At the heart of my account is a desire to show that insight and, eventually, more effective actions for cross cultural collaboration are to be found in different layers of cultural shaping that go beyond knowledge of typical intercultural differences. In this blog I will share how this plays out in the context of an assignment to improve German-Chinese collaboration in a Joint Venture Partnership.
Part 2 described the insights particpants gained through switching perspective with empathy for what might be “on the other side”. We went on to build a map of who or which entity impacted the collaboration between the Joint Venture Partners and completed it with the spoken and unspoken expectations involved in the multiple layers and perspective of organizational collaboration. The map of implicit and explicit expectations in the form of standards, interests and priorities involved showed up the following themes:
Transparency, process and trust were central standards to the German Partner’s culture. They formed strong implicit and explicit expectations in terms of how to lead, steer and control, how to work and how to relate to each other. The corresponding Chinese partner’s expectations were understood to be power to secure an advantage, flexibility and the willingness to initiate genuinely close personal relationships on both sides but with different and, for the German participants, conflicting implicit expectations.
Considering the interests of the holding companies and senior management teams, they seemed to share a value for long term strategic thinking and for being in service to a sustainable business. The difference however was again in the unspoken: the long term interests of the Chinese Partners were guided by government guidelines such as becoming technology leaders in their own right.
This and the fact that most senior managers were also government party members had eluded many participants. At a personal level, we noted a sense of respect for the Chinese colleagues’ perseverance and motivation to contribute to a collective endeavour and acknowledged the Chinese partner’s growing ability to innovate and be fast in problem solving. Suddenly, company strategy made sense: Staying ahead of the technology game through a radical focus on innovation protects the German Partner’s advantage and thus sustains the Joint Venture Partnership.
To summarize, I want to offer a “recipe” for supporting intercultural collaboration in a joint venture partnership with four ingredients:
- Enquire together into what happened when collaboration worked well. What happened when it didn't work so well?
- Switch perspective with empathy: What might it be like “on the other side”?
- What are the spoken as well as unspoken expectations for collaboration from the different perspectives involved?
- What are your own, personal expectations? What are likely organizational or cultural expectations?
A Map of the Cultural Landscape
- Map the different organizational and geographical entities at play.
- What are the respective interests, concerns, priorities and particular ways of doing things?
- Complete the map with the different organizational, role or group specific expectations.
- What are the themes indicating shared expectations? What expectations create the main fault lines where in the map?
- What is truly important to me in my collaboration?
- What were my expectations and preferences shaped by?
- Looking at the cultural landscape, where do I fit in terms of shared expectations and fault lines?
- What are the situations and roles for which I have effective collaboration strategies. Where do I need to review my strategies for collaboration?
Organizational Framework for collaboration
- What is the shared purpose (in the cultural map) that aligns all the relevant organizational entities?
- Where are the places for collaboration in the system that are critical for effective collaboration between the Joint Venture Partners? (e.g. functions, senior managers…)
- Considering the landscape of expectations, what are the key messages needed to both sides to provide the necessary guidance for collaboration?
- What roles and rituals might support collaboration? How is collaboration monitored and reviewed?
Kneading above ingredients together yielded insight that helped distinguish between expectations at a personal level as well as cultural levels. Mapping the different culturally determined expectations based on a switch in perspective and empathy for what it might be like “on the other side” yielded a new kind of knowledge that will make a difference to collaboration at many levels in a Joint Venture Partnership.
If you are interested in intercultural collaboration in the context of joint venture partnerships, post merger acquisition, leadership transition or internatonal teams, do get in touch. Claudia is always curious in how we might help you be effective in an intercultural context.
We acknowledge the support of our international partner CommonThread for this assignment.