With globalization impacting nearly ever industry and a lot of the companies that operate in a global environment it is inevitable that at one point in your career you will be a part of a global team or a team that does business with individuals from all across the globe. I have been fortunate enough to have had professional experience working both with global teams and on a global team myself and the communication style and dynamic is truly different and extremely important in facilitating project success.
The past two summers I worked at Rockwell Automation which is a large multinational corporation headquartered out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rockwell operates in the industrial automation industry producing equipment and software that is used to automate manufacturing lines. Two summers ago I worked on a culturally diverse team within the inside sales department, and this past summer I worked in the logistics department and had a boss from Europe and high levels of interaction with logistics teams all across the world. Both of these experiences have taught me a great deal of how to work and communicate effectively with global teams.
My first summer with Rockwell placed me on a culturally diverse team. My boss was Indian by heritage raised in a household by immigrant parents. I had a team member from Russia, and also a team member who was raised in a traditional Mexican environment as his parents were immigrants as well. This added to a lot of diverse cultures, all operating towards the common goal of the team. I had high degrees of interaction with my boss and my coworker from Russia and I learned a lot about interacting with individuals from other cultures.
For starters the conversations with my boss were a lot more of a teaching style than what I have encountered in the past. My boss never was extremely direct in saying yes or no. After doing some research on the Indian’s communication culture the word “no” is considered very direct and hostile. Instead in the Indian culture individuals tend to have open discussions with each other and respect and place value in opinions that might oppose their own. I truly did see this when reflecting on my experience at Rockwell. My boss, even though I was completely new to the team and industry, always valued my ideas and wanted our dialog to be open in nature.
On the other hand, I experienced a dramatically different communication style with my team member from Russia. She was extremely direct and to the point and wouldn’t waver in telling me if a process I was using was wrong. This was helpful as she was training me on the customer relationship management platform, so we were able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, but it did take some adjusting to the “directness” of her communication style. This summer my experience was great in exposing me to these differences that exist within teams and how they communicate. It was great exposure that allowed me to be successful in my second internship with Rockwell.
My second summer allowed me to have high degrees of interactions with teams from all over the world. Specifically, I had to contact teams in Brazil, Netherlands, and China and for each of these teams I approached these conversations very differently. I used the awareness I developed in my previous summer in order to be successful.
The very high level project I was working on required me to reach out to teams spanning the global and get data from them from their logistics departments. I knew that I had to be cognizant of the cultures I was dealing with due to my prior experiences with globally diverse teams. When approaching individuals in Europe I would explain high level why I needed the data because otherwise I found it common that they would ask why before providing what was needed. It was important to explain yourself whereas in the United States my team members would never explain themselves they would just expect it to get done. For the teams in the Asia Pacific region I had to reach out to it was important for me to be extremely clear in what metrics I needed since I found out quickly they had a different way of collecting data in their region. For example in the United States we were using $/lb, Europe was $/kg, and China had a metric cpk which was their own way of collecting data that they had to interpret for me. Finally, for those team members in Latin America I had to be more friendly and open to their family experiences. For example, one individual I was working with had to leave work at 2:00pm every day for her children and so our meetings had to be prior to this time. The Latin American working culture and family culture are much more intertwined in Brazil as opposed to the United States, so I had to be aware of this.
Additionally, another thing I had to take into consideration was the time difference. We communicated a lot via email, but these conversations would span over a few days when if they had taken place within the US the conversations would have lasted a day or two. Additionally, I had to have calls with those in Europe at 8am my time, so they could call in before leaving the office for the day.
The main take away from this post and my experience is to be open-minded and receptive to communication styles. They truly do differ from country to country, and it doesn’t take much time on our end to adjust our style and be adaptable to others we are working with. At the end of the day by showing effort of doing this will gain the respect of those you are working with. Also, it not only facilitates project success, but also builds up your credibility and desirability as a working employee of a global workforce. I personally love working in diverse environments because it is challenging and I always learn a lot not only about other cultures but also about myself, so I am hoping that I will be able to continue this in my future career.
Below are some photos from my time in Europe on Fisher’s Student Exchange Program, since I know this post was text heavy. I have the cultural differences I realized regarding communication in my captions to further emphasize just how difference this piece is in difference regions of the world!