Virtual Teamwork in Latin America

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Our friends over at Iceberg in Buenos Aires have completed one of the first surveys I’ve seen on global virtual teams in Latin America. I’d like to congratulate them and thank them for this effort!

An astounding 88% of respondents to the survey confirm that the advantages of working in a global team outweigh the challenges! Their major reason? The diversity of perspectives, knowledge, and expertise among team members, which in their experience can generate innovative solutions and outstanding results.

Over 30% of the respondents reported spending more than half their work days interacting with colleagues around the globe; another 56% spend between 10-50% of their work days interacting with global clients. 68% of their global teams get together face-to-face at least once a year but, surprisingly, they prefer video conferences over live meetings! Even though respondents view video conferencing as their best coordination tool, only 32% of them use it in all their virtual meetings.

Survey results showed that diversity on these teams arose due to functional necessity, rather than because of its inherent benefits. Over half of those responding report their companies have lost opportunities due to cross-cultural misunderstandings. Despite this fact, only 21% of them report having received training to improve their virtual team’s productivity! Even sadder to me is that 53% of those who have received training did so in a webinar, 32% via e-learning, and only 16% had the opportunity to attend a face-to-face training or team-building session. Come on, Latin America! OJO! We’ve got work to do!

What did the respondents say is most complex about working in a global virtual team? First is including colleagues that don’t participate, then sending messages that are adequately understood, following up on what teammates are working on, and achieving agreements and decisions. 69% said the lack of co-location makes it more challenging to create trusting relationships, 68% said the distance makes it difficult to understand the context of colleagues’ communication, and 60% noted that distance can therefore generate conflict.

What qualities do they feel are most important for success on a global team? Communicating with clarity, adapting to cultural differences, and demonstrating a collaborative spirit.

Below is a visual that Iceberg created to summarize their findings.

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While there were only 86 respondents from four countries included in the survey, it is a good start. Respondents were representative of what we might expect in Latin America: 54% work for enterprises with fewer than 5000 employees, and 25% work for organizations with over 20,000 employees worldwide. 27% of the respondents were manager level, with 16% at director level. Most were from the IT industry, followed by consulting, education, and consumer products. The full Iceberg report (in Spanish) can be downloaded here.

Overall, the sample is fairly small and rather skewed, however it is useful for gathering ideas on how to make our virtual teams more effective, and some of the uniqueness we might find with teams and team members based in Latin America. If you work with global or virtual teams, be sure to check out Cultural Detective Global Teamwork, a powerful developmental competence tool that is included in every subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

 

Ecotonos: Simulación Intercultural en una Clase de Negociación en Colombia

Sixth semester students (juniors) David, Lina, Gabriela and Ximena helped facilitate the simulation

Sixth semester students (juniors) David, Lina, Gabriela y Ximena helped facilitate the simulation

Ecotonos: An Intercultural Simulation in a Negotiation Class in Colombia

La Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá, Colombia, recently utilized Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures for the third time in its International Negotiation class. The professor, Fernando Parrado, gave four of his experienced students the opportunity to act as co-facilitators, and they learned so much from the experience. Below is their report.

Translation to English by Dianne Hofner Saphiere follows the Spanish original.

AGUILAS

Las Águilas estaban conformadas por un grupo total de diez estudiantes, por lo que en primera estancia se repartieron las fichas de valores a cada uno de los integrantes. Los valores e acciones de las Águilas eran:

  • Tú crees que es grosero expresar tu propia opinión demasiado fuerte. Tú prefieres preguntar la opinión de los otros antes de afirmar la tuya y frecuentemente ilustras con ejemplos los puntos que los demás han dado.
  • Cuando una persona te dice algo que tú has escuchado antes, tú aplaudes. Miras sobre la cabeza de las personas cuando deseas demostrarles que estas en desacuerdo.
  • Para entender completamente que está diciendo alguien, tú interrumpes, aclaras y resumes.
  • Tú crees que todo se mueve a su propio ritmo y que el tiempo es artificial. No te das prisa con las decisiones o tareas sino que prefieres que esta se desenvuelva. Los relojes o tiempos de referencia te hacen sentir incómodo.
  • En discusiones tu estas más cómodo parado o sentado al menos a un brazo de distancia de las otras personas. El contacto físico es extremadamente incómodo para ti.

