In “The Culture Map,” Erin Meyer beautifully describes how cultural differences and assumptions can create misunderstandings amongst colleagues in international business environments. As a case in point, she talked about how Westerners often assume Asians — who tend to participate and opine less than Americans do in meetings — have less to say. In contrast, Asians often feel that Americans are bad listeners, because they tend to talk over one another in their haste to share their perspectives. While neither of these assumptions is 100% accurate, they can lead to discord.
Imagine working on a critical project with a global team whose members have vastly different cultural characteristics and work styles. Then add the wrinkle that you’re working in your corresponding countries, as opposed to in person. You can easily anticipate the potential confusion that could occur, both because of different cultures and, in some cases, because of technological challenges. After all, it's not easy for technology to replace face-to-face interactions and provide the same kind of interpersonal experiences.
While collaboration amongst global colleagues and navigating through cultural differences is one of the primary challenges of today’s enterprises, it is also one of the most important needs — especially while innovating on new products and services. Take India, for example. In 2015 (the latest year for which figures are available), India-based R&D globalization and R&D services market reached US $20 billion, up by 9.9% over 2014. That market is set to almost double by 2020 (source: IBEF). Several multinationals are now looking at setting up R&D units in India. Those groups will be expected to work with those companies’ global units on key research projects.
How can organizations create a culture of collaboration that fosters innovation?
The most important step towards building an innovative, collaborative culture is making investments in relevant technology solutions. These solutions must mirror face-to-face meetings to help teams – especially global teams – better understand each other.
Also critical for global teams co-creating products and solutions is for everyone to have simultaneous access to complete data and insights relevant to the project, so those teams can discuss subtleties and make optimal joint decisions.
The third most important factor is a visual collaboration experience. Especially when it comes to intricate design projects, it is imperative that all knowledge workers sharing inputs can see, visualize and annotate designs at the same time. The lack of this ability will often result in significant project mismanagement. This especially applies to engineering-design and semiconductor companies working on complex 3D models or chip-set designs.
Further, technology should be able to empower remote workers with the right tools and solutions on the devices they prefer. For a globally distributed workforce that spans different time zones, this becomes absolutely critical.
We need to move towards a workplace that can combine content, applications and communication tools together into a single digital canvas for individuals and teams to share ideas and innovate. This is what we have tried to achieve through the Prysm digital-workplace platform. It is the only enterprise-grade solution of this type that meets this need, especially when it comes to empowering global teams to share content and drive decisions across both virtual and physical spaces.
If you have stories to share about this topic or questions about how Prysm can empower your global workforce, leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.