In this article we want to concentrate on the aspects of international on-site cooperation.
We recommend that this topic be given appropriate attention at the very beginning of a project with international cooperation. We have developed a process that consists of 5 phases:
1. Creating awareness for cultural differences
Even though most team members are aware that there are cultural differences and that these have an impact on team cooperation, the devil is usually in the details.
Often it is the little things that you are not even aware of and which then lead to problems in the cooperation. We recommend tapping into the experience and resources of the team members, e.g. in the context of a reflection of the team members in which individual experiences on the topic of cultural differences are exchanged. The aim is not to evaluate, but to show interest in other cultures and to exchange observations. The willingness of all participants to question their own views and to be open to new ideas is helpful.
2. Appreciation of cultural differences
Cultures have developed over many decades and centuries. People are often proud of cultural peculiarities and see them as acquired achievements. It is therefore of great importance to value these differences in the team accordingly. This phase is of great importance for building trust within the team.
3. To identify opportunities arising from cultural diversity
Often cultural differences are experienced as strange and different in the first step. It is perfectly normal for people to react with restraint or even rejection. In this phase, the topic is consciously viewed from a different perspective: How can we bring our cultural differences as individual strengths to the team? Examples of this could be using the “German thoroughness” in quality control or the classic “positive thinking” of an American team member in jointly overcoming problems.
4. Developing common principles for cooperation
In international teams in particular, a common view of how cooperation should run, is an important success factor. Because in every team, the cooperation follows certain rules – only in the rarest of cases these are documented.
This creates space for misunderstandings and is often the cause of conflicts. Thinking together about how you want to deal with each other, how you want to work together, and then recording this in writing, creates security and trust. The aim is not to regulate everything in detail, but rather to create a framework for well-functioning cooperation. Usually 4-6 rules (or principles) are sufficient.
5. Determine how to deal with “rule violations”
Once the principles for cooperation have been established, only one question remains: What do we do if someone does not act according to these principles, i.e. violates a rule? That this will happen is highly likely, after all it is all too human to fall back into old patterns of behaviour.
It is important that the team agrees on a procedure. One possibility could be to exchange information on cooperation in regular feedback rounds (e.g. once a week). This may lead to the discovery and awareness of new cultural differences.
This can also lead to the principles of cooperation being adapted and further developed – in the spirit of a self-learning organisation.