TMA World Viewpoint 13 Taking Off The Mask


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Recognize and manage the impact of cultural differences in your virtual teams.

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TMA World Viewpoint 13 Taking Off The Mask

  1. 1. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsTMA WorldViewpoint
  2. 2. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsFrom phone interviews with members of a global virtual team (I’ll call them the Z-team)I knew that most of the work to be done with them was related torecognizing and managing the impact of cultural differences. They were all smart people and they knew the RECOGNIZE fundamentals of good teamwork, the but they were lacking in an awareness of how IMPACT unexamined cultural orientations were of cultural differences influencing their interactions for the worse. and STRATEGIZE The distance and lack of physical contact among best options while applying self-management the members was masking – but not eliminating KNOW-HOW – cultural differences.
  3. 3. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsMy task was to lead them toward a higher level of performance. Here’s how.I define the cultural RISK process as a four-phase approach to cross-cultural management.First, you must be able to Recognize the cultural differences at work in asituation. Secondly, you need to understand the actual or RECOGNIZE potential Impact of those differences on how the you work together. IMPACT of cultural differences and Third, you need to Strategize about the best way forward, and lastly you need to apply STRATEGIZE best options while applying Know-How for implementing your strategy. self-management KNOW-HOW
  4. 4. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsLet me illustrate this process by using the Z-team as an example. RECOGNIZE IMPACTRECOGNIZE Utilizing the Worldprism™ Profiler model of cultural STRATEGIZE differences, I saw several areas that were creating havoc. KNOW-HOW Let me summarize some of the major differences in the chart below:Worldprism™ JAPANESE FRENCHdimensions members members RELATING Group focus Individual focus Implicit communication Explicit communication Formal social etiquette Casual social etiquetteREGULATING Risk-avoiding Risk-taking Punctuality Flexibility Bottom-up Top-down REASONING Concrete, fact-based thinking Conceptual, logical thinking Linear process Spiral process Preference for high level of detail Preference for general principles
  5. 5. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsBefore working with the team to identify cultural differences, many of the internaltensions were seen as personality-based. By de-personalizing many of the differences andputting them into the culture arena it was possible to discuss the tensions in a moreobjective and productive way. Individuals didn’t need to feel under personal attack. IMPACT RECOGNIZE It should be obvious that there were significant the cultural differences on the team. The next step in the process was to identify the actual and IMPACT of cultural differences potential impact of these differences on team and collaboration. STRATEGIZE best options while applying For example, on activities like participation, self-management problem-solving and decision making, running KNOW-HOW meetings, information sharing, goal setting and planning, conflict management, and communication
  6. 6. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsIMPACT RECOGNIZE IMPACTOne area in which I could see a major problem on the Z-team was ingoal-setting and planning. STRATEGIZEAt the end of a team-building session, the French were very happy KNOW-HOWto set objectives and milestone dates.For them, the dates would only be a guideline; there was always room for someflexibility.The Japanese members became very uncomfortable. First, all the stakeholdersimpacted by the decisions were not present and, therefore, no consensus could bereached.
  7. 7. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsIMPACT RECOGNIZE IMPACTGiven a lack of consensus, it was also, impossible to commit to any date.Once a date had been agreed to – in their eyes – it was fixed. STRATEGIZE KNOW-HOWIt would cause great loss of face to miss the date. There was a completelydifferent perception of risk.The reality on the team was that the Europeans would set goals and make planswhile the Asian members would avoid, withdraw, be vague and non-committal.Conversations would go around in circles with each side thinking the other was crazy.
  8. 8. Taking off the Mask:cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsSTRATEGIZE RECOGNIZEIn any cross-cultural interaction, there are always strategic IMPACToptions. One side can: STRATEGIZE KNOW-HOWAccommodate to the other (“I’ll make these adaptations to workeffectively with you.”)Assimilate (“I’ll do it your way.”)Blend (“Let’s mix both approaches.”)Create (“Let’s find a new way that can work for both of us.”)Separate (“You do it your way, and we’ll do it our way.”) The key criteria when choosing an approach should be which strategy offers the greatest potential for creating value for the business
  9. 9. Taking off the Mask:cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsSTRATEGIZE RECOGNIZEIn terms of the Z-team, the chosen short-term strategy for moving IMPACTforward in goal setting and planning was to assimilate – the French STRATEGIZEto the Japanese approach. KNOW-HOWThere was no way the Europeans were going to change the very deep-rooted, consensualapproach in the Asian business.To fight against it would simply increase resistance.The medium term strategy was to work together to finda good blend of approaches – one that handled lower riskitems differently from the higher risk ones (ones needinga higher level of consensus and planning).
  10. 10. Taking off the Mask:Cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsKNOW-HOW RECOGNIZEThe last stage in the process was to develop IMPACTthe skills needed to implement the strategies STRATEGIZEsuccessfully. KNOW-HOWSome of this skill-building on the Z-team hadactually begun in the Recognize phase,particularly developing cultural perceptivenessand empathy.Additional skills needed on the Z-team includedspoken and written cross-culturalcommunication, and win-win negotiating.
  11. 11. Taking off the Mask:cultural RISK and Virtual TeamsKNOW-HOW RECOGNIZEAs global companies seek to leverage their IMPACTinternal or outsourced distributed talent, global STRATEGIZEvirtual teams are becoming the norm. KNOW-HOWSo much goes unobserved and unspoken oncross-border virtual teams; differences tend tohide under a mask created by distance andimpersonal technology.Opportunities for discussing the actual orpotential impact of cultural differences on teamsuccess are often only created after damagehas already been done – when the silence isrecognized to be resentment rather thanagreement.Being proactive with the cultural RISK process can help reduce the risk.
  12. 12. To learn more about how TMA World canhelp your organization, please contact us at or visit