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Coaching virtual multicultural teams


© Peter B.   |   Team Building  |   Comments
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Is historical cultural context affecting your team?

I had coached this global team for about a year; half the team was in Brighton (England) and the other half in Mumbai (India). The Indian part of the business had been established as a cost saving measure, because the owner of the company recognized that one English project manager could have an assistant seated in Mumbai working for a fraction of the cost.

During the first 6 months of coaching, I visited both parts of the team several times as we successfully worked on elements that would help facilitate work between the two halves of the team.

We established a base for mutual understanding of differences in working context and culture. Everyone established a profile, including pictures on a shared portal, to facilitate relationships.

The team worked together and established shared ways of working, and clear communication plans. Despite the fact that the original plan for in-person meetings was prohibited due to lack of budget, things were looking good.

Then at a coaching session in Brighton one of the English project managers asked me “how do we make sure that they [the Indian half of the team] do what we say?”

I referred him to the values of their newly implemented network-based organization, where mutual trust was at the center. The English project manager looked at me and repeated the question with an added “yes, but ... how do we make sure that they do what we say?”

Clearly the next part of the coaching process would be focused around the implications of that question.

The process started in Mumbai. We worked through the challenges they saw and what it would take for them to trust the good intentions of their English colleagues. We looked at the cultural and geographical distances and the behaviors they would need to experience to build trust.

The English team members then worked through the same process. However, the further we got in Brighton the more reluctant they became. I wasn’t experiencing the same positive and engaging atmosphere that I had seen in Mumbai.

The process finally ground to a halt for no apparent reason; at least, nothing was said directly. We did go through the expectations the Indian part of the team had, and to a certain degree defined the English counterpart, but it never really seemed authentic.

At the time, I concluded that the cost saving aspect and the potential capacity transfer to India was what drove the lack of motivation from the English side of the team. So when at a later coaching session with the Indian team leader, he pointed to the historical relationship that runs deep between England and India, my curiosity was aroused.

Could the historical relationship be responsible for the two sides of the teams’ inability to build a trust-based relationship?

When we work in global teams, we may not consider the historical context of the cultures working in them. Even though we believe we have moved on from the basic assumptions of our ancestors, could they still be influencing our global teams when we least expect it?

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