Those of us in the business of helping businesses be more competitive are always trying to invent: new models, new perspectives, new processes, and new practices.  This is usually what companies pay us to do.  If our virtual and face-to-face learning and development sessions were to contain “old stuff” (which they don’t by the way), we might be thought to have slipped off the cutting edge.  Would that be fair?

I don’t think so.

Matrix organization management

Recently, I was asked to write another blog post about matrix organizations.  As I prepared to write, I looked at some old files and a favorite article jumped out at me (Matrix Management: Not a Structure, a Frame of Mind by Christopher A. Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal in the Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1990).  Their insights are worth revisiting (or visiting for the first time).

Barlett and Ghoshal identified increased complexity and change as major environmental challenges for organizations.  Managers came to realize that they needed to manage complexity rather than eliminate it – an impossible task.  Strategies became more complex, and so did the organizational structures to execute them.  Managers turned to matrix structures to manage the different, and sometimes conflicting needs, of functions, products, and geographies.  In a highly complex and turbulent environment the overriding goal became one of increasing organizational agility (which remains an aspiration rather than reality).

The main problem according to Barlett and Ghoshal was that companies defined their organizational objectives in purely structural terms.  The authors argue that “the formal structure describes only the organization’s anatomy.  Companies must also concern themselves with organizational physiology – the systems and relationships that allow the lifeblood of information to flow through the organization.  They also need to develop a healthy organizational psychology – the shared norms, values, and beliefs that shape the way individual managers think and act.”

The typical process of attending to anatomy, physiology, and then psychology should be reversed.  We need to begin with norms, values and beliefs (psychology – what some might call organizational culture), then reinforce them by enriching and clarifying communication and decision processes (physiology), and then consolidate progress by changes in formal structure (anatomy). 

Barlett and Ghoshal found that companies that addressed the organizational psychology most effectively had following characteristics:

1. They developed and communicated a clear, continuous, and consistent corporate vision.    

2. They effectively managed human resource tools (e.g. recruitment and selection, training and development, and career-path management) to broaden individual perspectives and to develop identification with corporate goals.

One senior executive said to Barlett and Ghoshal, “The challenge is not so much to build a matrix structure as it is to create a matrix in the minds of our managers.”  While I agree, I think only talking of a matrix mind in relation to managers is too limiting. An effective matrix organization is the result of many people collaborating across vertical and horizontal boundaries. Managers cannot command and control a matrix; they must rely on all participants having a matrix mindset and practicing self-leadership.  But what would a matrix mindset look like?  The two researchers didn’t address this in their paper, but my take on this is as follows:

First, a mindset is a set of beliefs or ways of thinking that determine our behavior and worldview.  There are basically two types:

Open: Considers new ideas and proposals, even when they might be counter-intuitive or seem to work against our own needs and interests.  To ‘consider’ is different to ‘accept’.  Someone with an open mindset will advocate for their needs and interests, while recognizing there might be different options for accommodating differences.  An open mindset values innovation and adaptability.

Closed: This mindset, obviously, is the opposite to open.  Someone with this mindset only wants to be perceived as ‘right’.  They will reject ideas without consideration, and will only look at information supportive of their views.

A matrix mindset

A matrix mindset is of the open type, and in our view contains four major elements: Accountability, Learning, Adaptability, and Breadth:

Accountability: I am responsible for overcoming any self-imposed limiting beliefs, (e.g. negativity, cynicism, I can’t/won’t).  I don’t passively wait to be empowered or for everything to become clear in the matrix.  I take accountability for my personal performance, and the overall success of the matrix.

Learning: I accept the need for ongoing personal growth and development.  Working in a matrix organization is not easy and requires continuous formal and informal learning. I am open to learning from anyone, at any time, and from anywhere.

Adaptability: I commit to helping myself and others on a daily basis to meet the challenges of matrix working.  I counter matrix volatility with vision, uncertainty with clarity, complexity with understanding, and ambiguity with agility and mental toughness.

Breadth: I understand that to be successful in a matrix, I must recognize and take into account the interests and needs of multiple stakeholders.  My primary goal, however, is always to create optimal value for the organization from the diversity of skills and knowledge, perspectives and approaches within a matrix.


One of the mistakes managers make is to tinker with a complex matrix structure by adding more structure (anatomy).  I don’t think you can make an athlete faster and more agile by adding or reconfiguring bones.  Strengthening an athlete’s physiology (e.g. muscles) can be very beneficial, but that’s not enough as many athletes and coaches have found out.  Anatomy and physiology are necessary, but to make a champion they need to powered with a winning mindset (psychology).  It’s the same with a matrix.

