Have you ever played the game where you sit in a circle and one person whispers a story to the person on their left, who shares the story with the next person, and so on, until the story is retold to the one who started it—but it no longer resembles the original story? That is similar to many of the problems we face communicating across cultures.
The world is indeed getting flatter. Like many organizations, at The Ken Blanchard Companies we regularly interact with coworkers and clients around the globe. In my workshops, cross-cultural communication is frequently cited as a significant challenge for leaders who have teams spread throughout the world.
Communication involves an exchange of meaning through sending and receiving of verbal and nonverbal messages, either consciously or unconsciously. For a message to be understood correctly, there needs to be a vast amount of common ground between the sender and receiver. This makes cross-cultural communication difficult, because two culturally different individuals tend to have less in common than two people who are part of the same culture.
Many variable factors get in the way of mutual understanding within cross-cultural communication—differences in language, in communication styles, and in the interpretation of nonverbal behaviors. Within each of these differences are numerous subcategories that add further difficulty.
However, effective cross-cultural communication is possible. I suggest four approaches to increase understanding:
- Start with the assumption that you may not understand the situation or message and that cultural differences may get in the way.
- The most accurate way to gather information is to observe and describe what is actually said and done, not to evaluate or interpret words or actions. Evaluation and interpretation are influenced by each person’s own culture and background.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, boots, or sandals. Try to see the situation from the other person’s cultural perspective.
- Treat your explanation or interpretation as a best guess. Then, when you think you understand, check with the other person to see whether you’re on the right path or whether you need additional clarity.
What other suggestions do you have to increase understanding in cross-cultural communication?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, is being scrutinized and second-guessed for her decision to not allow employees to work from home starting in June. It’s easy for pundits to take pot shots from afar, but speaking as a manager who has struggled to find the right balance with this same issue, I’ve learned there isn’t a one size fits all policy that works for every employee in every organization.
One thing is certain – trust is at the heart of a successful work from home policy. If your work from home policy isn’t based on the premise that your employees are trustworthy, and if the boundaries of the policy don’t nurture and protect trust, you’ll find that allowing employees to work from home will be an ongoing source of suspicion, resentment, and irritation.
Working from home can provide tremendous benefits to both the employer and the employee. Studies have shown that working from home can increase motivation, productivity, efficiency, and allow for better work/life balance. I know that when I work from home I often work longer, harder, and accomplish more than when I’m in the office.
Based on my experience in managing a large team composed of a mixture of office-based and home-based associates, here are some tips I’d pass along:
1. Have a written policy. The policy should include who is eligible to work from home, technology requirements, communication norms, etc.
2. Be clear on performance expectations. It’s easy for people to fly under the radar when working from home. Make sure goals are clear, regular one-on-one meetings are scheduled to stay in touch, and performance evaluation standards are clear.
3. Deal with performance issues. Don’t let poor performance slide. It’s easy to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy with remote workers but you should treat them the same as you do associates in the office. If you noticed an employee arriving to work 40 minutes late every day you’d have a discussion with him/her, right? Do the same with your telecommuters.
4. Evaluate people on results. It’s critical to have some sort of performance metrics in place to gauge an employee’s effectiveness. Whether you adopt a Results Oriented Work Environment philosophy, have employees keep time sheets, or audit work samples, it’s important that you have a method of evaluating a remote worker’s productivity and effectiveness.
5. Be transparent and fair. Publish your policy. Talk about it with your team. Let everyone know exactly where they stand when it comes to working from home. Vague or inconsistent telecommuting policies breed suspicion and resentment in teams.
6. Set people up to succeed. Make sure your remote workers have all the tools they need to succeed such as the right training, technology, and equipment. Remote workers need to be high performers in their role and be technologically savvy in order to operate independently.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Not every employee has the home work environment, personality type, or work ethic to be a successful telecommuter. Working from home can provide just as many distractions as those found in the office so it’s important to have clear boundaries in place and be consistent in how you apply the policy within your team or organization.
What is your experience in working from home or managing those who do? Feel free to share your expertise by posting a comment.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Ever had this experience as a virtual member of a face-to-face team meeting? You dial into a conference phone. You can’t hear what people are saying. You can’t see the documents, slides, or whiteboards people are referencing, and there is no easy way for you to get the group’s attention to ask a question or clarify a point.
