A good friend of mine was recently hired into a sustainability marketing position at a U.S. company. “Sally” is an intrapreneur (someone who brings entrepreneurial innovation and passion into a larger organization). She recently invited me out to lunch to talk about the cross-cultural team questions that have come up on the job.
As with many cross-cultural teams, Sally won’t likely meet her team in person. They communicate over phone and through email. However, so far Sally feels like much of her team does not give her projects the attention and interest that Sally thinks they deserve. Her team is located in South Korea, Japan, 13 different EU countries, Canada and Mexico. Here was my advice:
1. Make sure that Sally’s initiatives are prioritized from the top. If the company views sustainability as a priority, then do the performance metrics for overseas offices reflecting that? Some countries value sustainability while others see it as a low priority. It may be time to do some internal campaigning.
2. Develop rapport and understanding individually. I know, I know… who has time to figure out what makes each team member tick? This effort pays off as a multiplier effect with international teams. In most of the countries, trust must be built before any serious business can be conducted. And if you’re the only one from corporate doing this, guess whose projects will get a boost in priority?
3. Keep groups on conference calls small. Sally currently talks with 13 European managers on one weekly call. Participation is low. Why not break up the call into smaller group calls? Sure it takes longer, but the results including buy-in and understanding increases significantly.
4. Find the right level of formality to make team members comfortable. Americans normally have a casual business style. In many Asian and Latin American cultures there are more rules, for example- about how people address each other (Mr./Ms. Or by job title in some places). If you’re trying to help team members to appreciate you, adjust to their style or some middle ground. My favorite reference book for business cultural rules is Negotiating International Business by Lothar Katz.
5. Make and laminate a “greetings cheat sheet”. People will appreciate you more if you can greet them in their own language. Sally’s list of 10 sets of language greetings should include “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, and “please”.
6. Watch Mexican telenovelas. Sally has trouble connecting with her Mexican counterparts. They are all businesswomen who treat her with detachment. Besides Tip #4 (use more formality), you can start watching a popular Mexican telenovela. Mexican soap operas are wildly popular throughout Latin America. Since you’ll be new to watching, you can ask basic questions like: “Can anyone help me understand why Arturo was so cruel to Pamela when it seems like he is attracted to her?” It can really break the ice!