This article will follow up cultural differences in business context and approach personal experiences of managing an international team. Main aim is to highlight the likely obstacles when cooperating with employees from different countries of the world and to find possible solutions for problems which are mention in the next paragraphs. Of course, this is not a guaranteed recipe for how to deal with all the crises that may occur in an international team, but it is a personal experience and inspiration for future managers who work in foreign companies. In the first part of this article is described working position and tasks and duties as a interim manager in the strategic consultancy agency F & D Inc. Also there is briefly introduction the members of the team. In the next part It is focused on the business environment and the cultural differences in Latin America, namely Mexico. Furthermore It is brought aspects of cooperation with four employees from four countries and showing the main characteristics of their attitude to work, communication, leadership style and cultural differences in general.
In the last part the article summarizes most important insights and some advice about how to lead a mixed team of people. Company F & D Inc. wanted complete the project of expanding to Latin America, namely Mexico in city Monterrey. They wanted to create a working team of capable people who will work as a team, not a group of individuals and who will able to perfectly align all business processes. After many interviews was created team by members from Japan, Sweden, USA and India. All of the employees were very competent and also nice, but how to build a strong team spirit of the people from such different cultural backgrounds? Now It is focused on the business environment in Mexico because the country in which the company operates influences all processes and every single decision. For a Czech manager were first experiences in Mexico very different from those which was gained in Europe. For managers who do not speak fluent Spanish is better to hire the interpreter for first business meetings.
It is a good choice because Mexicans speak and negotiate very quickly with a lot of temperament. But is also true that the most business partners are expected to speak Spanish and the managers should try it, because they will let them know that they are interested in developing a longer-term relationship. For Mexican people are most important relationships in business and of course in personal life, it is very typical for Mexicans overlapping relationships with the employees and the boss or staff among themselves in the personal areas. This personal experiences with these illustrate the article from Intercultural Management Guide where the Mexican business culture is described like strongly built on interpersonal relationships. In Mexico it is very common to inquire about personal background, family and interests. And the thing which is really surprising that the most important thing is personal qualities, character and reputation than status of company which the manager represents.
Mexico is a country with a relatively high degree of hierarchy and manager needs to have paternalistic attitude to his employees. With these characteristics is related the need of employees to have distinct role in the company. Another point with which a manager working in Mexico has to count is a fluid time culture, that means unwillingness to upset others in order to push through a deadline (“Intercultural Management Guide | management | intercultural | Kwintessential”, 2012). For better understanding of Mexican business culture is good to use the Hofstede´s theory of five dimensions in management. The interesting fact is that Hofstede confirmed the hypothesis of an American psychologist Daniel Levinson and sociologist Alex Inkeles and assembled four cultural dimensions that are measured in relation to the other cultures. After half a year in Mexico It is fairly easy to find, identify and also to give the truth of this theory. If It is compared the percentages from Hofstede´s research and personal experiences one would say that 81% of PDI (power distance) corresponds to a high degree of hierarchy in Mexico which is one of the most recognizable characteristics.
A small percentage of individualism (30%) indicates that Mexico is more of a country based on collectivism and many managers agree with this result. Collectivistic culture in Mexico relates with fostering the relationships in companies where everyone takes responsibility for the group as a whole. In Mexican companies and in business team as well loyalty is very important. The index of masculinity is 69% and It shows that for Mexican employees is important have a boss who is assertive, decisive and encourages competition. But in the last 10 years, the Mexicans began to focus on the quality of life and maintaining interpersonal relationships as matter of course for them. Mexico scores 82% of UAI (uncertainty avoidance) that means there is an emotional need for rules and putting a lot of effort into the job. People in Mexico work hard and also precisely, sometimes It seems that It is too much pressure for employees (“National Culture – Geert Hofstede”, 2012). After realizing this and adopted a number of rules in the Mexican business culture, manager is much more successful in the business negotiations.
In followings paragraphs It is devoted concrete team of four people and there is try to explain the working atmosphere inside the group, communication, problems, crisis and solutions. As was wrote the members of the team were literally from a different corner of the planet and from very different backgrounds. At the beginning the main problem was not a language because everyone speaks perfectly English and quite good Spanish but yet the communication was inefficient and confusing. For that reason manager tried to understand each member separately with regard to its culture but he realized that people always made one big mistake. Although most of the differences they see then they often try to fight them and colleague or employee the other nationalities reeducate – to change their natural way of working and thinking. This can be a source of problems and misunderstandings. The team did not have enough time for deeper familiarization of each other or a teambuilding trip for a few days, they had to work hard the very first days. It was interesting to observe that each member expected different role of manager from Czech Republic as a leader.