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By some estimates miscommunication can cost an organization 25-40 percent of its annual budget, and 14 percent of each work week is wasted as a result of poor communication.


Google identified the top behaviors displayed by great managers:

1. Is a Good Coach

All employees need and appreciate a manager who takes time to coach and challenge them; not just the low or average performers, but also the stars.

2. Empowers the Team and Does Not Micromanage

Google found that its best managers offer a balance of freedom and advice.  Micromanaging discourages and frustrates employees.   Great managers show they trust their direct reports.

3. Creates an Inclusive Team Environment Showing Concern for Success and Well-Being

It’s not enough just to have a diverse team, good leaders and managers strive to create an inclusive environment every day.  This reflects Google’s research on psychological safety – an environment that allows for risk-taking – and unbiasing – the process of becoming aware of and combatting unconscious biases.

4. Is Productive and Results-Oriented

Employees can’t be expected to give their best work unless the manager is doing the same.  The leader sets the tone by being a productive role model.

5. Is a Good Communicator – Listens and Shares Information

Great managers prioritize listening.  Listening that is focused and curious communicates an emotional and personal investment in people.  It signals that people are valued.

6. Supports Career Development and Discusses Performance

Google cited research from Gallup that found only half of employees know what is expected of them at work.  Managers should set clear expectations, hold employees accountable for meeting them, and respond quickly when employees need support.  Feedback about performance should be honest.

7. Has a Clear Vision/Strategy for the Team

Stephanie Davies, who won one of Google’s Great Manager Awards said that her people wanted her to interpret the higher-level vision for them – “I didn’t just come back to the team with what was said; I also shared what it meant for them.”

8. Has Key Technical Skills to Help Advise the Team

This doesn’t mean the manager needs as deep (or deeper) technical expertise as team members.  The great manager is honest about what he or she knows and doesn’t know.  They recognize and respect their employees’ knowledge, and learn from them, while demonstrating their complementary managerial skills.

9. Collaborates Across the Organization

The great manager understands that managing a team and leading it to success depends in part on collaborating well with other teams, for the collective benefit of the company.

10. Is a Strong Decision Maker

While it is important for a manager to listen and share information, the great manager is also one who can make decisions.  They tell their team not only what decision they have made, but also why they have made it.  This provides employees not only with priorities, but important context for when they need to make decisions.  

TMA World specializes in developing the people skills needed to work effectively across borders through blended learning solutions. We deliver training programmes globally that focus on how to work effectively with colleagues who are geographically dispersed as part of a global virtual team. Click here to view our learning solutions

Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it takes to be a successful global leader —or not. In the many years that I have been conducting global leadership trainings, I’ve had the opportunity to work with mid-level management to C-suite leaders. Some of the leaders in my workshops have been incredibly savvy and culturally agile, easily flexing their leadership styles to meet cultural expectations and individual needs. Others feel like deer caught in headlights, unsure of how to navigate the complexity of leading culturally diverse and geographically-dispersed teams.

World leaders take note—adopting a “my way or the highway” approach will always fail. Pushing others to get your desired outcome without seeking to understand and respect different cultural perspectives is not only a display of poor diplomacy, it will likely incur more enemies than allies. Effective global leadership, whether in the political or business arena, requires key skills such as active listening, alternative perspective-taking and cultural dexterity. It also necessitates the ability to engage across hierarchical levels by displaying flexibility and style switching to garner trust and respect.

Here are my top tips on how to lead across cultures:

1. Take the time to connect with your team members one-on-one prior to the start of a project. If a face-to-face meeting isn’t viable, use Skype or another video platform so you can see each other. This is critical, particularly for high context communicators who may favor body language and facial expressions over words.

2. Establish some key points in your initial discussion, both to understand what their expectations are of you as a leader as well as to share your preferred leadership style to minimize surprises and misperceptions.

3. Demonstrate a genuine interest in getting to know your team members’ cultures and local practices in their home office. This provides you with insight into how they may approach hierarchy, risk, decision-making, receptivity to change, initiative, etc. Look for ways to integrate some of the various local practices into your team’s culture so each team member will feel a sense of belonging.

4. Check in regularly, particularly if you are leading remotely, to check on progress, offer support and cultivate a deeper relationship. This will demonstrate that you are available and care about the individual and bolster trust. It will also open communication channels so your team member will feel comfortable approaching you if there is a specific challenge.