Después de entendidos y discutidos los comportamientos a seguir por las Águilas, se realiza la creación del mito por parte de todo el grupo. Los miembros fueron muy creativos y relacionaron los valores con el nombre del grupo (las Águilas), determinando así que se habían independizado hace poco tiempo, y que además su Dios era el águila, lo que determinaba su necesidad de espacio, no contacto físico, y comportamiento sumiso ante la opinión de los demás.

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Posteriormente se inició la construcción de los puentes. Los miembros decidieron recurrir a otros recursos, además de los ya otorgados por los facilitadores, como sus sacos.

Luego se realizó la mezcla de los participantes. Las Águilas fueron determinadas a ser un Joint Venture, por lo que cinco participantes del grupo de los Zantes se unieron a las Águilas, de la misma manera que cinco integrantes se fueron a los Delfines y a los Zantes. Dado así el grupo quedo conformado por cinco Águilas y cinco Zantes. La cultura de los Zantes era absolutamente opuesta por lo que la continuación del puente fue un reto, mas sin embargo a pesar de las diferencias, todos participaron activamente y sacaron adelante el proyecto.

A continuación se realizó la presentación del mito por parte de uno de los participantes, y luego se realizó la retroalimentación de la cual el grupo tuvo las siguientes conclusiones:

Los elementos que ayudaron tener mayor efectividad y colaboración entre las dos culturas:

  • Ambas culturas saben escuchar.
  • Ambas culturas trabajan en grupo con un fin común.
  • A pesar de la diferencia cultural, había tolerancia lo que no genero conflictos, por lo que el trabajo en equipo fue flexible.

Los elementos que impidieron tener mayor efectividad y colaboración entre las dos culturas:

  • La cultura de las Águilas era muy flexible al tiempo, por lo cual el tiempo no fue aprovechado de manera efectiva. “El tiempo vale oro”.
  • La diferencia y falta de conocimiento del lenguaje verbal y corporal de cada una de las otras culturas
  • La diferencia en la afectividad y contacto físico por parte de cada una de las culturas

Las Águilas plantearon tres estrategias que hubieran ayudado a los grupos a entenderse mejor y utilizar las habilidades de cada uno de los miembros fueron:

  • Tener un contacto previo con la otra cultura, para entender y comprender los diferentes comportamientos.
  • Reemplazar el lenguaje corporal por lenguaje verbal, para lograr un mayor entendimiento.
  • Tener clara la tarea a realizar para poder planificar y realizar de manera correcta.
  • Implementar la división del trabajo.

Por último el grupo realizo el siguiente mapa de procesos para evidenciar el proceso vivido.

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DELFINES

La personalidad de los Delfines los describe como una cultura apartada que no les gusta tener contacto con otras culturas, aparte de esto siempre quieren tener siempre la razón motivo por el cual cuando van a comunicarse con otros es más difícil llegar a un acuerdo, en el trabajo se evidencio cuando hubo cambios de culturas que era complicado llegar a aportar algo a esta cultura.

Los Delfines estaban armando su puente, todos los integrantes tenían un cargo y así fueron armando su puente, todos se entendían bien y cuando no estaban de acuerdo lo hablaban y rápidamente llegaban a un acuerdo para beneficiarse todos, entre la cultura nunca hubo un problema o discusiones por las decisiones tomadas.

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Cuando las dos Águilas intervinieron este grupo para continuar armando el puente pero como había mayoría de Delfines se evidencio que las Águilas quedaron de lado discriminadas, ya que los Delfines no les gusta tener interacción con otras culturas, es claro que cuando hay una mayoría vs minoría siempre la mayoría va a tomar las decisiones y la minoría va a tener que adaptarse a estas decisiones.

En el momento en el que a los grupos se les puso a mirar las fortalezas y debilidades de la interacción con otras culturas los Delfines se dieron cuenta que las fortalezas que esto trajo para armar el puente fue que tanto las Águilas como los Delfines tenían un tiempo flexible el cual hizo que ninguno tuviera un choque ahí, también los Delfines debieron reconocer el trabajo de otra cultura que quiso intervenir para ayudarlos y por ultimo tuvieron que tener respeto y tolerancia hacia las Águilas, no hay mejor comunicación que saber hablar pero más importante es saber escuchar.

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Las debilidades que los Delfines encontraron al interactuar con las dos Águilas que llegaron al grupo fue que había falta de comunicación ya que las dos culturas se comunicaban de forma diferente, además se notaba un impedimento entre las dos culturas ya que la distancia era muy notable. Sin embargo, pudieron armar el puente y al finalizar el logro fue compartido entre Águilas y Delfines.