As a virtual team member, unequal access to information and a feeling of being left out can erode your trust and lower your emotional commitment—two critical factors for overall team success.
Yet when you are a dial-in participant, pushing for inclusion without sounding like a whiner usually isn’t worth the effort. As a result, unless they are called on to participate, many virtual team members give up and simply listen to the meeting while they read and answer their email.
Don’t let this happen to the virtual members of your team. Here are three ways to keep your virtual teammates engaged:
- Go completely virtual. Meetings where everyone is virtual will force better habits such as “around the room” input and sending reports in advance so everyone has access. Make sure each meeting agenda deliberately includes time for everyone to participate in the lively chat necessary for this social team approach.
- Use a buddy system. If you must have some in the room and some out, assign every virtual team member a “buddy” in the room. Set up additional communication modes such as instant messaging or chatting between buddies. This way, the virtual team member can ask questions without disturbing the whole group and each person calling in has an advocate who can send last-minute documents, describe what is happening, or intervene when necessary for clarification.
- Consider creating a cardboard Carl/Caroline. One creative team leader I worked with created large, cardboard-backed photos of each virtual team member. The visibility of a cardboard Carl or Caroline in each meeting provided great humor and increased engagement. “Caroline looks like she has a question.” “Let’s ask Carl what he thinks!” These are fun and natural ways to ensure all team members stay visibly engaged and emotionally committed to the team. Other teams use an empty chair with a name, or a name tent—but there is something about a photo that adds life to the meeting. Be aware, though, that your virtual team member may ask for a cardboard photo of you and the rest of the team—that’s a good thing!
We all have attended deadly team meetings, and most of us probably have neglected a virtual team member, inadvertently, at least once. Keep your virtual team members engaged. Try one or more of these strategies and bring life and energy to your next virtual engagement!
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.
In a recent webinar on A Closer Look at the New Science of Motivation, best-selling business author Susan Fowler opened with an interesting question for attendees, “Why are you here?” And it wasn’t just a rhetorical question. Fowler wanted attendees to take a minute and assess what their motivation was for attending. Here’s what she identified as possible answers.
- I am not really here. (Well, maybe my body is, but my mind is elsewhere.)
- I am being paid to be here. (And if I wasn’t being paid—or receiving some other type of reward—I wouldn’t be here.)
- I have to be here; I’d be afraid of what might happen if I wasn’t.
- Being here aligns with my values and will help me and my organization reach important goals.
- Being here resonates with me; I feel it could make an important difference to others in my organization and/or help me fulfill a meaningful purpose.
- I am inherently interested in being here; it is fun for me.
A quick survey found that people were attending for a variety of reasons including all six of the possible choices above. Fowler went on to explain that the first three choices were all “Sub Optimal” motivational outlooks that generated poor results. She also shared that outlooks 4, 5 and 6 were the “Optimal” motivational outlooks that most closely correlated with intentions to perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort, and be a good corporate citizen.
What motivates you?
What’s motivating you on your tasks at work? Is it a “carrot” (External #2) or a “stick” (Imposed #3) approach? If so, what’s the impact been on your motivation and performance? Chances are that you’re not performing at your best. Even worse, you could find yourself feeling somewhat manipulated and controlled, which rarely brings out the best in people.
For better results, think about what it might mean to employ a more Aligned, Integrated, or Inherent approach. Find ways to connect the dots for yourself to create a more intrinsically satisfying strategy.
3 ways to enhance motivation
Fowler suggests beginning by evaluating the quality of A-R-C in your life. Looking back at over 40 years of motivation research, Fowler shared that the answer to creating a more motivating environment is a combination of increased Autonomy (control of your experiences), Relatedness (working together with others), and Competence (developing and refining new skills). The good news is that anyone can change their motivational outlook with some self-awareness and self-regulation.