5. Make a point of knowing local work days and hours, holidays and vacation schedules and discuss how to ensure that work flow continues when key team members are out of the office. Remember that not every culture designates a “go to” person to cover when someone is absent. Be clear about expectations that team members delegate another team member to step in when necessary to help out.

6. Apply the Platinum Rule which states “do unto others as they would do unto themselves”. This allows you to explore the best ways to engage, motivate, and reward them based on their wishes, not your own.

7. Understand when and how to show recognition for their accomplishments. Beware of how face issues may impede your best intentions of highlighting one individual’s performance in a group setting (particularly in a collective culture) and how taking credit for a subordinate’s idea without giving them due credit can damage your credibility and trust.

8. Establish your authority as a leader by providing clear instructions, vision, and decisiveness. Keep in mind that a hands-off, consultative approach to leadership favored in the U.S. may be perceived as weak and lacking in authority in more hierarchical cultures.

9. Be inclusive of outliers. Often when the majority of a team is co-located in one culture, less dominant voices are ignored. Remember that success requires that all team members feel heard and valued in order to feel committed to the project and to contribute their best.

10. Ask don’t tell. Seek to unify different perspectives rather than give orders. Remember that synergy comes from each individual providing his opinion, ideas, expertise, and knowledge no matter what the hierarchical order. Actively probing for different viewpoints and integrating them will communicate to team members that they are critical to the team’s success.

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Email is not recommended for sensitive communications, but as our workplaces become increasingly virtual we often have little choice

Joseph Grenny shared some useful insights in the Harvard Business Review on using email, although he does recommend limiting its use for difficult conversations.

Challenges when delivering constructive feedback via email:

One of the challenges presented for using constructive feedback via email results from the fact that we tend to trust visual data (high bandwidth) more than we do verbal (lower bandwidth). Reading nuances in facial expressions is crucially important in accurately understanding the intentions of others; when the visual data is missing we make up the others’ intentions which can result in great misunderstanding and confusion. When someone writes, “Your report was pretty good” do we see a face with a deep frown or a smile. Grenny has four rules to guide you:

  1. Match your history to the bandwidth: If you have enough of a relationship history with the other person, you can most likely predict how they will react and an email might be perfectly acceptable. With no or little history, more bandwidth would be better, so either meet in person or video conference/Skype to increase visual data.
  2. State your intent before content: You can sidestep many defensive reactions by clearly stating your good intentions.  You could also communicate your fears about how your intentions might be misunderstood.
  3. Write your email twice: Write it once for ensuring that your message will be communicated honestly.  Then look at your message with the other person in mind.  Imagine his or her face to help humanize them, and try to feel how each point in your message could be misread, i.e. re-write with safety in mind.  
  4. If you feel triggered (or they seem triggered), bump up the bandwidth: As soon as you sense emotion in their response, or in how you feel yourself, shift to another medium.  A phone call, Skype, or a video conference enables more information to be exchanged.

Email itself is neither good nor bad. As we become more digitally fluent, we learn how to make it work for us rather than against us when delivering constructive feedback via email.

Keep in touch with us for the all the latest news and insights on getting results in today’s workplace.

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Developing Cultural Agility is a Valuable Asset in Today’s Global Marketplace

To some, a curiosity about other cultures and an enthusiasm for adapting to them comes naturally. Others, though, need to learn the necessary skills to operate in a global environment. As leaders lead by example, this is particularly important for those managing a global team. Here are a few pointers:

1. Culturally agile leaders are self-aware. To be culturally agile, you need to understand your own prejudices. There’s nothing wrong with this – everybody has biases and cultural preconceptions – but it’s important to acknowledge them. Be honest with yourself. Think about cultural stereotyping and what has caused your particular views – and make an effort to undo them. Try to see other cultures first through a prism of what you have in common rather than what’s different. 

2. Learn how to adjust your own behavior to certain situations to maintain harmony.  This doesn’t mean mimicking someone else, or suddenly speaking very slowly, which can sound patronizing. But as an example, if you are dealing with someone from a culture that is more expressive and animated than your own, don’t suddenly start shouting and waving your arms around just because the other person is. Be yourself. Listen and try to understand the context of what they are saying.       

