What happens when collaboration doesn’t work? Typically we have one of two explanations. The other culture is incapable. Or the other culture is unwilling. Sometimes we say it’s both: incapable and unwilling. Seldom does it occur to anyone that it could be neither, that both sides are capable and willing.
And that should lead us to a third explanation, an explanation which is the most probable: that the two cultures think and work differently. Different cultures, different approaches. Yes, it is that simple. That’s the third explanation, the real cause, most of the time.
Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised. If we aren’t aware of the cultural differences, if we assume: “people are people, engineering is engineering, we all speak English” noone will think of the third explanation.
I’ve been living and working in this U.S.-Germany space for 25+ years I have worked with very, very few Americans and Germans who were either incapable or unwilling. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Americans and Germans are very capable and very willing. They’re just different.
When we take a closer look at the influence of culture on our work, on collaboration, on success, we always address three questions the same three questions and in this order:
Question 1 Where do we differ – or diverge – in our thinking, therefore acting, differences in logics, approaches, methods, beliefs, traditions, mindsets?
Question 2 What affect – or influence – to do these differences have on our work, on our collaboration, on our success?
Question 3 How do we deal with the differences minimize the problems, maximize the opportunities, decrease the downside, increase the upside, convert a liability into an asset?
The minute we decide to make a serious effort to understand the influence of culture on our work we have decided to enter into three conversations:
The first conversation is with ourselves self-reflection: “How do I as an individual think, therefore act?”
The second conversation is with colleagues in your own culture, a co-self-reflection: “How do we as a culture think, therefore act?”
The third conversation is with colleagues from another culture exchange of viewpoints: “Where do we as cultures think, therefore act, differently?”
These are three great conversations enriching, valuable, exciting, business-oriented, bottom-line oriented. I promise, I guaranty, you will never want to leave these conversations. You’ll see yourself, your colleagues, the world around you, with new eyes. You’ll see more. And more will see you.