From a traditional team setting in a physical office to global, distributed teams, the notion of teamwork has dramatically evolved in the past few years, but especially after the COVID-19 crisis. More than ever, it’s time to understand how to work effectively in international teams.
Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, developed a renowned model for understanding cultural differences from one country to another: the 6-D model of national culture. At ESCP Business School, we deeply understand the need to train future leaders capable not only of interfacing with multicultural teams but also being an integral part of them, supporting individuals to bring their diverse qualities to the group. In this article, we’ll use the guidance of Hofstede’s work to help you become a better team player.
Without further ado, here are our top ten tips on the topic:
1. Be open-minded towards other cultures
Today, possessing honed intercultural skills is a must-have for any candidate interested in managerial positions in top companies.
The Bachelor in Management (BSc) programme at ESCP offers a real opportunity for just that, with the chance to experience three culturally different environments in three years, not to mention a student intake drawn from all over the world. Moreover, the BSc brings multiculturality to the classroom also at the academic level, with a dedicated module.
2. There are wildly varying attitudes towards punctuality at work, depending on where you are
It might sound like stereotypical, but deep down, these ideas are based on some real customs and attitudes.
In Germany and the Netherlands, for example, good time-keeping is prized. In contrast, more flexibility is allowed in countries like Brazil or Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, punctuality is highly correlated with the long-term dimension of Geert Hofstede’s 6-D model in which Brazil or Saudi Arabia’s score is much lower than that of Germany or the Netherlands.
3. Be sensitive to differing authority gradients
The notion of hierarchy varies widely not only from company to company but also from country to country. This is what Hofstede calls the Power Distance.
There is little direct communication between different hierarchies in India, where the power distance score is 77/100. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has a power distance score of only 35/100. Many bosses in the UK, for example, don’t have their own office or, if they do, many decide to let their door open.
4. Work hard to develop your soft skills
When it comes to international teamwork, soft skills are the name of the game.
The ESCP Bachelor in Management (BSc) involves adapting to 3 different countries and, therefore, to 3 new languages and 3 sets of cultural rules. This is the perfect opportunity to better develop your soft skills and understand our culturally diverse world.
5. Understand the unwritten rules in your international teams
For example, in the United Kingdom and the USA, some offices have ‘dress-down Fridays’. Although this theory is more about creating a less rules-bound office, it is necessary to ‘comply’ with this less formal approach.
Integrating into international teams also involves acquiring informal rules.
6. Grasp the overarching management culture of the country in which you find yourself
It can be based on cooperation and consensus-building, like in Colombia or Indonesia, where Hofstede’s individualism score is 13 and 14/100, respectively. On the other hand, initiative-taking and independence are more highly rewarded in Australia and the USA. Here, the individualism score marks 90 and 91/100, respectively.
How much do you think your country’s score would be?
7. Don’t underestimate the importance of specific social interactions – lunch, office parties, small talk, etc.
In some countries, it’s acceptable to munch a sandwich alone in front of your PC. In Southern Europe, for example, this is a definite no-no.
Taking part in in-office events, whether it be Christmas parties or workshops, will not only allow you to build lasting relationships with your colleagues but also strengthen your interpersonal skills and boost your self-confidence.
8. Likewise, the role of body language varies considerably
In China, body language and facial expressions are significant components of communication. In Germany, what you say is much more important than how you say it.
Learning and keeping these nuances in mind can make the difference between a bad leader and a great leader, as well as determining your success in relationships with international customers and partners.
9. Bear in mind the existence of global English
If you learned English the ‘classic’ way in the UK or the USA, you might be surprised at some of the expressions you come across in international teams. For instance, in New Zealand, people say “she’ll be right” to mean that they are confident that everything will be OK.
10. Finally, work out whether your team is playing the long game or not
In China, strategies are mapped out in terms of years and decades rather than weeks and months. Again, this is clearly seen in the 6-D model of national culture, in which China scores 87/100 in long-term orientation. A country like Morocco, on the contrary, scores 14/100.
Apply these tips to your daily life, and you’ll become a better team player. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask your international colleagues what is essential for them. Additionally, you can regularly review the 6-D model to get a quick overview of the cultural differences of the countries you’re working with.