Globalisation can be referred as a phenomenon, a process, a state of the art concept. But this is the only constant in ever changing business models the globe. It has evolved rapidly because of the increasing international trade across the national boundaries, the movement of business activities within different countries and the frequent change of international trading policies.
To succeed in the global economy, more and more companies are relying on workforces scattered around the globe. This helps them to compete in the global market through being aligned with the respective local economies. But, having the dispersed workforce is not easy. Doing business in generally during this time of globalisation is always extra tricky, and this kind of dispersed workforce makes it all the more difficult. Businesses and leaders are continually being engaged to identify the most effective way to handle these stiff challenges.
The problem statement:
Inevitable cultural differences
Effective cross-cultural communication is the key to success in today’s age of globalisation. But, it’s rather difficult to realize in a multicultural work environment because of factors like ambiguity, inflexibility, attitude and ethnocentrism.
Culture influences people’s ways of seeing, hearing and interpreting the world. And, each culture has its own unique context, value systems and communication style. But ambiguity presents itself where we don’t fully comprehend the context of our own culture and others’. On the other hand some people get into a shell when they enter in a different culture to avoid any exposure or experience of the host culture. Ethnocentrism is the assumption that culture of one’s own is right, moral and rational, but others’ cultures are inferior. Such behaviour make people selective listeners and provide value judgements. This severely impacting the quality of the communication.
Below is a graph of of the comparison of China, and United States on the basis of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
Work attitude: The behavioural ecosystem
Another major issue with the team/groups in an organisation is the work attitude. We got to see that we have at least three different approaches to the solution of a given problem, however it’s not certain they all lead to the desired result. This basically happens because of the multicultural background and attitude to approach the solution.
The picture below describes the real life work attitude problem: Everyone is either trying to listen or to speak, but no one is paying attention to fix the tangled ware which is distorting the information they are banking upon.
In a similar way, in today’s global business economy, everyone is struggling to be more successful, to make the next quarterly earnings estimate, to keep their job, to earn a big bonus, or to compete effectively. In various phases of a project lifecycle, we get to see sometimes that some of the team members are very keen to complete the entire team’s task, and they don’t mind to get overloaded. And unfortunately this is not an act of selflessness or kindness, instead an act of sheer selfishness to maintain full control. So here, the underlying fact is that trust and understanding is missing amongst team mates, which is ultimately impacting the entire team’s work attitude and deliverables.
Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ model best explained the strategy to handle issues related to cultural differences and work attitude. Though it’s published on 1965, it’s still proven to be the most widely accepted and established practice of improvising team synchronization in a global business environment. This model explains team definition and behaviour in a very elegant and methodical way. It also explains how leaders change their leadership styles when a team develops maturity and ability – beginning with directing style, moving through coaching, then participating and finishing delegating and almost detaching.
The first step of the model is forming – where we have high dependency on the team leader to create a road map for guidance and direction. So the leader needs to work effectively with people who are culturally different keeping in mind their own culture’s impact on others. If the leader is very clear about their objective and understands the cultural differences, issues related to work attitude will be managed easily with a clear roadmap and directives as to the end goal.
The next step of the model is storming; we do a lot of research to identify the smartest way to achieve the goal with the maximum votes from group members. To establish their own view, a team member often challenges the team leader or other fellow teammates’ views. So, the team here needs to be very focused on its goals to avoid becoming distracted and destructed by relationship and emotional issues.
Once the agreement and consensus largely forms amongst the team about the directives, we proceed to the next step – norming. Here, we finalise with the roles and responsibilities and get those agreed and accepted.
And in the last step – performing, we perform the designated tasks. Now the team is more strategically aware about the team objectives. The team clearly knows why it is doing and what it is doing. The team has full clarity about its vision and can stand on its own without the help or interference of the leader. The team is very focused and able to make most of the decision against criteria agreed with the leader.
So if we could come back to the point, where the discussion started – conflicts within the group and their resolutions, yes we will still have disagreements within the team. But now those are resolved within the team in positive spirit followed with necessary changes to processes and structures within the team. The team is able to work towards achieving the goal and also to attend to relationship, style and process issues along the way.