Thomas L. Friedman, author of bestseller The World is Flat and the sequel Hot, Flat and Crowded, speaks eloquently of the new global economy that has emerged rapidly. It is now an “interdependency of supply chains, human resources, and intellectual capital.” This is absolutely the reality of the new automotive industry. And what is also a reality, multicultural relationships in a flat world often don’t work as well as they should or need to.
I experienced this dynamic first hand recently working with a global team from one of our Tier One automotive clients.
By their own admission, this team perceived the area they needed the most work on was developing more constructive interpersonal relationships. Representing Germany, France, Spain, South Korea and the US, team members acknowledged that their greatest strength was the talent and skills comprised of the members. Yet, having talented team members, a strong leader, and a clear vision and goal aren’t enough to help them meet the demands of the new auto industry. They know there are cultural differences in their team, and they know why those differences exist. Yet, they needed leadership and support to work through the complexity that was interfering with their relationships, much of which was influenced by multi-cultural differences.
This team had the courage to acknowledge that cultural influences play an enormous role in how they are acting in their business relationships, compounding an already complicated set of relationship management issues.
Managing multi-cultural relationships places a great emphasis on relationship skills along with cultural understanding. Focusing on building partnerships places an emphasis on shared outcomes and on collaborative relations where the business leaders view doing business as a set of partnerships essential to meet customer needs and exploit global opportunities. It is a competitive imperative.
They embraced the support that their senior executive leader and HR sponsor provided by gathering the team in person for two days to retool their partnership management skill development. Some aspects of this retooling included understanding the “view from the other side,” challenging the concept of someone wins/someone loses, managing parallel perspectives, tuning in to their habits of thinking, exploring ways of expanding beyond ones personality and cultural preferences, and collaborating to create a new vision for how their team will operate together.
Now the real test begins as everyone returns home to see if these business relationships will continue to be viewed as a set of partnerships, and the new emphasis on relationship skills stays at the forefront. This goes well beyond what we often think of as Diversity training. The 360 degrees of support from business leaders, human resources professionals and Executive Coaches was critical to the team to develop the acumen of building multicultural relationship skills and become true business partners.
Written by Diane Ring, Executive Leadership Development Coach