In today’s globalized world, it’s easy to assume that everyone speaks a common language. And in this context we’re not meaning language as written and spoken words. It’s more about the assumption that the working environment has one common language of the profession and that cultural differences are just a difference in the pronunciation. But when you dare to step into a global team like Allianz, which is home to more than 142,000 employees worldwide, you will notice really quickly, that cultural diversity is already perceptible on basic tasks.
Build interpersonal trust
Allianz trusts its employees. Allianz prospered over the decades to one of the strongest insurance and asset management companies worldwide through a pioneering spirit that lives within its employees and a culture which empowers each other through trust, honesty and true care for people.
It already starts on a small level; right in front of you: Teams can only function well when colleagues trust each other. Building and maintaining trust is even tougher in a virtual environment, where people often have to work with people they haven’t met in person – which is really common in a company that offers products and services to customers in more than 70 countries.
In global teams, the traditional social norms might not be available to encourage cooperative behavior. The participation of all team members in activities to get to know each another is not always possible. But all these little day-to-day activities help you to appear as a trustful person: Listen, respond timely, share your thinking, support colleagues, help and encourage each other in the completion of the project, ask your co-workers for direct feedback, express your appreciation, and celebrate success together. The basic rule is: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
A key factor in pro-actively building interpersonal trust when team members are geographically dispersed, is the right communication. Nobody expects you to call your colleague overseas to share everything that’s going on in your private life, but some non-task-related communication brings a human touch to the conversations with your virtual teammates. And as always, it’s more a matter of quality than quantity. If you are a new starter, the people around you will be naturally interested in your personal background, where you come from, or what your other interests are. Mostly, they want to get a better sense of you as an individual. Let them know who you are – introduce yourself.
Cultural diversity can be a challenge. Among a diverse team, whether of age, geography or cultural background, there’s a high potential for misinterpretation and the false belief that people of other cultures see things just like you do. Just because you have gone on holiday in Brazil once, doesn’t mean you know the culture.
The collaboration in diverse cultural groups can be difficult enough when working face-to-face, but it’s even harder to maintain a feeling of unity in a team when the colleagues are thousands of miles apart and work in multiple time zones. Luckily, there is a variety of simple ways and tools to enable employees to work together effectively in the global workplace.
Have a look at what your team uses to share knowledge. Social media networks like the new intranet of Allianz for example changes the way employees communicate, collaborate and work across borders – with possibilities to listen and be heard, to manage knowledge, to share information and to cooperate across the whole Allianz Group. It empowers the employees to solve problems together and to build and grow successful communities.
See what tools are already out there. Check what your co-workers use. Make use of them. But think about using the right channel for the right purpose. An email is easy and efficient but the wrong communication tool to carry the nuance of a complex message. Even if you use the same tool in the working environment, it doesn’t mean you’re talking in a common language. Be sensible, open-minded and remember the diverse background your audience could have when composing your messages.
Dare to take the challenge
The aim of Allianz is to create a workspace that reflects its purpose. Connecting with colleagues around the globe via technologies such as web conferencing, social networks, online forums, blogs and wikis is transforming the way Allianz work. However, even if excellent collaboration technologies are given, it will be the mindset of each person to work across distances that will truly make the difference.
Being aware of culture differences is not enough. You need to accept, acclimatize and adapt. It’s easier said than done. It could mean stepping out of your comfort zone. It could mean you have to dare to overcome old thinking and to break out of your default behavior. Allianz, the home for those who dare.