s call her Lia), basically told me how incompetent I was at dealing with Brazilians.  Let me tell you what happened.

 Lia and I headed to Sao Paolo for an important meeting. I had 90 minutes to convince a university professor to allow about 100 of his students to do a paid internship with our company.   Seems simple right? Well, I thought it was going to be simple. I’d had several similar meetings before, in different countries, and until then I had been successful with my request. I knew the subject matter of the meeting very well, and I thought I knew what the outcome was going to be.  Consequently, I entered the meeting on “Autopilot”. Mistake #1. I didn’t pick up on little signals and body language that the professor was sharing throughout the discussion to show his disinterest. Therefore, I wasn’t flexible enough to change my mode of communication or my persuasion techniques.

At the end of the 90 minutes, Lia and I walked out of the meeting, our heads down, unsuccessful. The professor was not going to allow his students to join our project. Lia and I stepped into the taxi that was taking us back to the airport. I was speechless and in shock at how badly the meeting had just gone. After a few minutes, I turned to Lia and asked, “What just happened in there?” She looked at me and suddenly burst into tears. She was crying and yelling through her sobs, “Tania, you haven’t been listening to me!!!” I’ve been telling you for months that you cannot do things here your way, you have to do it the Brazilian way!” “What? What do you mean you’ve been telling me for months?” “Well, to start with, about one month ago in our team meeting, I said A, B and C. Three weeks ago, I said, X,Y and Z and last week I repeated A, B and C, but you just ignore what I say!”

Ooooooh…What a disaster. Lia had been giving me feedback about how to be more efficient with my Brazilian counterparts, but I hadn’t “heard” her feedback.  I hadn’t heard it because I didn’t know how to adapt my listening techniques to her communication methods. For Lia, hierarchy was important and I was her Manager. Therefore, she found it difficult to speak to me directly, she didn’t want to seem disrespectful,  which means her feedback was very indirect, so indirect that I didn’t understand it. It just went straight over my head.

 In Lia’s eyes, the fact that I didn’t modify my communication according to her suggestions, meant that I was not interested in her opinion or in her ideas, therefore she believed I didn’t trust her. This was all mistaken of course, but that was her perspective.  What’s more, I realised that I was probably about to lose the respect and trust from the rest of my team unless I made some changes quickly.

 I hadn’t understood Lia because I had only been listening with my ears and because I was convinced that my method of getting things done was the right one.  Lia was putting far more than just words into the message she was delivering. In fact, the words she used were of little significance. Most of the significance came from her body language and the subtle hints she was giving me while smiling.  Did I think that because she smiled while giving me the hints that they were not so important or not serious? For me a smile typically means agreement. Did I not go out to lunch with her often enough and share in personal chatter enough? Maybe that would have created a level of trust with her that could have helped her open up to me differently, or in a way that I would have understood. If I had done more personal sharing, maybe I would have learnt more about her communication techniques and learnt what was feedback and what wasn’t.

 When we work in culturally diverse teams, each one of us has a very different mindset and a different way of  seeing the world and therefore of behaving and communicating. What is respectful behaviour in one culture can seem very disrespectful in another. If we want to be inclusive and bring out the best of each one of our colleagues, irrespective of their background, we need to learn what the perspective of each one of our teammates is.  We cannot assume that just because Corporate Culture says, “This is the way we do things around here,” that each individual is going to be comfortable following that path. Inclusion means taking the time, making time, to get to know who you’re working with even though you think that lunch time chit chat or coffee machine chit chat takes you away from reaching your deadlines.

Take a look at the Chinese character below, Ting, (which means to listen). We can learn a lot about listening from our Chinese colleagues. “Ting”, is made up of 4 smaller characters, each one a component of what we should use to listen; our ears, our eyes, undivided attention and an open heart.

Feedback within Global Teams

 

 

How often are you asked by your colleagues, “Could you take a look at my presentation and tell me what you think?” This seems like a harmless task. So you take a look and say, “It looks good, maybe just change the blue border around the graph to green.”

Hmmm. What do you think has just been understood by Lila, the colleague who asked for your opinion?

a) She thinks she´s done a great job and will just change the blue border to green, or

b) She thinks you hate the whole presentation and she will be up all night to rewrite it all.

Feedback is hard enough when we are dealing with people who have a similar mindset to ours. We´re usually a little uncomfortable telling somebody that the work they have done is not quite what was expected. When we give feedback to people who were brought up in a similar environment to ours, we are usually aware of the best way to do it. We pick up on small patterns of behaviour that are are part of the culture we grow up in. As we grow up, we see, listen and copy how people act and react to what we say and how we say it; be it at school from friends and teachers and then when we join the work-force our colleagues and managers use patterns that we recognise and we copy knowing it works.

