Multicultural teamwork

“What you don’t want people to do to you…”

When we talk broadly about international company takeovers, joint ventures and corporate co-operations, there is an interpersonal aspect behind these economic headlines: teams that previously were often active only in their own language and cultural area need to initiate international cooperation. I have already experienced this situation in two companies (one formerly German and one formerly Dutch) and am aware of the uncertainties that the initial phase of an international team structure brings with it. The time is not always there to prevent all potential gaffes with hazard warnings. I can assure you that under the pressure of day-to-day business, people very often blunder, even with the very best intentions!

I would like to give some pertinent hints for all readers still on their way to internationality at team level, which will at best avoid the one or other pitfall.

Of course, I am aware that this topic is not completely harmless, because although nobody denies that there are cultural differences between individual countries and continents, this fact should not lead to a blanket instruction manual on how “the German”, “the Indian” or “the American” ticks. (We don’t like to hear the story of the arrogant and nerdy German, do we? Therefore: …don’t do this to anyone else either!) It would also be too simple and does not do justice to the issue. Quite apart from the fact that in Germany there are already “cultural differences” between Hamburgers and Bavarians, just like in the Netherlands between Frisians and Limburgers or in the USA between Texans and Californians.

In the following contributions, I will describe situations that I have experienced in my own teams. Many of them have a certain humour in retrospect, which the participants themselves have not yet been able to recognise in the situation, but of course you are welcome to have fun with them. I hope that you will remember one or two points when the international cooperation really gets going in your team environment!

Text: BBR
English translation: BCO


  • Harle-Kin I: Bildrechte beim Autor

Author: bbr

Hello, I am Beate Brinkman, the bbr.harlekin. I am editor and author for Harlekin.Blog e.V. and my “main job” is support coordinator in an international IT company. So far I have worked in German, Dutch, American and Indian companies and have acquired a great deal of experience of multicultural cooperation. I have been living in the Netherlands as a German for many years and have discovered that the cultural differences between Germans and Dutch alone could fill entire books. For professional and private reasons, I am particularly interested in multicultural (mis)understanding. Whether it’s about food, language, official conference calls or the organisation of funerals – when the cultures of several countries collide, things get lively. And that leads to sometimes unpleasant, often very funny, but always instructive situations.

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