Why technology and culture are at the heart of collaboration

Many organisations these days have employees and partners spread all over the world. While this can cause problems of its own, with employees in silos who may never even meet in person, it also offers a huge opportunities.

Here Spencer Waldron, European Country Manager at Prezi, discusses how global teams can work better together and what you can do as a startup to ensure your business has the potential to grow big. 

If you take some time to understand the importance of diversity when it comes to brainstorming, problem solving and value creation then you could significantly improve how your organisation works. This can be pivotal in many areas, from innovation to revenue and everything in between. 

But what does collaboration really mean? A quick Google search will give many differing answers. . A more common sense approach is to accept that “collaboration happens when a group of people effectively focus and work together on creating some kind of value”. 

But how many global teams actually collaborate? Truly collaborate. Lots of teams work well together but that’s not what we mean by collaboration. If a team really wants to see significant results in what it does then it’s about bringing three core ingredients together – technology, culture and process. 

Technology

Virtual global teams are commonly becoming the norm and not the exception. Many companies now have team members, suppliers, partners or customers overseas. 

Computers have become smaller and more powerful, incorporating affordable and easy to use cloud software. These technologies allow to collaborate and communicate like never before. 

And it’s not just tools like Skype, BlueJeans and Evernote that help people collaborate effectively. There are a wide variety of tools that specialize in helping companies work together.

According to Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK it’s all about sharing up to date information on the direction of the business and markets with the team: 

“With fluid times you need to capture the dynamics of the landscape you operate in, as well as your strategy for staying relevant in real time. We use cloud presentation software Prezi to record long trend directions, for the directors of the business to have one place to edit, delete or update new things which they may have seen which may influence our goals. We recently used this at our directors’ away day to sense check our long term orientation. 

It’s key that all departments understand the impact of things coming down the tracks, launching any projects, resources or tactics to cope with them well in advance. 

When all operational areas of the business are on the same page, the congruency impact is massive. Tools like Prezi are the ideal reference point to share up to the minute information.”

Culture

Many of us work with people from different countries and cultures. The biggest hurdle to working cohesively and effectively as a team in understanding the cultural differences that exist and how you need to adapt your approach appropriately. 

There is amazing fascinating piece of research formed over a decade ago by Dr. Geert Hofstede. He developed a model of “cultural dimensions” that has now become an accepted standard when it comes to understanding differing global cultures. 

The research ranks each country on a range of dimensions. 

  • Power Distance: how people respond to power
  • Individualism: how much people care about the wellbeing of others 
  • Masculinity: to what extent culture believes in male / female equality 
  • Uncertainty Avoidance: whether people need structure, rules and process or if they are risk takers 
  • Pragmatism: about respect for tradition  
  • Indulgence: the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses.

So if you are a UK business and looking to work with people in Germany then you can see from the chart below where the big cultural differences exist.

Germany graph 

Looking at Uncertainty Avoidance we can see that if you are dealing with a German company, they will have a strong need to avoid uncertainty. It is therefore critical that you spend time re-assuring them that any business deal is well thought out and planned so that the potential for failure has been minimised. 

Add to this the low Indulgence score, which means that Germany has a tendency to be cynical and pessimistic, then you can see the importance of reassuring your potential business partner or customer in Germany by talking about what could go wrong and the steps you have taken to minimize the risk of this happening.

Process

Even if you have the right technology in place, and have started to understand the cultural differences, you still need to put processes in place to allow the team to work in a cohesive and effective way. 

Obvious actions are regular team meetings so others can be aware of remote team mates’ activities. However, remember to allow time for people to talk about non-work related matters which helps build connections. 

One-to-one sessions between individual team mates are also important where they can improve the quality of the interactions that can’t happen in larger team meetings. 

You also need to find ways that team mates can work together in a way that builds trust in each other. Building trust is a critical part of bringing a team together. 

It can also be a good idea to let different team members chair meetings and set the agenda. It helps them focus on what’s important in their area of work and allows feedback and collaboration from the rest of the team which in turn also builds trust. 

At the end of the day, if you want your team to truly collaborate and become more effective then you will need to put some effort in. Working on using the right technology tools, understanding the cultural differences amongst team members and implementing the right can have a big impact on cohesiveness.

But it doesn’t end there. You need to do regular reviews to monitor progress and work out what is, or is not, working. By doing this, you can improve efficiencies and results over time. 

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