3. This leads onto being authentic. Let your own culture shine through but tone it down if necessary to acknowledge the sensibilities of the other person. For example, if you are American, and typically direct and businesslike but doing business in an Arab country, be yourself but understand their way of doing business and adapt to it. Build relationships before negotiating, acknowledge the hierarchy and listen and understand their concerns. You should be comfortable with being ‘different’ but know the importance of respecting another culture.

4. Be flexible. You and your team may be negotiating with Chinese suppliers one day and selling to German buyers the next. Developing cultural agility means you will all be able to react quickly to different situations. In some situations, you will need to adapt to the norms of others. On occasion you will need to seek a middle ground and then sometimes you will be able to work from a basis of trying to minimize your cultural differences with the other person.

5. If you are going to be working extensively with people from another culture, for example, a call center in India, immerse yourself and your own team in that culture for a while. What makes these people tick? What motivates them? What are their expectations? What is their approach to problem solving? You can really only manage a team remotely if you’ve made the effort to understand these issues. Everybody on your own team needs to buy into this.

6. When training your team in cultural agility, be aware that it may come more easily to individuals who are self-aware, extrovert, have a degree of humility and an ability to laugh at themselves and situations. Everybody will respond differently to whatever training you put in place and it’s important to listen to them. 

7. Ask for feedback. There’s absolutely no harm in making a friend from a different culture, or asking a colleague for a bit of their time and sitting down to talk about how you can become more culturally sensitive. Most people are happy to help and act as an informal mentor. They will be flattered that you have taken the time to learn. If you are working across multiple cultures, try to have these conversations with colleagues wherever you visit.

8. Step outside your cultural comfort zone and encourage your team to do the same. If you’re on the road, socialize with colleagues or dine out locally rather than staying in your hotel. Build relationships, ask locals about their lives and observe what’s going on around you. Think about how you react to stressful situations in this destination and how others react to you.

9. Bear in mind your own corporate culture and that of your overseas counterparts when developing your cultural agility, and that of your team. When is it acceptable to step outside the corporate culture to solve cross-cultural issues? To what extent have individuals put their corporate culture ahead of their own, for example, if they work for a big multinational in a developing country?

10. If you’re only ever dealing with different cultures remotely, pick up the phone. Talk to colleagues rather than only emailing. Learn about the way they think and react to situations. Find out if they have skills you didn’t know about.

11. Never assume your job of becoming culturally agile is complete. You may see yourself as having a lot in common with your MBA-educated, snappy dressing, ‘westernized’ colleague in Hong Kong, which is a good start, but there will always be cultural differences. The context of their life, background and attitudes will always be different and it’s only by opening yourself to constant learning that you will discover this.

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You can’t beat face-to-face contact for furthering cross-cultural relationships. But sometimes it’s not always available. All over the world, the only, or the main contact people have with their remote co-workers is by conference call, or email. While technology is a wonderful thing, if this is the only method of communication you have, vital nuances can be lost in conversation, leading to the breakdown in relationships or even the failure of projects of multicultural remote workers.

Here are our top tips for success when working with multicultural remote workers:

