Why paying attention to team culture pays

You might not think that team performance and team satisfaction is influenced by something called culture right away. Often it is said “we don’t have different nationalities in our team, so cultural differences don’t play”. Well, yes, they do.

Particularly in Western-Europe the topic “culture” is immediately associated only with ”nationality”. A recent article from Harvard Business Review suggests that the biggest culture gaps are within countries, not between them. Why is that? Let’s have a look which angles of culture can play within your team.

Anna, 23 years old, is at ease typing quick messages to her team members via MS Teams. She likes to share funny GIFs and uses smileys a lot. She’s happy that she can communicate faster now and can reach her colleagues right away – at least many of them. To her this is thankfully one advantage the pandemic has brought.

Maria, 55 years old, feels exhausted every evening she closes the laptop, because ever since the pandemic broke out she not only has to monitor her mails and her phone, but also the private chats Anna and other colleagues are sending to her via the new messenger software. Is that a new communication policy?

Michael 35 years old, frequently forgets to sign in on the messenger environment, making it hard to reach him via phone or via messages. What is call forwarding? That annoys Anna and Maria.
They think Michael is offline and not doing his job well. “Probably he’s using the free time to indulge in his gardening hobby”, Anna and Maria keep telling themselves.

Michael wonders why Anna and Maria sometimes make subtle comments about his performance and virtual presence. That raises insecurity in him. Therefore he rather does his own thing. For example, communicating results only when they’re ready.

He is aware that communicating interim results would prevent major rework or project delays, but the team has never agreed on what he considers a
“feedback culture”. So better not address it.

The last time Michael tried to provide feedback to Paul from Poland (42 years), Paul snapped at him, stating it was not for him to provide criticism. He said this is Julia’s (47 years) role as a manager.

A high school teacher might say about this situation: “Underline every element relating to culture and discuss it with your partner.”

Are there culture gaps? I think there are. Let’s ask a few questions:

·        How do you blend generations?

·        How do you communicate with each other?

·        How do you provide feedback to each other?

·        How do you define the role of
leadership and hierarchies across cultures?

·        How do you define and manage
expectations of each other?

Yes, nationality certainly adds a layer and makes it even more complex. But remember that individual definitions, perceptions, and therefore needs vary. Never assume but address. Take the time to
define what words such as feedback, leadership or time management mean to you and everyone. You will notice that it can make a difference.

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