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Collaboration Across Cultures: Two Perspectives, One Meeting

This article was written in collaboration with Indra Freeman.

This world is more connected than ever before. Technology has allowed us to collaborate across cultures, eliminate our geographical limitations and create relationships without consideration to distance.

Working for a company with global offices has expanded my international relations and knowledge immensely. I often meet with associates in Australia, Ireland and even Malaysia. Building relationships with people who are in different time zones, practice different business etiquette and speak with other languages/accent barriers have undoubtedly educated me.

When working with coworkers abroad, it is important to be cognizant of your differences and accommodating to their needs while also maintaining your comfort as well.

I often meet with an associate in Clonakilty, Ireland. For this topic, I thought it was appropriate to collaborate with her and get additional input. Below are several differences we have encountered within our business cultures and how we have learned to “meet in the middle”.

 

Time Difference

(Lauren & Indra) One obvious obstacle we have learned to overcome is the time difference (and everything that comes along with it). We have learned to plan ahead when scheduling the tasks we collaborate on. I generally have to postpone questions until Lauren is set up for the day and she has to hold off on decisions until I am back the next morning. We plan and map out what needs to be done  in advance so we are both able to make our deadlines. Although it takes a little more preparation, we have created a process that runs as smoothly as it can.

Length of Meeting

(Lauren) In the U.S., we are constantly moving. We have been programmed to multitask, multi-think and multi-live. Because we are always on the go, we don’t have time, or the attention span, to sit through an hour-long meeting. Fortunately, we have technology that allows us to meet from anywhere, anytime and with anyone. With products like iMeet and GlobalMeet, we can schedule a meeting for fifteen minutes and quickly accomplish everything we need to.

(Indra) Europeans are known for spending a little more time on tasks and in meetings. We believe that  if we are already taking the time to meet, we may as well get everything done instead of scheduling another meeting to continue the same project. This is when the German in me comes out and I feel I need to get things done from A to Z — including everyone’s agreement to make a decision. I like to be as efficient as possible, and for me it helps to work on a project all at one time until its completion.

We talk about “having a French moment”, which is when you join the meeting a few minutes later than scheduled and then chit-chat for a few minutes. My Dutch colleagues are all very straight forward and don’t have time for small talk (or don’t beat around the bush if I have a bad hair day). On the other hand, my English and Irish colleagues can’t survive without having a chat about the weather. Even though I’ve lived in Ireland for more than a year, I don’t get this obsession. I think it is just because most of the time the weather is bad, so they need to share their frustration and if it’s good, they share the excitement.

Who to Invite

(Lauren) Inviting an entire team to a meeting isn’t always necessary. We tend to keep our meetings smaller to create a more efficient and concise environment. If I need an opinion or approval from a senior associate, I will speak to them ahead of time. I can then provide that information in the meeting without adding any additional time to my superior.

(Indra) Sometimes we work on projects that require more input than we can provide. It is common in Europe to involve superiors to keep them in the loop. We value the input of our superiors and prefer to get their stance on many topics/projects to get the best result. As the hierarchy structure in Europe is much more present within companies than in the US, it is part of the internal culture to involve superiors especially at the planning phase and reporting.

Interested in learning more about the unique challenges and opportunities in today’s business? Download PGi’s free eBook “The Future of Business Collaboration” today!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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