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21.06.2022 By Ant Avrili, Account Director, Current Global London

Putting the ‘Global’ into Current Global: What Hybrid Work and Cross-Cultural Teams Mean for Managers.

Graphic image showing key take-outs of the Erin Meyer and Ralph Haupter fireside talk.

We have been putting the Global into Current Global for over three years now. As an agency with offices across the world, when we speak to clients and teams from different cultures, we might sometimes take it for granted that we all think and interact in the same way.

Following client Microsoft’s recent employee experience event, what is clear is that culture plays a vital role in how we live and work with people across the globe. Especially as we embrace a world of hybrid work and remote hiring.

With a keynote speech from Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map, and a fireside chat with President of Microsoft EMEA Ralph Haupter, the event delved into the idea that culture plays a greater role in our interactions than we might expect – and leaders will need to adapt their communication and management styles accordingly.

Here are a few key takeaways from the event:

Trust is a vital component of hybrid working.

Trust is important in every culture, and especially important when it comes to hybrid working. It forms the bedrock of relationships. But the type of trust, and how we earn it, differs around the world.

There are two types of trust: cognitive and affective. The first is based on performance, and the second on emotional connection. When interacting with people from China or Brazil, building affective trust will pay greater dividends because colleagues place greater importance on empathy and closeness, which build feelings of security. Compare this to the UK, Germany, and Denmark, where cognitive trust plays more of a role with clients and colleagues due to greater importance being placed in the technical ability of a colleague or leader.

As hybrid work becomes more common and team members increasingly work in separate locations, knowing how to build trust with colleagues will become critical. Appreciating and understanding different cultures’ relationship with trust will help teams work more efficiently and improve the employee experience.

Be your true self at work.

Something I have thought about a lot over the last few months is the idea of letting your true self out at work. Undoubtedly something I would have avoided and physically cringed at a couple of years ago! But, with the shift to working from home, I have come to realise that this is a vital part of how we form relationships in and out of work and something that will be key in a hybrid working world.

In Erin’s keynote, she explained how sharing personal stories and experiences is particularly important to building relationships with colleagues. This, in turn, is critical to feeling secure in your place of work. As hybrid work can make lunches and one-to-one coffees harder to organise, being your authentic self in a hybrid work environment allows you to build these crucial emotional ties with colleagues.

Having joined Current Global in the middle of the pandemic, I began my time here working entirely remotely. Since then, I have realised that giving time over to building these relationships is something that makes hybrid work work. In the fireside chat, Ralph shared that in his 90-minute meetings, 30 minutes are devoted to a free chat with no agenda to create opportunities for building emotional ties.

Building in this time – that would have previously been in a corridor or ‘around the water cooler’ – is something managers should encourage to help ensure employees are happy and teams gel.

Grey is a great colour.

High context cultures are those that communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on context. In contrast, low context cultures rely on explicit verbal communication.

This topic was mentioned throughout the discussion and reflects the idea that in some cultures what is not said is as important as what is – a typical communication style in Japan and Korea. Compare this to a culture like the US, where what is said is what is meant, and you can see how cross-cultural confusion can arise.

We must realise that, in some cultures, things are not as black and white as they are in others; there is more grey involved. It was interesting to hear about Ralph’s experience working in Asia and how he had someone on his team who would help him ‘read the air’ – or help him understand what is not being said.

For those of us who come from low context cultures, this ‘reading the air’ can be a frustrating and confusing way of communicating. But, as we learnt, it allows people time to think, to not make decisions too fast or to ignore the complexity of reality. Adapting styles in both directions and understanding how low and high context cultures interact was a key take away for me.

‘Speak only when it improves the silence’

In Western cultures, silence is seen as a bad thing. Throughout Erin and Ralph’s discussion, however, we learnt that silence is a good sign in some cultures. In fact, the Finns have a saying, ‘speak only when it improves the silence.’

The concept that silence can be a good contribution to a meeting is certainly new to me. It was fascinating to learn how silence in some cultures is perceived as a positive reaction. In fact, in Japan leaving a silence of 8-10 seconds is not uncommon, nor does it make people feel uncomfortable.

Especially in hybrid meetings, there is a danger that people from cultures that value silence may find it difficult to speak up as much as their colleagues. As we all move to more hybrid working models and, as a result, often more multicultural teams, it is important for leaders to understand these differences to promote better collaboration and cohesion in group scenarios.

 

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