Could you use a little more motivation in your life? Most of us could. To find out more about Fowler’s thinking on motivation and bringing out the best in yourself and others, be sure to check out Fowler’s free, on-demand webinar recording, A Closer Look at the New Science of Motivation. You’ll discover some of the common mistakes people make when it comes to motivation and what you can do to improve your outlook. Recorded on October 3 for an audience of 700 participants, the download is free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
Innovation also requires collaboration. Very few ideas can be successfully implemented without the cooperation and buy-in of others. Unfortunately, innovators often struggle in this area–especially if they fall in love with their idea and become defensive about feedback.
In an upcoming Leadership Livecast on Un-Leaderlike Moments I share a story about the way this sneaks up on unsuspecting innovators. See if this has ever happened to you.
The birth of an idea
You come up with an idea—it’s one of your best ideas—and you can’t wait to share it with the other people on your team. So you do. And you know what? They’re just as excited about it as you are. You decide to go in together and make this idea a reality.
But soon after, something you didn’t plan on starts to occur. Your teammates like your original concept, but they have some thoughts for making it better. They begin to share their thinking and give you some feedback. How do you react?
Dealing with feedback–two typical paths
If you are an experienced innovator, you take some time to really listen to what your team is sharing with you. You explore what they are saying, you ask for details, and you draw out the essence of their ideas. You realize that no matter how good your original idea may be, it’s always smart to treat feedback as a gift and to listen closely with the intention of being influenced.
If you are a relatively new innovator—and you are really attached to your idea—you may see feedback from your team in a completely different light. Ego can often get in the way and now you become defensive when others suggest changes. You dismiss their feedback as uninformed, uninspired, or just plain limiting. Instead of listening with the intent of being influenced, you listen just long enough to respond and remind everyone why the team should stay on course with your original concept. You become so focused on leading change that you don’t notice the energy, enthusiasm and participation of team members falling off as you march to the finish line.
It’s not until you get there and turn around for a group high-five that you see their weary exasperation with your leadership style. They congratulate you on your project.
A better way
Don’t let that happen to your next idea. Here are three ways to innovate and collaborate more effectively:
- Create space for other people to contribute. Take advantage of everything that people bring to a team. Utilize their head and heart as well as their hands.
- Listen to feedback. Explore and acknowledge what people are suggesting. Listen in a special way—with the intent of being influenced.
- Recognize that no matter how good your idea is, it can always be made better through the input of others. As Ken Blanchard likes to say, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
True innovation requires passion and collaboration. Create some space for others. It will make your ideas stronger, give you a better chance for success, and create needed buy-in along the way.
PS: You can learn more about the 40 different thought leaders presenting in the October 10 Un-Leaderlike Moments Livecast here. It’s a free online event hosted by Ken Blanchard.
Scott Blanchard, principal and executive vice president at The Ken Blanchard Companies calls it the new “F” word—feelings. And it is something that managers and organizations struggle with on a regular basis. Should you ask people to repress feelings and “check them at the door” or should you encourage people to bring their entire selves when they come to work?
Current research points to the benefit of employing people’s hearts as well as their hands. But to do that skillfully, managers and team leaders have to be prepared for all of the situations that occur when you truly engage people. If you want everything that people can offer, you have to deal with everything that people will bring.
Eryn Kalish, a professional mediator and relationship expert believes that there are two keys to successfully negotiating the emotional workplace. In an article for Blanchard’s Ignite! newsletter, Kalish identifies staying centered and open as the key skills. But what she has been seeing more commonly is an unbalanced approach where managers and organizations go to extremes.
As she explains, “Organizations are either taking a ‘confront everything, address it, and do it now’ overly intense approach, where there is no time or space to reflect, or they are taking a ‘let’s wait and see’ tactic, in hopes that the situation resolves itself, but in reality not dealing with difficult issues until it’s way too late.”
The wait and see strategy works occasionally, according to Kalish, although most of the time things get worse. “Plus, when something is left unaddressed, there is a cumulative organizational effect where everyone starts shutting down, living in a place of fear and contraction.”
That is a huge loss, from Kalish’s perspective, because most issues in companies are resolvable.
“If issues are handled directly, clearly, and in a timely manner, something new can emerge. That’s what I see that is so exciting,” she shares. “When people normalize these types of conversations, it is amazing to see the transformations that can occur.”
Next steps for leaders
For leaders looking to get started in improving their abilities, Kalish recommends assessing where you are currently at.
