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What Are The Best Ways To Coordinate A Cross-Cultural Team?

Written by: Liu Liu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Liu Liu

Recently I had two conversations with two people, one is a friend who works in international banking, and another is an organization’s country director. The bank manager based in the UK is complaining about why the Indian team is so hierarchical. “I wish I don’t have to go through seven layers of management to get things done.”

group of business people having a meeting at the boardroom

The other complaint I heard from the country director is based in one African country. He says to me, “I don’t know why people from the UK just go straight to the team without telling me what they are going to do first.” Both seem to be frustrated by what they have to navigate when coordinating with teams across the country.

Relationship vs task-oriented approach

For relationship-based cultures, coordination is based on relationships and is also about building relationships during the process. Such cultures also have very set social hierarchical structures and protocols, and these codes of conduct will affect how people coordinate with each other.

For example, junior staff ought to initiate the first contact with the senior members as a sign of respect; if you need to contact a person in another team, you need to get permission from the team leader first and copy the team leader in all the email communications. It’s all about things to be done “properly”.

This view on coordination could cause problems though, closer relationships mean better coordination in comparison with the coordination with less familiar people. The hierarchy order of doing things could also get in the way if the “boss” was not around to give the go-ahead in time to contact the relevant person to get the job done.

Task-oriented culture sees coordination as pure and simple, it is the need to get the job done. They don’t need to have prior relationships to work together. They see this as a practical need and expect the others to just come together and work on whatever needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong, they will be polite, but they don’t see the need to build a deeper relationship with the people they are working with unless there are some other reasons.

In their culture, the social protocol is more casual in terms of how they should approach the other teams or colleagues to coordinate a certain piece of work, they will just go straight to the person that is relevant to the job without asking their superiors first. This sometimes could be viewed by relationship culture people as “not following the proper channel”.

High context vs low context approach

In high context culture, there is a high expectation of others about the way they communicate, they tend to feel that others “should know, or should understand”. And this could cause frustration for both ends of the communication.

High context culture view of things from macro to micro, that view could affect the coordination work too. They tend to have the big picture in mind when it comes to working with others to achieve the goal. This could mean sacrificing their own needs for the big picture, but ending up not being able to complete their part in time.

For the low context people to work out all the details is just a very practical and logical thing to do in their mind, but it could be viewed as unnecessary by high-context people, who assume people “should know” about these details.

Opposite of the big picture first approach from the high context culture, the low context culture will always put their own personal or departmental needs first.

Coordinating in a cross-cultural team

Coordinating in a cross-cultural team can be challenging but also rewarding. It requires sensitivity, effective communication, and cultural intelligence. Here are some tips to help you coordinate effectively:

1. Establish clear goals and expectations

Clearly define team goals, roles, and responsibilities. Ensure that everyone understands their objectives and how their work contributes to the overall team's success. This clarity will minimize confusion and enhance productivity.

2. Develop cross-cultural intelligence

Learn about the cultures represented in your team. Understand their customs, values, communication styles, and work preferences. This knowledge will help you navigate cultural differences more effectively and adapt your coordination approach accordingly. Encourage team members to develop intercultural competence by providing training and resources. This will enable them to better understand and appreciate different cultures, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts that may arise due to cultural differences.

3. Be flexible and adaptable

Recognize that different cultures have unique approaches to work, decision-making, and problem-solving. Be open to diverse ideas and approaches, and be willing to adapt your coordination methods to accommodate cultural differences. Find a balance between respecting cultural norms and fostering collaboration.

4. Build personal connections

Encourage team members to get to know each other on a personal level. Organize team-building activities, virtual social events, or informal chats to promote camaraderie and build trust. Building personal connections can help break down cultural barriers and strengthen team cohesion.

5. Resolve conflicts constructively

Conflicts are natural in any team, and they can be exacerbated in cross-cultural teams. Encourage open dialogue and address conflicts promptly and constructively. Be mindful of cultural differences in conflict resolution styles and find common ground to reach resolutions that are acceptable to everyone involved.

6. Continuous learning and improvement

Encourage a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Reflect on the team's dynamics, communication processes, and coordination methods. Seek feedback from team members and implement necessary changes to enhance collaboration and coordination.

Remember, effective coordination in a cross-cultural team requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn. By leveraging cultural diversity as a strength, you can create a dynamic and high-performing team.

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Liu Liu Brainz Magazine

Liu Liu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Liu Liu is a coach and manager with decades of experience, as a Cross-Cultural Intelligence Coach who specializes in helping international organizations and businesses to improve communications and cooperation among staff for better individual and team performance. He coaches managers and leaders working in a cross-cultural context to build trust, communicate effectively, and deliver results. He also coaches people on management, leadership, and career development. He is someone who helps you to imagine a greater possibility for yourself and supports you in achieving it.

As a senior manager in an international relief and development organization, he has worked with people in over 30 countries over his two-decades-long career. He uses a coaching approach to manage cross-country teams and complex programs to deliver results and impacts.

He is also an experienced trainer and facilitator who has delivered training on management-related and other subjects in over 30 countries.

With a cross-country marriage, developing a career in a second country, and working in an organization that has a reach of 50 countries, Liu Liu understands the importance and pitfalls of working cross-culturally and developing a career in an unfamiliar environment.

Liu Liu is an Associated Certified Coach(ACC), a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and an Executive Contributor to Brainz Magazine.

He holds a BA(Hon) in International Studies and an MSc in Development Management.



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