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ZANTES

En el juego de simulación intercultural el grupo tres era el grupo de los Zantes, el cual estaba conformado por diez integrantes.

La primera actividad que se realizo fue escoger algunas cartas de reglas culturales y con estas se creó una nueva cultura con las acciones dados, para ello tenían que crear un mito explicando cómo nació la cultura. Las que escogimos fueron las de color naranja las cuales representan los gestos y el contacto con los ojos (hacer sonar nuestros dedos y mirar fijamente), azul clara que eran los estilos de escucha (sabían escuchar y hablan cuando el otro terminaba), el color rosado representa contacto (se caracterizaban los Zantes porque les gustaba el contacto con los demás), realizaban gestos mientras hablan para ayudar a los otros a entender, y por ultimo estaba la carta beige que era la orientación al tiempo (eran muy rigurosos con el tiempo, para ellos este valía oro). En el desarrollo de esta primera actividad se pudo notar que dentro del grupo había integrantes con personalidades muy distintas, ya que algunos estaban muy concentrados en el juego y muy participativos, mientras que otros miembros del grupo solo estaban escuchando y no aportaban ideas sino al contrario hacen lo que otros compañeros decían. Con el tiempo todos los integrantes empezaron a practicar sus características culturales respectivas y finalmente para esta actividad trabajaron muy bien porque todos se familiarizaron con sus valores (que eran iguales) por lo cual no existió ningún conflicto.

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La segunda actividad que se realizo fue la de crear un puente con unos materiales que los monitores suministramos al grupo, el puente debía ser innovador y confortable. Al comenzar el puente el grupo trabajo muy bien ya que todos se escuchaban y trabajaban efectivamente para poder realizar un buen trabajo, a cada instante se percibían los valores del grupo porque constantemente los estaban practicando y utilizando para realizar su trabajo. Cuando ya tenían la mitad del puente el grupo fue dividido y a los Zantes llegaron integrantes de los Delfines y de las Águilas, con los cuales se pudo evidenciar el impacto cultural de estos nuevos integrantes ya que tenían características totalmente distintas, algunos llegaron a ser ofensivos, aplaudían constantemente, no les gustaba el contacto, todos tenían sus características culturales muy marcadas y distintas lo cual produjo que se crearan conflictos. Cuando los miembros de los Delfines y de las Águilas intervinieron en la creación del puente se pudo notar que en un principio cambiaron drásticamente la estructura del puente, construyeron algo totalmente distinto a lo que habían realizado los Zantes, pero con el tiempo esta estructura se volvía a acoplar un poco a lo que fue la de los Zantes y el grupo multicultural pudo crear un excelente puente. Los jugadores pudieron comprender el impacto que la cultura tiene en cada una de sus vidas.

Los juegos anteriores permitieron comprender al grupo el impacto que tiene la cultura, por esto es indispensable que a la hora de negociar se conozca y además se entienda la cultura con la que se va a negociar para tener la capacidad de resolver problemas y para trabajar de manera efectiva. Y finalmente la conclusión más importante es que hay que aprender a manejar nuestras conductas y valores a la hora de negociar con personas que tengan diferencias culturales.

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CONCLUSIÓN

En conclusión esta actividad a los 4 monitores fue muy productiva. Entendimos las diferencias culturales con unas simples actividades que nos dan un ejemplo de cómo serian una negociación o trabajo en equipo con miembros de otros países, nos enseño como escuchar y ser de mente abierta siempre para la negociación aprender lo mejor del otro y siempre respetar a los demás.

AGUILAS

The Aguilas were a group of ten students, each given rule cards. The values and actions on the Aguila cards were:

  • You believe it is rude to express your opinions too strongly. You prefer to question others’ opinions before sharing your own, and you frequently affirm the points others have made by offering examples.
  • When someone tells you something you’ve heard before, you clap. You look above the person’s head when you wish to demonstrate disagreement.
  • To understand more fully what someone is saying, you interrupt, clarify and summarize.
  • You believe that things move according to their own rhythm, and that time is artificial. You don’t hurry decisions or tasks and rather prefer that they unfold. Clocks and references to time make you uncomfortable.
  • In discussions you are more comfortable standing or sitting at least an arm’s length away from others. Physical contact is extremely uncomfortable for you.

