Teamwork is a quirk; some do it. Some don’t. So let’s get real. (revised)

Different cultures gets things done differently.

It is true that Sam (US) from R&D and Cheryl (UK) from Sales can work things out between them in the spirit of teamwork and escalate only the very contentious issues to their bosses. But Paco (Spain) from R&D and Yi (Shanghai) from Sales will be castigated by their bosses if they work out issues between them without the explicit apriori agreement of their bosses on almost every detail. Paco’s and Yi’s boss do not get things done the way that Sam and Cheryl’s boss get things done.

Teamwork in global organizations presents a challenge because the values needed to drive teamwork are not universally shared. In some languages, the work “team work” does not even exist. In many places in the world, bosses expect that subordinates do what they are told and not “accommodate” their peers from parallel organizations.

Attempts to force feed western style teamwork backfire all the time in the global work place.

Authoritarian managers kowtow to HR and corporate campaigns to improve teamwork, and then go back home and they continue to behave as they have been programmed to: directive, authoritarian and compassionate.

While there is a lot to be said for establishing across the board corporate values and desired behaviours, these artifacts are rarely implemented.

I suggest that attempts to drive behavioural uniformity be more pragmatic. Deeply ingrained cultural behaviours cannot be defined away by empty slogans such as “teamwork” is our middle name.

Teamwork is a quirk; some do it. Some don’t. Now let’s get real about how to leverage the talent we have in the global configuration of organizations.


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7 thoughts on “Teamwork is a quirk; some do it. Some don’t. So let’s get real. (revised)

  1. Not only are the founding North American values of teamwork not shared by all cultures, even within our fairly homogenized North American value base, team work is frequently misunderstood by OD practitioners. A case in point: few OD practitioners I have met understand the distinction between teamwork, team discipline and aligned individual leadership as applied to the proper functioning of executive “teams”.

    • Perhaps that is because everyone (OK perhaps a little exaggeration 🙂 ) in HR now claims to be an OD practitioner no matter their level of real education and experience…….

  2. Hi Allon,

    Supposing you’ve got a cross functional customer team for a complex product where the customer needing service is supposed to have a solution within a reasonable period. Do we just give up on that idea in cultures where the management style is one general bossing around 5,000 sergeants?


  3. Pingback: 5 indicators that you have a western bias as a consultant (revised) | Allon Shevat-אלון שבט

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