“It all depends on whether you have the skills to conduct a sensitive conversation. If you have the skills, take a cue from Nike and ‘Just do it!’ See what happens. If you do not have the skills, then it is important to get additional coaching or training.
“In any case, openness and transparency is the key. Many times it helps to just be candid with staff and saying, ‘I think that we have been avoiding this and I’d like that to change’ will help.
To learn more about Kalish’s thoughts on dealing effectively with emotion in the workplace, check out Dealing effectively with emotion-filled work environments in the August issue of Ignite. Also be sure to check out a free webinar Kalish is conducting on August 22, A Manager’s Guide to the Emotional Workplace: How to stay focused and balanced when dealing with sensitive issues. It’s a free event courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
It uses questions from a Mensa quiz to illustrate the point that a team’s collective wisdom is always greater than any individual team member’s.
To get started, see how many of these questions you can answer individually. According to Mensa, if you can figure out 23 of these, you qualify for “genius” status.
(I’ve filled in the first one for you—check the bottom of this post for the complete answer key when you are done.)
Now, gather your team together (or send them a link to this page). How many of these phrases can your team correctly identify as a group?
When we conducted this exercise in class, results varied widely. Some people scored high, some people scored low. Some people came up with the more obscure answers, while others missed the easy ones. The point of course was that no matter what, the group as a whole always outscored the individual members—even the really smart ones who got many of the answers all by themselves. In every case the team was smarter than the individual members and had a greater capacity to answer the questions that were put in front of it.
What gets in the way of sharing?
So why don’t teams share information more freely and use this to their advantage? There are a lot of reasons ranging from, “I like to be the smart one,” and “I like to be unique,” to “As long as I have this specialized knowledge, I have some leverage, etc.”
Now ask yourself two more important questions. 1. What can we do as a team to break down individual silos and share information more freely? 2. What individual or organizational barriers are getting in our way?
Teams perform best when they operate as a collective unit instead of as a collection of individuals. But that takes work—it doesn’t happen by itself. As a leader or senior team member, consider what you can do this week to help your team share more freely. It’s good for you, your team, and your customers!
1. 24 hours in a day; 2. 26 letters of the alphabet; 3. 7 days of the week; 4. 12 signs of the Zodiac; 5. 66 books of Bible; 6. 52 cards in a pack (without jokers); 7. 13 stripes in the US flag; 8. 18 holes on a golf course; 9. 39 books of the Old Testament; 10. 5 tines on a fork/5 toes on a foot; 11. 90 degrees in a right angle; 12. 3 blind mice (see how they run); 13. 32 is the temperature in degrees F at which water freezes; 14. 15 players on a rugby team; 15. 3 wheels on a tricycle; 16. 100 Cents in a Rand; 17. 11 players in a football (soccer) team; 18. 12 months in a year; 19. 13 is unlucky for some; 20. 8 tentacles on an octopus; 21. 29 days in Feb. in a leap year; 22. 27 books in the New Testament; 23. 365 days in a year; 24. 13 loaves in a baker’s dozen; 25. 52 weeks in a year; 26. 9 lives of a cat; 27. 60 minutes in an hour; 28. 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human body; 29. 64 squares on a chess board; 30. 9 provinces in South Africa; 31. 6 balls to an over in cricket; 32. 1000 years in a millennium; 33. 15 men on a dead man’s chest
As Blanchard explains, “When people get caught up in their ego, it erodes their effectiveness. That’s because the combination of false pride and self-doubt created by an overactive ego gives people a distorted image of their own importance. When that happens, people see themselves as the center of the universe and they begin to put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their thoughts and actions.”
That’s a deadly combination in today’s business environment where organizations need people to work together collaboratively. If you think that ego might be taking up a seat on your team and holding back everyone’s effectiveness, here are three ways to recalibrate:
- Be a learner: The first way to recalibrate an overactive ego is by becoming a continual learner. Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, you need to be open to learn from other people and to listen to them. As Blanchard explains, “If people think they’ve got all the answers and don’t need any help, they’re not likely to be interested in collaborating.” That’s why having an attitude that you don’t have all the answers and you’re open to learning is so important. “None of us is as smart as all of us,” explains Blanchard. “This really means that one plus one is a lot bigger than two.”
