I have been working on diverse teams for decades; first as a business analyst on global technology projects, and now as an independent Japan-US business consultant. Initiatives or projects that are scoped and budgeted oftentimes fail, are not as successful as they can be, or are fraught with challenges due to team dynamics.
There are numerous factors that can contribute to the dysfunction of a global team: differences in nationalities, languages, cultures, business practices, work styles, backgrounds, education, mindsets, Enneagram types, work ethics, conscious and unconscious biases, etc. The list is pretty extensive.
Finding Common Ground in a Global Setting
How can we take all of the things that make us different, that can potentially cause issues and rifts, rob us of harmonious working conditions and productivity in our workplace, and find common ground to work together productively and successfully?
There are many ways to do this, and one of the most powerful is empathy. I created an exercise that allows my workshop participants to get a sense of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes, as the expression goes.
I begin the session by having them split into smaller groups and translate a phrase into a variety of languages and then present to the group at large. When I delivered this workshop recently, all participants rose to the challenge, and in front of more than 40 people—many of them strangers—they were willing to “speak” in a new language. They were able to get a small glimpse of the challenges of non-native English speakers who are communicating, working, and functioning in their non-native languages every day. They got a sense of the concerns that might be running through their minds: “Am I saying it correctly, is that the right pronunciation or tone, the right word or phrase, it that word professional, am I making a fool of myself, do I sound funny?”
As someone who speaks Japanese but is not fluent, these and many more thoughts are running through my mind when speaking it. That is why one of the services I offer is Business Communications training. I saw many Japanese professionals deliver presentations in English, and as I observed their nervousness, fear, and discomfort, I wanted to assist them. They were presenting in a foreign language, in front of peers, media, and strangers, and that takes tremendous courage.
I empathized with them because I knew what it was like: My Japanese is rusty, and it is hard for me to present in the language. That common ground makes it possible for Japanese professionals to trust me to assist them in further developing their skills.
Why Global Teams Fail
In the workshop, I then discuss why global teams usually fail and also how companies can overcome those challenges. I will share some of those thoughts in my next article.
Yvonne Burton provides services to Japanese firms operating internationally and companies operating in the Japanese market. To learn more, please visit burtonconsulting.biz.