Cross cultural teams need to firstly build cross cultural understanding

Is that a British ‘Yes’?

A few years ago, I had a great time delivering a new build factory project in Germany. The initial phases of the project were delivered by a UK based team under my leadership, but once the project was formally given the go-ahead, the project became a joint UK/German team based in Berlin.

As we put the new team together, it predictably trundled through the “forming, storming, norming, and performing” team performance curve. I distinctly remember being in a quiet, cosy cafe in down town Berlin after a particularly “stormy” meeting with the new German team members. I took the new Project Leader aside and suggested that we need to actively accelerate the team through the “storming” part of the new team life cycle.

Really understand your project

He agreed and suggested a French (independent) colleague of his could actually take our team through a facilitated workshop which would help expose the potentially different ways of thinking that existed in the newly formed team. What followed was an amazing if not hilarious day, where through excellent facilitation, we shared our ways of thinking which of course fell strongly along national lines.

Create your project ‘Mindset’.

We created an environment where my German colleagues could chuckle at our British mindset and vice versa without any fear of judgement or offence. We laughed and laughed at how peculiar we must appear to each other in the ways we think and do things. Of course, much of this hinged on some very deep routed, potentially sensitive, cultural beliefs, but that did not stop us getting a real understanding of each other far quicker than had we not set up this workshop.

Build understanding between collegues

I have one lasting recollection of one of the curiosities that my German friends observed of us British, when we are asked to do something and say “yes” how many times do we actually think;

I don’t want to offend or cause conflict so I will say “yes” as it is the easiest thing to say, but I really mean “no”.

Just think about it over the next 24 hours and I am sure you will be surprised. From that time on, whenever I said “yes” to my opposite number in Germany he would pause, look me in the eye, raise one eyebrow and ask me “is that a British “yes” or a real “yes”!

By Martin Gagg



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