- Be courageous in your selection of team members: Seek out people who have skills and energy that are different—and preferably superior— to your own. So often people are afraid to work with teammates who possess superior skills. Resist the urge to be the smartest person in the room.
- Build a shared purpose: Finally, the third key to achieving healthy organizational collaboration and minimizing individual ego is to rally people around a shared vision—something bigger than themselves. When everyone shares a clear sense of purpose, process, and practice, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.
Don’t let egos get in the way of your team’s success. Your ability to overcome these self-serving tendencies will determine to a large degree your ability to work effectively with others toward a common goal.
Would you like to learn more about working together collaboratively and creating teams that work? Here are a couple of additional resources:
Why Teams Fail—and What to Do About It (new article by Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew in latest edition of Human Resource Executive Online)
Ken Blanchard on the Power of Collaboration (a free, one-hour, on-demand webinar recording featuring Ken Blanchard)
About 60 percent of the time, work teams fail to accomplish their goals, according to Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew, a Founding Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies. To make matters worse, the experience will create lingering hard feelings among team members,
In a new article for Human Resource Executive Online, Parisi-Carew identifies the top ten reasons why this occurs. See if any of these common missteps are holding back the teams in your organization.
- Lack of planning. Teams are often formed with little planning or forethought. When people come together on a team, they have questions that must be addressed: Why are we together? What are the goals? What role will each of us play? What is expected of me?
- Lack of support for a team culture. This shows up in various ways, all of which are damaging. For example, management “empowers” the team, but still demands that everything be cleared through senior leadership, or management refuses to decrease other responsibilities for people participating on the team.
- Lack of resources. An inadequate budget, training or time to do the job right.
- Lack of clarity. No agreement on how team members are expected to behave toward one another.
- Lack of mutual accountability. This means holding people accountable to agreements. Not confronting a broken agreement can lead to poor results, lack of commitment and lack of trust.
- Lack of effective or shared leadership. A high-performing team is one in which leadership is shared, and each and every member is responsible for team functioning.
- Lack of focus on creativity and excellence. This lack of focus negatively impacts the quality of team interaction and the quality of the final product.
- Inability to deal with conflict. Poor training or strategies for dealing with conflict—especially conflict that is caused by personal, political, or power issues and agendas.
- Lack of training. This applies not only to the leader but to all members. For example, just knowing that teams go through predictable stages—including conflict—can depersonalize and diffuse some of the natural tensions that are felt in a group.
- Poor use of teams. Not all organizational challenges require a team; some are better handled by individuals. A team is appropriate when multiple skills and perspectives are needed to accomplish the goal.
To ensure success with your next team, Parisi-Carew recommends three key strategies to have in place.
Set a Solid Foundation—Many teams are brought together with no more thought than a general idea of “we need a team to do this.” As a result, these teams get formed sloppily with no clear purpose or goal.
Deal with Differences—Provide training and guidance for effectively dealing with differences. This includes reminding the team that differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. It’s important that teams view friction and disagreement as a healthy stage of team development instead of something to avoid.
Approach Team Leadership from a Servant Leader Mind-set—A team is a living, breathing entity. A team leader needs to see himself or herself as a servant and a guide for the group, not as the hub or ultimate decision maker. You will never have a truly high-performing team unless leadership is shared, so that everyone on the team, and the team as a whole, develops
To read more about Parisi-Carew’s advice for team success, be sure to check out the complete article, Why Teams Fail—and What to Do About It at Human Resource Executive Online.
An effective team brings together people from different backgrounds and different experiences to work together toward a common goal. Yet most teams do not ever achieve their full potential because team members do not take the time to explore and agree on the team’s purpose, values, and destination.
Jesse Lyn Stoner, a leading expert on the topic of visioning, and coauthor with Ken Blanchard of Full Steam Ahead!: Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life believes that when team members set these foundational pieces in place, there is less wasted time, less conflicting priorities, and less interpersonal conflict because team members trust they are all moving in the same direction, guided by the same values.
In a recent article for Ignite!, Stoner recommends a three step approach to getting people aligned and working together effectively.