At the beginning the manager was not sure every part of the work process and first steps as a team. The members very well sensed his uncertainty and he realized that he had become the perfect leader. And that was maybe the most difficult obstacle for the manager. Leadership in Czech Republic follows western styles and the most common is team leadership with 60% and partly democratic style with 27% (“Podnikatel.cz”, 2012). Czech managers are partly paternalistic leaders but with the effort for participating in making decisions, collective initiative and it is also expected that each employee is responsible for himself (“Intercultural Management Guide | management | intercultural | Kwintessential”, 2012). Very simply and clearly explains the various types of leadership in different cultures project GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness Research Project) which is based on a methodology founded on the work of G. Hofstede.
The main goal of Globe “is to develop an empirically based theory to describe, understand and predict the impact of cultural variables on leadership and organizational processes and the effectiveness of these processes.“(“Welcome to Dr. Kim Boal’s Website!”, 2012). Project Globe indife six leadership dimensions: Charismatic/Value-Based, Team Oriented, Self-Protective, Participative, Humane Oriented and Autonomous (“Introduction to the GLOBE Research Project on Leadership Worldwide”, 2012). How to lead a team of different nationalities? The employees of team in Mexico were used to dissimilar styles of leading, for instance Swedes prefer human oriented managers with very egalitarian attitudes because Sweden is the most egalitarian country where everything is discussed with the boss and among groups also. In their business culture It is strongly stressed that you should be socially conscious and help the weaker individuals. The American leadership style is also very egalitarian but the focus on humans is replaced by a orientation on tasks, and very significantly. Their most common style of leading is team oriented where participation and consulting all decisions are needed.
Personally, this type fits Czech manager the best because it is very close to Czech conditions. But in the team there were also two people from Asia where they have a contradictory attitude to their boss and different behaviour and working habits. Japan is known for its very steep hierarchical structure in companies based primarily on the age and experience of the worker, loyalty and respect to the manager plays a significant role. India is also very hierarchical country and the main thing in business culture is a family and accurately divided the competencies in it. Employees in Japan and India usually prefer charismatic (Value-Based) leadership style, they need the manager who distributes tasks thoroughly, maintains a smaller distance from employees and builds natural authority. But of course, in India simultaneously the boss has to build quite a strong relationships with his employees and business partners too.
The work of the manager is not too influenced by the style of management in Mexico, but he also saw quite a hierarchical structure and style of leadership with the necessary dose of authority. The employees in Mexico believe in skills of the manager and they also prefer paternalistic attitude to them. It is interesting that according to Hampden – Turner and Trompenaars model of cultural organisation Mexico is placed in the middle of the graph, that is mean the same focus on person and the task and the same level of egalitarian and hierarchy (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1997, p. 135 – 150). To solve this problem with various requirements for management style of the manager, he decided to combine the different leadership styles according to different situations. In creative work which needed an open mind the team members, freedom and new ideas It was used a team oriented leadership style. Everything was thoroughly discussed and the team conducted brainstorming. After less than month Japanese and Indian adopted this style of working because they saw that they could easily approach their goal and team ideas were more attractive. There were also situations which required very quick decisions and in this case It was role of the manager more authoritative.
He made decisions without discussion or he delegated individual tasks to the employees. Charismatic leadership proved to Czech manager to be suitable for solving uncomplicated problems which also must be done quickly, as well as in routine decisions. There are many opinions that good manager should combine more leadership styles and especially in international team because if the employees see that the boss is able to adapt various styles they trust him/her more and they are also more flexible. Working in an international team does not include only the leadership style everything is influenced by the way of working of members which is based on different values. In every country there are other measures of acceptation of the manager´s power, degree of individualism, issues motivated the people, extent of avoiding unknown situations and orientation on time. These five pillars included Hofstede in his research cultural differences in a business context and thus perfectly expressed the most pronounced differences in the approach to the work of individual nationalities.