After discussing and understanding the behaviors to follow, the Aguilas created their myth. The members were very creative and related their values with the name of the group, determining that they became independent fairly recently, and that their god was the eagle, which determined their need for space, no physical contact, and submissiveness to the opinions of others.

Next they began the construction of the bridge. The members decided to use other resources in addition to those provided by the facilitators.

After building for a while, participants were mixed. Five Aguilas left to join the Delfins and the Zantes. The remaining Aguilas were joined by five Zante participants, forming a Joint Venture group of five Zanteans and five Aguilas. The culture of the Zantes was absolutely opposite to that of the Aguilas, so the joint bridge building was quite a challenge. Despite the differences, however, everyone participated actively and took the project forward.

Upon concluding the simulation the participants presented their creation myth, and then conducted a debriefing discussion that led to the following conclusions:

The elements that helped the mixed group of two cultures to be more effective and collaborative were:

  • Each culture’s members knew how to listen.
  • Members of both cultures worked in groups to a common purpose.
  • Despite the cultural differences, there was tolerance, and participants did not generate conflict, so the group work was flexible.

The elements that impeded effectiveness and collaboration between the two cultures were:

  • The Aguila culture was very flexible with time, which meant that time was not used in an effective manner. “Time is gold.”
  • Differences in and lack of knowledge of verbal and body language of the different culture
  • Difference in affection and physical contact in each of the cultures

Group members came up with three strategies that would have helped them understand each other better and utilize the abilities of each of the members of the mixed culture:

  • Have previous contact with the other culture, in order to understand the different behaviors.
  • Replace body language with verbal language, in order to have better understanding.
  • Keep the task clearly in mind in order to plan and perform it correctly.
  • Implement a division of labor.

Finally, the group created the following process map illustrating the process they experienced:

DELFINUS

The personality of the Delfins can be described as that of a secluded culture that doesn’t like to have contact with other cultures. Apart from this, they always want to be right when they communicate with others, making it difficult to come to an agreement. This was evident in the work: when there was a change of cultures it was difficult to contribute anything to this culture.

The Delfins were assembling their bridge, all of its members had their job and were working to build the bridge, and everyone understood each other well. When they disagreed they spoke and quickly reached an agreement that would benefit everyone. Within the culture there was not a problem or discussion of the decisions made.

When the two Aguilas joined the group to continue assembling the bridge, since there were a majority of Delfins, you could see the Aguilas were a bit left out and discriminated against, as Delfins don’t like to interact with other cultures. It was clear that with the majority and minority in this group, the majority made decisions and the minority had to adapt itself to those decisions.

When the group members reflected on their strengths and weaknesses interacting with other cultures, the Delfins realized that the strengths for building the bridge included that both the Aguilas and the Delfins had a flexible sense of time, so there was no problem there. Also, the Delfins needed to acknowledge the work of the other culture, to have respect and tolerance for the Aguilas and realize that they wanted to help, that there is no better way to communicate than to know how to speak but even more to know how to listen.

The weaknesses that the Delfins encountered when interacting with the two Aguilas who arrived to the group were that there was a lack of communication due to the fact that the two cultures communicated in a different form, in addition another impediment between the two cultures was that the distance was very notable. Nevertheless, they were able to build the bridge and the accomplishment was shared between the Aguilas and the Delfins.

ZANTES

In the intercultural simulation, the third group was the Zantes, composed of ten members.

The first activity was to choose cultural rule cards to create a new culture with the actions described on them. In order to do that, the members needed to use the rules to author a myth about how the culture was born. The rules chosen included the orange color—gestures and eye contact (snap one’s fingers and stare), light blue — listening style (listen closely and speak only when the other has finished), pink—representing touch (this characterized the Zantes because they loved touching others), gesticulating while talking in order to help others understand, and the last was the beige card—time orientation (very rigorous with time, as time is golden). During this first activity it was noteworthy that there were members of the group with very distinct personalities. Some concentrated on the game and were very participatory, others in the group were only listening and rather than contribute ideas they did what the others said. With time the group members began practicing their cultural characteristics and finally they worked together very well, because everyone was familiar with their values (they were all equal) and there was no conflict.