However, it is all too easy to make unknown errors working in culturally diverse teams and assuming that just because we work for the same company and are aware of the corporate culture, that we are comfortable using the same communication techniques.

If you´ve been brought up in north-western Europe where one of the most important values is often honesty and equality, then feedback can be to the point and direct. You know that the person you´re talking to will likely appreciate your honesty and not take any offence in what you say. Therefore, with our above sample, Lila will literally only go and change the blue line to a green line and then feel her presentation is complete.

However, if Lila happened to grow up in, let´s say, Far East Asia or Latin America, where generally society values relationship-building and saving Face more that telling the “absolute truth”, then she might have understood that her presentation was indeed not good at all and needed to be redone, completely. In these societies generally feedback is given in a far more indirect manner, using techniques such as not mentioning what was not done well. So the fact that the person above only mentioned the colour of the line around the graph and nothing else, could be interpreted to mean that everything that was not mentioned was not to be re-worked.

Let´s look at the above example again and see how the feedback can be treated if Lila really is from a culture where trust is created through relationship-building and face-saving is important. Ideally you create an environment where a discussion can take place rather than just give your opinion:

  1. Firstly, always give feedback one-on-one, never in public

2. Rather than give your opinion, ask the other person what they think about the work they have just done; “So Lila, how do you feel the presentation looks?

3. If Lila says she likes it, (and yet you think there are still some adjustments to be made) then perhaps ask, “If you had to give it a score from 1-10, what score would you give it?” Lila replies, “I´d give it an 8”. “So,” you reply, “how can we bring it from 8 to 9?” and that is where the feedback discussion begins.

Being culturally savvy means learning to read communication patterns that are different to the ones you were brought up with and knowing when to change your communication techniques (verbal and non-verbal) according to the cultural background of the team member you are facing. If you work in a multicultural team, that could mean either changing your communication with every person on the team or deciding with the team openly and up front which communication techniques will be used to express such thoughts. That would be creating the team culture a method of behaviour and communication that everyone on the team is happy with.

3 actions that create an inclusive culture

A few weeks ago I was staying in a hotel in central Amsterdam. I had just gone out for breakfast and strolled back into the hotel to go up to my room. I stepped into the elevator and a young woman followed me in. The trip up to my 5th floor room took around 10 seconds. Within 5 seconds, I had summed her up. I started to panic thinking, oh no, she’s a drug addict, she’s going to steal my purse, I won’t make it to my business appointment this afternoon and I won’t be able to fly home tomorrow without my passport !!!!

All of that in 5 seconds. Of course she did nothing of the sort. She was a 26-year-old (I think) Italian tourist who had just been out partying all night and forgot to take her key-card out with her. So why did I, in less than 10 seconds, judge her so harshly?

That was my unconscious bias talking. I was piecing together information that was missing. And I pieced it together wrongly. I had 5 pieces of information; 1. She had droopy looking eyes at 7.30am. 2. She was very skinny. 3. She had a bad complexion 4. She hadn’t pressed a floor button when she entered the elevator and 5. she said to me in a strong-accented, broken English, while bringing two fingers up to her mouth, “I need cigarette.”

I pieced together what I had and all of a sudden, I thought I had a starving drug addict who need a quick fix and was following me to my room to steal all my money.

I only realised my mistake when we finally reached the fifth floor and I insisted she exit the elevator before me, I almost pushed her out and she resisted, shaking her head. Finally she found the energy to lift 4 fingers and say in Italian, “Quattro”. So, I pressed the fourth-floor button for her and stepped out. I started laughing at myself, terribly embarrassed for making all of those assumptions about her in 5 seconds and vowed not to do it again.

Our unconscious bias works in many ways, and one that is common is when we don’t have much information, we usually fill in the gaps however we feel makes sense. If I had an affinity towards her, I could have made her into an ‘Amy Winehouse-style-rockstar’ and would’ve probably asked her for an autograph. But I couldn’t “see” any affinities, (until she spoke Italian), so I invented the worst.

We do this all the time, day-in, day-out, with our diverse colleagues at work. Diverse teams can be stronger, more creative and more high-performing than homogenous teams[1], but they are only stronger and more effective, if we as team members and team leaders leverage on that diversity and create an inclusive environment. Which means:

  1. being aware of our biases and avoid making assumptions
  2. discovering where our diversities can be complementary rather than a threat and
  3. using small conscious actions to ensure everybody on the team feels valued.

