When Teams Collide: Managing the International Team Successfully by Richard D Lewis
The clues about the subject matter are there in the title. Richard explores the role of culture in the workplace and specifically how it can influence teams and teamwork. This subject really speaks to me as I’ve been living the life of an ex-pat for the majority of the 2000s and have been working globally for most of my career. Working and living in different cultural contexts continues to be a thrill for me, but it’s also been a bit of a liability, too in as much as it’s proven to be the perfect environment for me to make some calamitous cultural howlers over the years inadvertently! Had I been able to access the contents of this book sooner, I may well have been able to avoid some of my cultural faux pas all together.
Richard shares some interesting ideas, tools, metrics and a number of well-observed case studies in this book. I’ve found myself experimenting with how I could apply the contents to the two areas that are of special personal interest to me, and these are team coaching and leadership.
Richard suggests “Managers of international teams should be key figures in the Company as a whole” and I’d agree with this. Leading teams with a membership drawn from many different cultural backgrounds isn’t for the faint of heart and requires an extra level of capability in my experience. This isn’t recognised or rewarded as much as it perhaps should be by employers. Cross cultural teams can be incredibly dynamic and high performing or alternatively, a bit of an underperforming battleground. I’ve found the book a useful trigger to help me imagine how a team coach or a skilful team leader that has team coaching capability could help cross cultural teams explore so much more of their true potential.
I would argue the book has acquired more relevance over the last year or so because of the seismic shifts we are seeing in the global working environment. I was only speaking to a client in Bulgaria yesterday who is highly competent, ambitious but has been unable to pursue her career ambitions as she isn’t internationally mobile. She excitedly shared her news and explained she was being actively pursued by a number of potential employers who are interested in offering her C-Suite roles that could be based in Sofia rather than in their global HQ’s. This option hasn’t always been seen as a viable one by employers in the past. So as more employers draw the conclusion that you don’t need to be HQ or office based to perform in your role, it seems to me more cross cultural teams will be created and these will need to be coached and to lead.
Richard’s ideas and recommendations might make the process of operating within or leading a cross cultural team a little easier in the future. It may also see the market for team coaches and leadership developers who understand how to help cross cultural teams operate more effectively grow too.
The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” by Alan Watts (1966)
I was 2 years old when “The Book” was first published and only came across it in my 20’s. But when I did, it was an eye-opener. Borrowing from ancient philosophies and Eastern mysticism, Alan Watts explores the cause of the illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, and which confronts a universe of physical objects that are alien to it. An important quest knowing that this (illusory) separation of “self versus the physical world” has led humankind down a path of subjugation and destruction, at complete odds with what we have come to call a “coaching culture.” “The Book” helped me see through the illusion, self-deception and hypnosis we have subjected ourselves to. I realized that contrary to popular belief, we “come out of this world” and not “into it” (the latter setting us up for the experience of entering a hostile and threatening environment that needs combatting).
In Alan’s view, we are the universe experiencing itself; everything is relational and interconnected; black and white go together (you can’t have one without the other); I cannot describe you without describing your environment (i.e. you are the whole); what I am involves who you are; we are backs and fronts to each other, and so forth. For the first time, I felt that, indeed, I call the universe into being just as the universe produces me. That the environment grows the organism and the organism creates the environment. That it is in me, and I am in it. And so are you. That it’s all one process. Needless to say, this powerful, elegant, and sometimes witty introduction to the notions of inherent oneness and interconnectedness opened doors for me to the worlds of Fritjof Capra (“The Tao of Physics” and later “The Systems View of Life”), to David Bohm’s implicate order and consequent thinking around dialogue, to Daoist texts like the Chuang Tzu or Hinduism’s beautiful Upanishads to name but a few – which all went on to inform my philosophy directly, stance and practice as a team coach.
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together byWilliam Isaacs, Director of Dialogue Project at MIT Sloane
Improving the quality of our thinking improves results. Right? No wonder Time to Think, and the Pause Principle and other such mindfulness practices are so valuable.
The very act of coaching is so powerful because that creates space for people to stop, reflect and to hear their own thoughts. It sounds simple, but it is increasingly essential in a world that can steal our focus and energy 24/7.
When you stop to think about it, the focus of our coaching and these approaches has been on supporting individuals.
Yet the problems we have experienced in this last year, and the problems the world is facing as we peer into the future, cannot be solved by individuals thinking alone. We need to learn to think together. And that’s why I love this book.
Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life by Barry Oshry
Seeing Systems is a very accessible book that tackles the critical issues of systems and power; it helps us understand what is happening in the teams and organisations with which we work and how to help people change the unhelpful patterns they might be experiencing create more productive relationships.
Seeing Systems also provides a great lens to understand some of the difficult challenges and issues we are facing in modern society, including the current prevalence of “them” and “us” in politics and the consequent D & I issues.