Culture and collaboration

Without a doubt you will recognize the fact that there are cultural differences between Western European countries and countries in Asia or Africa. On such a high level it is relatively easy to acknowledge that and you might probably know some generic differences between the continents yourself.

Cultural differences are not always that easy to identify. You might want to zoom in some levels deeper to see that also on a continent like Europe, there are many cultural differences. A Brit might say “interesting” while he feels that something is boring, the German will in general have a more hierarchical attitude and follow what his managers says, while the Dutch are known to be direct and still not seem to be able to come to decisions until we have full consensus.

In business, there is another dimension to culture: the organizational dimension. Every organization will have its own organizational culture that defines how things are done in the organization. You might want to state that a multinational company with a 100 year background in the Netherlands is a typical Dutch company? Yet, we call them “multinationals”, so what national culture, if one, is the company carrying? How has the company evolved over time? A company that has grown in financial services will have a different culture than a company with an industrial background. Even if they both share a 100+ year Dutch background.

Assessing culture is not easy, but cultural awareness is essential for successful collaboration in the broadest sense; within a team, an alliance, a joint venture, or any other type of collaboration. You need to address culture and bridge the cultural differences in you collaboration to be successful.

To bridge the cultural differences in a collaborative environment you need to create a tailored set of “customs and beliefs” that apply to your collaboration. This can be done by agreeing on common values and operating principles for your collaboration.

Trust, respect and communication are three key values that are often addressed in team values. I would like to add transparency and honesty to it as well, although they go hand in hand with communication. For good collaboration one needs to be transparent and honest in sharing information. Transparency and honesty are constant factors and whenever in doubt or whenever you notice that an element is missing, you need to talk to your partner or team member about it.

Defining your team values and operating principles should be a joint effort of the team as the team needs to live these values jointly. To continuously remind the team members of the values, it is a good practice to make them part of the agenda for every team meeting. These are after all the rules of the game.


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