Cultural Tips for Global Implementations - Vive la Difference!!

Several years back during our first global software implementations, we often found ourselves frustrated and overwhelmed with our project teams. Why couldn’t people from certain offices call into meetings on time? Why would some others tell us they understood what we required of them when they really didn’t? Why did they call in the middle of the Super Bowl when they knew Janet Jackson was the halftime “entertainment”? (In retrospect, maybe they didn’t know – or did and didn’t care.) Experience is a great teacher, but understanding where our colleagues are coming from goes a long way towards creating and maintaining good working relationships and a healthy and effective project.

Workday’s solutions were created to provide value for any company, of any size, in any location. There are no add-on “band-aids" to cause implementation issues like we’ve seen with legacy ERP. Typically, issues stem from communication and culture challenges. Every project team has its quirks, distinct personalities and managing styles. A successful global project team is one that remembers one size does not fit all. Go “back to basics” by strengthening interpersonal communication and being more in tune with cultural and personal differences. Based on our experience implementing Workday all over the world, we want to give you some tips to successfully navigate the cultural challenges often seen in global projects.

Be Culturally Interested and Interesting.

Do your homework so you have a background, but ask questions about other cultures in a respectful, humble way. We don’t advise asking a Canadian, “You say ‘Eh’ a lot, Eh? That’s so weird! You people talk funny.” For every question you have, others will have some for you. Also, be cautious when making broad assumptions about people based on where they come from – not all Canadians love hockey and poutine, and not all Brits watch football (or “soccer”) and drink tea.

Dig For More Details.

Decision-making styles, principles and values are things that can make or break your team’s ability to function effectively. Assess team members’ cultural perceptions early on. Give your team a survey that asks questions about their work styles, previous experience on global project teams, and lessons learned. For example, some team members need very detailed agendas for meetings, with plenty of time to read and digest content, while others only need a high level, bulleted agenda given at the start of the meeting. Getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of team members is a great risk mitigation approach. The answers might surprise you (remember that while culture influences our behavior, a lot of other things do too!).

Be Thoughtful About Your Communication.

Always consider your audience and provide written documentation as often as possible. It’s helpful to provide clear agendas to team members prior to meetings. Avoid jargon and complicated language, especially the use of slang. Use plain English (no technical terms, similes, metaphors or other figures of speech that will lead to bad translations or misunderstanding. For instance, one of the literal Russian translations of “Do not climb over the railing” is “On the Colonnade it is forbidden to come for protections”. Huh?!

Establish Culture and Communication Rules.

Having a clear communication plan allows people from different mindsets and working styles to come together and do great things as a team. Recognize that differences in opinions and experiences are valuable! However, personal and cultural differences in how we communicate can lead to friction amongst team members. Some people communicate in a direct way; others in an indirect fashion. We always encourage face-to-face meetings early and often, when possible (yay video conferencing!) Other ways to manage culture and communication issues are to very clearly define:

  • Team expectations
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • How meetings should be structured
  • How to manage conflict and encourage opinion

Be Fun!

All work and no play makes for a boring (and burned out) project team! Never underestimate the power of fun. It’s easy to get bogged down with deadlines and stressful activities, but it’s important to recognize the efforts of your team and encourage them to enjoy themselves once in a while. We all know testing can get a tad stale, so we bring in silly costumes, toys like Slinkies or Play-Doh (this was quite popular with our friends in Russia) and give everyone fun nicknames to liven it up a bit.

With that, we’re going to watch a game of football (aka Soccer) and eat some poutine (or fish and chips), maybe go play a game of fetch with our pet moose or one of the Queen’s corgis, Eh?