In the text below It is followed Hofstede´s model to describe and introduce the typical working features of the team members, human resources instruments and communication structure which was used. In multicultural team there were two members who were very individualistically based (American and Swede) and two members were from collectivistic societies (Indian and Japanese). According to Hofstede´s research the extent of individualism is 71 in Sweden and only 46 in Japan. The team really had to work as one unit and for that reason the manager appreciated the effort of both employees from Asia, at the beginning he gave plenty of space for American and Swede for expressing their individualities but after two months he tried to incorporate them to the team, fortunately successfully. Another very strong difference was in concept the way how the employees work and particularly why, for which reason. Hofstede calls this dimension as the extent of masculinity (or feminity).
Employees from USA and Japan were extremely competitive, they wanted to win at any case, success of the project was most important to them, and sometimes It seemed that their attitude bordering on workaholism. Japan is the most masculine societies on the world (with 95 score), contrary to, Sweden is one of the most feminine countries where the quality of working life and environment are very important and people value equality, solidarity and compromising play main roles (“National Culture – Geert Hofstede”, 2012). It could be made good use of human resource management It needed to understand why each country is different from that standpoint. In the United States is human resources management is influenced by psychology but in the Europe predominates sociological side of the issue. These findings explain the different relationships between employees and the company. Because HRM in the USA is based on psychology is the most important management tool right motivation of workers. Managers in United States lead their employee as a individual members through the analyzing of employee needs, job enrichment and reward system.
On the contrary, in Europe where HRM is more focused on sociological perspective the social system and economic and political context are crucial in the work area. More than the motivation are important quality of work-life, amount of salary and certainty that the worker retains his job. These aspects are closely connected with welfare system of European countries. (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, p. 149 – 150). In the team It was motivated all the employees by emphasising that the project was a real challenge and work on it represents a chance for everyone expand their knowledge and widen their experiences. For American and Japanese It was added the feeling of a certain degree of competition and rivalry with their competitors.
In parallel, It was tried to evoke a very friendly atmosphere and good working conditions, for example by ensuring new offices were nicely furnished. It did not used a reward system as a tool of HRM but the manager thought carefully about the needs of the team members. Of course, despite considerable efforts of manager, the team had a number of problems relating primarily to complications with the project. It had to solve the lack of funding of our project, internal changes in the company and misunderstandings with clients. All these obstacles were caused by pressure and stress within the team. The American had a very confrontational way of solving problems which was very badly accepted by the rest of the group. The Swede tried to manage conflicts through collaboration because this was based on the quality of relationships. This style is quite similar to the one with which The Indian practised and it is called accommodation style of resolving conflict. Contrary to the Japanese usually avoided any direct conflicts (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, p. 236 – 237). Japanese could keep silent until the rest of the group came to the conclusion that he held.
It was tried to explain to him that the team needed his participation in uncomfortable discussions that led to the solution although it is unnatural for him. Because the team was a small group of people manager preferred to deal with all the major crises through collaboration with some confrontation and by this way to reach to a compromise. And in the same way multicultural team communicated with each other – directly, clearly and honestly. But It is true that It could be practised only because of the openness and personal qualities of the employees. Also ethics and morality influence business processes in teams, for cooperation in multicultural groups is important to recognize what is shared among people generally (in other words – what is ethics) and what is specific for every single culture (that is called emic). There are differences of attitude to ethics in business between United States, Europe and Asia, in these continents are various level of loyalty, consensual agreement and morality of company at all (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, p. 300 – 303).
But today what is more crucial is what the rules, principles and business philosophy creates particular international company. Running an international team teach each manager gained a lot of new knowledge, improve his skills and strengthen his position. But in my opinion what is more important is that this experience will show us a different way of understanding culture and its diversity, forcing us to think about the ingrained stereotypes and break the distance from other nationalities, which in itself more or less everyone has. If someone wants to work in an international team he should have three important characteristics: an open mind, excellent communication skills and the courage to accept the challenge. It is also important to point out that the stereotype that an international team usually overcomes more obstacles than a team composed of members of the same nationality is not true.
Firstly, it always depends on the manager and team members, and secondly, some of the work areas handle mixed team much better. Multicultural groups are perfect especially for creative businesses in which it is necessary to have unusual ideas and constantly come up with something new. Brainstorming workers from different cultures is usually a typhoon of various inspirations and ideas with infinite fantasy. My opinion affirms research in the book Managing across cultures (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, p. 217 – 219). But if you want to achieve that the people in your team are sufficiently opened, you have to give them space, to understand their behaviour, tolerate them and any requirements about their work to communicate according to the rules of their business culture.
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