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July 10, 2016

Aligning Intercultural Teams, Part 2

Aligning Intercultural Teams, Part 2

For at least two decades, high-performance teaming and optimal alignment have been trending in the field of team leadership and development. Leaders who can align and motivate teams to perform effectively and efficiently are always going to be in high demand.

There are multiple angles from which to look at leadership team alignment, but as more and more corporations are seeking to enter international markets, there is a corresponding rise in need for global leaders who can combine standard team alignment principles with Inter-Cultural Intelligence. Applying Inter-Cultural Intelligence takes it to a whole new (and increasingly necessary) level.

Last week’s post (Aligning Intercultural Teams, Part 1) pointed out how crucial it is for leaders and leader-developers to be able to apply a proper understanding of intercultural paradigm differences to what we already know about high-performance teaming. With intercultural organizations and intercultural teams there are multiple layers, multiple levels—relational and transactional, internal and external. These layers cannot even be fully discerned apart from Inter-Cultural Intelligence, and we want to explore how to put the framework of Inter-Cultural Intelligence to work in helping to unpack those layers wholly and successfully.

Different cultures relate to the transactional side of work in different ways. For example, in certain cultures, bureaucratic layers are constructed to protect the hierarchy, or to create “power-distance” (as Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede calls it). There is intentional, consistent effort to create and enforce some boundaries between the people who are in charge and the people who are doing the actual work.

And there are sub-cultures, cultures within cultures—these sub-cultures may derive from or deviate from their original host cultures. Some aspects of corporate culture are like that, perhaps due to multiculturalism and individuals’ influence within the leadership of that organization. In some organizations, people with authority will work more or less closely with those who are not in authority. It is helpful and increasingly needful to have the tools to discern cultural distinctives and how they affect different people’s approach to relational and transactional operations.

If you investigate a system without an accurate understanding of the cultural relevance of that system, you will actually mis-assess the problems within the system, the value and strengths of that system, whether or not that system is necessary, and whether/how that system might be improved upon.

If there is a high Power-Distance Index (PDI) measure in your organization, your boss might take your well-meaning team alignment efforts as an affront, a power-play that blatantly or even subtly undermines his authority. In ignorance, you might valiantly suggest an adjustment that, in your view, will help align the team, only to find your boss or colleagues shut you down—because they feel threatened, misunderstood, or devalued by your non-savvy analysis and suggested solution.

So how to escape the apparently broad margin for error? How to mind the gap, as it were? Aside from the obvious steps of increasing your “meta-competencies” in global leadership and Inter-Cultural Intelligence, begin talking about it. That’s right! As a start point, try opening up a line of communication—a holistic, interculturally smart way of conversing with the team.

Seek and nurture a healthy, ongoing dialogue with the whole picture in mind. You want that open line of communication as you assess and work to align your team. That way, when you finish with the analysis, you have a deep understanding of the transactional side of that team as well as the relational side of that team—an understanding that will be useful to you for short-term correction and adjustment, but also for long-term performance management.

Because of the additional hurdles that loom in an intercultural team context, the Three Colors of Worldview and the 12 Dimensions of Culture can be incredibly empowering tools. As you seek to assess your team, to understand thoroughly its internal workings, to adjust processes and develop the different perceptions and personalities—you cannot afford to miss out on major additional internal and external factors that come along, part and parcel, with intercultural teaming situations.

Monocultural teams have a way of relating to the rest of the world around them, both “systems-wise”/transactionally as a unit of efficiency and “relationships-wise”/relationally as a team of people. How much more aware does a globalized team’s leader need to be aware of the varying perspectives and margins for misunderstanding among individuals who come from different cultural worldviews! Speaking purely from a practical, logistical standpoint—just imagine the potentially staggering number of transactional and relational facets that would need to be considered and aligned!

Within an intercultural context, it is therefore all the more imperative to learn how to diagnose accurately and quickly what the problem points actually are, and to contrive optimal solutions that will last a long, long while.

Take, for example, a multicultural team striving to relate optimally relationship-wise to the rest of the world around them. There are so many relationships to consider—stakeholders (investors, community, government, educational stakeholders), colleagues, business units, clients, suppliers, matrix structure (i.e., discerning whether authority and connectivity are structured horizontally or vertically or however within the company). It is just an incredibly powerful advantage, applicable both for small and large teams, to map out these relationships using Three Colors of Worldview and the 12 Dimensions of Culture as part of the initial approach.

It is in applying whole systems with a strong level of Inter-Cultural Intelligence that you will derive an accurate analysis of what’s happening. Then you can pinpoint the focus areas and determine which to address in what order of priority.

As mentioned in Part 1, if you discover one transactional issue that needs attention, the likelihood is that there are at least one or two relational issues (or other transactional issues) connected to that more glaring transactional issue.

The same is true, vice versa, if an obvious relational issue surfaces, it will likely follow that there are transactional issues and/or another relational issue that either had a part in causing that obvious relational issue to come to a head in the first place, or else will naturally, eventually result from that relational issue.

So, again, always take these two aspects of team operations as a combination to be dealt with in tandem:

If you discover a systemic, transactional issue (processes and procedures falling down or becoming less efficient), try also to uncover what that transactional breakdown does relationally to the team members—i.e., how it could possibly or may have already begun to break them down relationally, or, on the other hand, considering that perhaps the broken-down process or failing policy you discovered might actually have sprung from a relational breakdown as the root cause.

If you find a relational issue, uncover which system broke down to provoke that relational kink, or consider what might break down in the future because of that systemic flaw. For example, if a system doesn’t allow for [time, space, verbiage, protocol, awareness] what is necessary to build and give respect, or whatever the expected treatment, then there are inherent flaws in the system—it’s a time bomb, a relational disaster just waiting to happen.

Once you start to see how these things fit together holistically, then you can address it with your team as a whole team—aligning both transactional and relational aspects of your team.

It may well be that a relational issue started a transactional breakdown, or else that this relational issue stemmed from or exacerbated an existing systemic breakdown!

The solutions and steps toward team alignment may be pragmatic from case to case, and may require both accurate analysis and creative thinking to correct and improve the trajectory of team performance.

Some problems might be easy fixes. A tiny flipped switch in the transactional tracks can avert a disastrous collision of relational trains. A team leader might say, “We have messed up so many times regarding email, allowing people to vent negative emotions in email. So we will put a policy in place that discourages negative emotions being expressed via email, and conversely, to encourage positive emotional expression in email.”

But other issues may require more innovative effort—perhaps a structured group facilitation, a coaching point of view, re-forming core values and communicating purposes clearly, removing or adding someone to the team. In some situations (particularly intercultural scenarios), there just may be greater lengths necessary in order to bring people back together again.

The significance of rightly analyzing and holistically aligning a team cannot be overstated. It is crucial for a team to be aligned to themselves and to the context in which they need to perform. And after that analysis, after that process has been fulfilled, then it is a healthy time to begin developing an intercultural team’s charter (c.f., Four Pillars of Creating a High-Performing Team).


How do I find out my own Colors of Worldview?

KnowledgeWorkx has published several articles exploring all three of the Colors of Worldview in-depth. For example, for those who want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Innocence-Guilt cultural paradigm, read this article about applying the Innocence-Guilt paradigm. In fact, if you would like to learn about your own color(s), check out this opportunity to discover your own Three Colors of Worldview profile, and get a personalized report:

Three Colors of Worldview Discovery Tool & Report


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.

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Last modified on Monday, 24 April 2017 13:57

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