What is Diversity?

Diversity is everything that creates differences between us that can generate a different mindset. It can refer to our age (millennials have a different way of looking at productivity than baby-boomers, believing more flexibility means being able to be more productive[2].) It can refer to our ethnicity, our national culture, our sexual orientation, gender, different physical abilities, the region we were brought up in, our socio-economic background, our education… the list goes on. Have you ever tried to interview a young engineering student and then followed that interview with a communication student? They seem to be planets apart in the way they describe their attributes and skills and how they demonstrate motivation for the job. Unless you modify your listening skills to take in more than just the words they are using you might miss out on hiring the best person for the job.

Diverse teams can take a little longer to become high performing than homogenous teams[3], but once they get past the initial stages of prejudging, stereotyping and making assumptions, they can be more effective. We cannot assume though that just because we hire the eight most creative diverse team members for our next project that we are going to reach our objectives easily. Diversity without inclusion can lead to underperforming teams[4].

 How can we create an inclusive culture?

Avoid exclusion. Not all differences are visible. The invisible ones are generally the ones that generate filling in the gaps with prejudgments and we start labelling our colleagues as ‘unreliable, lazy, not long enough in the company, too long in the company, wants to be noticed, shy…’ . If I see that you have a different skin colour to mine or I hear that you have a different accent, I will put two and two together, ask you questions and eventually will know where our differences lie. This will help me understand how I may have to modify my communication with you or think twice about interpreting what you say. Maybe I will consider the best way to give you feedback in order to not offend you.

When the differences are not so obvious, we don’t realise that we need to modify our behaviour because we don’t ask the same questions. Imagine you have a team member who doesn’t hear very well. You don't see the tiny hearing aid she wears, so it is difficult for you to be aware of this disability. If you don’t know, you won’t make any changes to the way you communicate with her. She may end up feeling a little excluded from the team because she isn’t able to leap in and exchange ideas as freely at meetings, feeling she may not have understood all the details. You also note that she doesn’t offer many suggestions at meetings and you write her off as not very interested in the project and you end up hardly ever asking her for input. In the end run, she will likely feel excluded and lose motivation. However, if you know she has a hearing disability, you start to consider how you can include her more in the team meetings. ‘Should I look at her when I speak so she can read my lips? Should I use Skype with camera rather than just the phone when we speak to help her get the message? Should I ensure the whole team knows about this so that when we have team meetings everybody is more careful?’  That is Inclusion. Making every team member feel valued.

Inclusion means avoiding making assumptions that we are all the same. We are all different and we need to be treated differently. We think differently, behave differently, react differently and therefore we need to communicate differently with each of the people on our team. Inclusion is about modifying small actions to make everyone on the team feel valued and feel as though they belong. This allows everyone to feel they can be themselves. A person who feels they belong, will be more motivated to participate in reaching objectives of the team. A person who feels they belong will feel they have everything to gain in being creative and the team spirit will soar, meaning more retention and better collaboration[5]. Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time and take decisions two times faster with half of the meetings.[6]

What kind of small actions create inclusiveness? They are simpler than you think. Open up, be curious about your colleagues and think before you speak. Say good morning to everyone when you enter the office. Occasionally go and have a coffee with someone you normally wouldn’t share a coffee with. Ensure you give the opportunity to introverts to speak up in meetings. Be aware of your biases when interviewing job candidates or when considering who to promote. As a test, write a list of the people you promoted last year. How similar were they? Were they all men, all women, all white, all engineers, same age, same culture, same education background, same outgoing personality? If so, why?

Even when we have good intentions, our assumptions get in the way, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you occasionally say the wrong thing. Put the error into your bag of 'things to be aware of'. I was at a networking conference in Zurich a couple of years ago where I met an Australian woman who had just moved to Switzerland. She was wearing a wedding ring and carried a beautiful black, patent-leather Prada handbag over her wrist. While chatting to her I asked, “Did you move to Zurich with your husband?” “Actually”, she replied, ‘I moved here with my wife.” Oops. There I was telling her I train D&I and I am the first to make assumptions. I made a mental note to myself to avoid using the word husband and wife in the future and just use, ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’. In English these words are genderless. But we forget our good intentions. Six months later I was talking to a young British man who had just moved to Central America. I saw he was wearing a wedding ring and I was curious how he and his family were integrating, so I asked, “Did you move here with your wife?” “Actually,” he replied, “I came over with my husband.’’ Grrrr….