The second activity the group realized was to create a bridge with some materials that the facilitators gave the group. The bridge needed to be innovative and aesthetically pleasing. When beginning the bridge the group worked very well together; everyone listened to one another and they worked effectively to complete the work. At each moment one could perceive the values of the group because they were constantly practicing and utilizing them during their work. When they already had half the bridge built, the group was divided and some Delfins and Aguilas joined the Zantes. At this point the cultural impact was evident; some arrived offensively—they clapped constantly, they didn’t like touching others—everyone had cultural characteristics that were very marked and distinct and that created conflicts. When the members of the Delfins and the Aguilas joined the creation of the bridge, it was noted that at one point the structure of the bridge changed drastically; they constructed something completely distinct from what the Zantes had originally been building. However, with time the structure returned to something similar to what the Zantes had intended, and the multicultural group was able to create an excellent bridge. The players were able to understand the impact that culture has on each of their lives.

The simulation permitted group members to understand the impact of culture, and that it is indispensable to recognize and understand culture when negotiating, in order to be able to resolve problems and work in an effective manner. Finally, the most important conclusion is that we need to learn to manage our conduct and values when negotiating with people who are culturally different from us.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, this activity was very productive for the four of us as co-facilitators. We understood cultural differences with these simple activities. It provided us an example of how a negotiation or teamwork could be with people from other countries. It taught us how to listen and to maintain an open mind during negotiations, to learn the best of the other and to always respect others.

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us, students! Any of our readers who are interested in Ecotonos, you can find more information or order the simulation by clicking here.

Global Teams in Theory and in Practice

Global-TeamGuest post by Vicki Flier Hudson

I once heard a Zen Buddhist monk say that the definition of suffering is the gap between what is and what we think should be. The wider that gap, the more we experience stress. Today’s global virtual team, without the right tools, might end up spending a lot of time in that gap. Most teams want to becoming high-performing units with all individuals feeling valued, all cultures being respected, and all tasks getting completed on time. The reality can look quite different, however. In today’s taxing environment, many teams find themselves reacting to fires, completing their tasks but without the benefit of time for intentional reflection or action.

As an intercultural practitioner I’ve had the privilege of working with a variety of global teams in industries from manufacturing to finance. Many of them display similar characteristics. They are often comprised of talented individuals who appreciate cultural diversity and want to collaborate effectively. But why do few teams achieve that vision? What causes the gap between that desire to collaborate and the reality of division or confusion?

So many factors play into the health of a global team, some of which defy explanation — call it chemistry, dynamics, or magic. Some of the factors, however, are more visible. For example, I see many teams become misaligned because they do not have proper communication protocols in place. They make false assumptions about shared understanding of terms or processes which can delay projects. Cultural differences also play a significant role in the effectiveness of global teams. Team members might run into disparate cultural approaches to a project, and rather than observe the problem objectively they immediately begin jumping to conclusions and/or negative evaluations. This premature leap can cause them to chase down incorrect solutions and again delay the project. Also, the team may not take full advantage of the diverse perspectives and resources that the members provide.

How do we close this gap between the theory of a collaborative team and the practice of one? First, a global team must realize that intercultural competence is a learned skill, in some ways like welding or computer programming. Cross-cultural skills may be harder to acquire or measure, but they must be studied and practiced. Cultural Detective Online is an incredible tool for global teams to unite around and hone their intercultural proficiency.

CD Online makes it possible, for example, for teams represented in fifteen countries to come together in a virtual training room and explore several important aspects of collaboration. First, they learn to separate objective facts from their perceptions of situations. That skill alone can increase team trust dramatically. Then they learn through what lenses their colleagues might be looking, and how those values impact the outcome of a business problem. Imagine eighteen members of a global team, all online and on the phone, working through a CD Online scenario together that illuminates the values of cultures they work with every day. Everyone gets to contribute and they physically practice those vital cross-cultural skills right there in the training.

I feel a great sense of excitement about what Cultural Detective Online does to increase the effectiveness of global teams, and not just in theory. Join me and the Cultural Detective team as I walk through a case study of a virtual training designed for a global team using CD Online. This event is free and will take place April 9, 2013. To learn more about this event click here, or to register please click here.

Global teams have amazing potential. What tools have you used to get your global team to high-performance?

Vicki Flier Hudson, speaker and Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services, inspires people to live, work, and build teams across cultures. She has helped countless large-sized corporations establish successful operations between the United States and India or Europe. Vicki is a certified administrator of the Cultural Detective methodology and the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). She has been featured on NBC News, and many of her articles have been published in a variety of magazines.