 

 

[1] ‘Unravelling the diversity-performance link in multicultural teams: meta-analysis of studies on the impact of cultural diversity in teams’, by Günter K. Stahl; Martha Maznevski; Andreas Voigt and Karsten Jonsen, 2007.

[2] ‘Millennials at work’, Bentley University/ November 2014

[3] ‘Unravelling the diversity-performance link in multicultural teams: meta-analysis of studies on the impact of cultural diversity in teams’, by Günter K. Stahl; Martha Maznevski; Andreas Voigt and Karsten Jonsen, 2007.

[4] Idem

[5] Diversity Matters, McKinsey, 2015 Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countries, Catalyst, 2014, Driving Retention and Performance Through Employee Engagement, Corporate Leadership Council, 2008 ;

[6] Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making at Work, Erik Larson, Forbes Magazine, September 2017

 

Working Down Under

Kangaroos on the road

So you’ve finally got the chance to head Down Under on assignment for a couple of years or you have an Australian colleague or two who have joined your project team for the next fifteen months. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back reputation that Australians are renowned for; deadlines will be met and your Aussie colleagues will let you know if they don’t agree with your decisions.

The interview below is in German and it discusses some communication and behavioural challenges that you may face when working with Australians. The German grammar in the video has plenty of room for improvement although I hope the intention comes through – at least the accent is ‘dinky-di’ Aussie. For the non-German speaking readers,  here are some helpful suggestions for creating an atmosphere of trust and making your team effective when working with Australians. There certainly are plenty of Aussies out there working in the sports event world, so don’t consider it to be too unlikely to have one or two on your team.

  1. Equality -Australians strive for equality and will call the Prime Minister, their child’s teacher and their taxi driver by their first name, no titles, surnames or special considerations. In a business situation, treat everybody equally, i.e. if you’re leading a meeting be sure to ask your Aussie subordinates for their opinions, especially if they are the experts on the subject matter.
  2. Be ‘unassuming‘ – play down your accomplishments. Unless somebody has asked you about your engineering discoveries and your technological feats, don’t offer the information. It’s not that your Australian colleagues won’t find your accomplishments interesting, but if someone asks you what you do for a living, there’s no need to start the explanation with where you did your MBA to achieve where you are today; you’ll put the table guests to sleep.
  3. Mateship‘ – if you’re the boss, don’t behave in an authoritarian manner with your subordinates, take the time to get to know them and treat them as your ‘mates’. Before you go to the office on Monday morning be sure to read up on the weekend sports results as they’ll surely be discussed before the weekly update meeting. Enjoy an after-work drink together (it doesn’t have to be alcoholic) or invite them to your Sunday BBQ. Keep in mind that if you invite them to a game of golf, your Aussie subordinates are not going to lose the game to make you look better.
  4. Don’t forget to use humour, especially when things aren’t going well. Australian humour is often ironic and self-deprecating. It’s a way to keep the atmosphere relaxed. Even if you have no idea what the joke’s punch line meant, at least give an appreciative smile. One of the worst criticisms you’ll hear from an Australian is, ‘He can’t take a joke.’
  5. Don’t forget that although cities like Melbourne and Sydney are very multicultural, Australia has a lot of British heritage. So remember to always be polite and don’t criticise your colleagues too directly or you’ll create enemies amongst your co-workers and remember that Australians generally support the underdog in any competition, so if that’s not you, you won’t be making mates. Use humour in situations of conflict to lighten up the atmosphere.

Australia is a country of immigrants who have endeavoured to make their children’s lives more prosperous than their own may have been. Each individual you meet will have a lot of different cultural influences that will dominate in certain situations, whether that be their gender, their profession, their generation, religion or their national heritage. Therefore the above five points may not ring true for each individual you meet, however it’s a starting point for building your team.

Generally, when doing business with other cultures the three steps to keep in mind are:

  1. Learn what your values are and your preferred methods of communication. For example, are you offended if your boss doesn’t ask you for your expert opinion in meetings, or on the contrary are you offended and feel your boss is being aggressive if she does ask for your opinion in a group meeting?
  2. Learn what the other person’s cultural values are (whether they be national, generational, gender based etc.) and their preferred methods of communication.
  3. Find out where the largest gap between the two cultures is and learn what you can do to minimise the gap to create a relationship of trust. Or even better, learn what the similarities are and how you can use those similarities to become more effective with your team members.

If you would like to assess your intercultural competencies and see which areas may need development you can do the Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC). Contact Culturelink for more information.