  1. If somebody new joins a remote team, pick up the phone. Listening to someone’s voice and having a chat is much more personal than firing off an email. Similarly, if you are new to the group, find out how your predecessor managed communication with the virtual team and what’s expected of you.
  2. Be consistent in your communication methods. For example, hold video conference calls for brainstorming or important strategy meetings, or Google Drive for document sharing, group chat for batting ideas around and group email for disseminating information. But don’t lead people to expect one thing and then do another. Unless you have unlimited time, discourage WhatsApp groups or similar in which hundreds of one-line chatty messages pop up; try to keep it friendly but business-like. When you set up any group chat, communicate clearly what its purpose is.
  3. Be aware of what you might be missing. Mannerisms may not mean what you interpret them to – the Indian ‘head wobble’, for example, which has many different implications. Silence on the part of Asian colleagues may not be rudeness or a failure to understand; they may simply be thinking. Leaping in to fill every gap in the conversation will unsettle people and you could come across as either nervous or rude.
  4. Set some simple ground rules for video conferencing. All parties should minimize distractions, like mobile phones and music in the background. Allow everybody a turn to speak. Set an example with your own body language; don’t communicate with your Japanese team with your feet up on the desk, for example. And pay attention to any gestures that might be offensive to a different culture.
  5. Never forget ‘face’. It’s not just Asians who have a strong sense of ‘face’. South Americans do, too, and Italians, Indians and Arabs. Learn to interpret body language and try to understand if someone at the end of a phone or a Skype call is simply telling you what they think you want to hear, to save face. You’ll need to watch carefully for non-verbal cues to tell if someone actually means ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  6. Think before you speak. Remember, the other parties may not have English as a first language. It may take them more than one attempt to say what they actually mean. Don’t jump in and interrupt someone who might be trying to find the right way to express themselves.
  7. Don’t get angry. If you attack someone verbally over a conference call, it can be very difficult to save your own face by backtracking. Don’t be over-critical. Use more positive language to express criticism: ‘Maybe we should think about doing it this way’.
  8. Over-communicate. It’s better to be clear and to speak and write in relatively simple language than to assume remote-working colleagues can pick up the subtext of what you’re saying. If you have a feeling after a conference call that not everything you said was understood, follow up with an email outlining the discussion and action points.
  9. Remember the small talk. There is no harm in a spot of relationship-building before plunging into a conference call. Many cultures expect this (Latin American, Arab, Asian, southern Europeans) and would consider you rude if you got straight down to business. Or start each video call by going round the virtual table and having each member of the meeting spend a minute or so talking about what they’re doing.
  10. Share out the time zone burden. While regular conference calls are essential in a team that’s scattered all over the world, don’t always make your Asian colleagues stay late, or expect your American colleagues to make themselves available at 6am. Take turns between the regions. Schedule discussions in advance so people can allocate the time.
  11. Think about your group email etiquette. Again, there is no harm in being polite when emailing across cultures. However well you know your remote team, you can still greet people politely and sign off. Avoid ‘shouting’ upper case and unnecessary jargon. Would you behave like that in an old-fashioned letter or a conversation? No.
  12. Try at least to put in occasional face time. Visit your team and bond with them, and establish a shared vision for the team. Go out for dinner, or to a bar, or arrange a team-building activity, and have fun. You’ll see another side to each individual. Next time you’re dealing with them remotely, you’ll have an instant rapport – and a better understanding of what people really mean in that conference call.

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Handling Narcissistic ColleaguesNarcissism is a hot topic, for reasons I won’t get into.  I’ve certainly known people with narcissistic tendencies both at work (not among my current colleagues, I should add) and among my friends and family. 

One of my relatives would really have been fun to get to know and learn from.  He was a larger than life character whose personal stories were astounding.  When he would tell you of his aircrew experiences in the Second World War – in both Europe and the Pacific – or those from later in his life as a successful lawyer and judge in California, you were riveted.  There is no doubt that he could have been a great mentor and friend, but unfortunately it was very hard to learn from him because he didn’t really see or hear you.  If you tried to tell him anything about your own life, he would immediately turn the spotlight back onto himself with a story you had heard many, many times before.  

We can all exhibit narcissistic behaviors from time to time, and I certainly don’t want to label anyone I’ve known as having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Not my place to make a diagnosis, no matter how tempting it might be!  

How to Spot a Narcissist

In the workplace, dealing with toxic narcissistic behaviors can be purgatory, particularly when the person exhibiting those behaviors is your boss.  Narcissism is usually talked about in relation to high-level managers, but narcissistic behaviors can be demonstrated at all levels.  What kinds of behaviors am I talking about? 

  • Demonstrating a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogance
  • Lashing out at others when their self-esteem seems threatened, even in small ways
  • Deflecting blame onto others even if it means lying 
  • Always needing to be the center of attention (and demanding excessive admiration) for being ‘special’, ‘unique’, ‘brilliant’
  • Bragging and demanding excessive admiration
  • Dismissing other people’s experiences as worthless or irrelevant
  • Demonstrating a strong sense of entitlement
  • Having preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power
  • Being demeaning to others who could take attention away from them
  • Always being suspicious of other people’s motives
  • Projecting onto others their own typically cynical view of the world
  • Lying, cheating, manipulating, bullying, and exploiting to get what they want
  • Making important decisions without thinking about the costs or consequences to others
  • Excessive need to be in control of situations
  • Unfounded confidence

I could go on, but you get the picture.  Those exhibiting such behaviors can be very charming and funny, but also highly volatile if their desperate thirst for affirmation is not being quenched.

I know that I have exhibited some of these behaviors at different times.  I think we all have – or maybe that’s my own narcissism talking! Freud saw narcissism as essential to normal human development, and some psychologists talk of healthy narcissism; a type that enables us to have real feelings of self-esteem and a desire to change the world, while still being able to engage and share in the emotional lives of others.  

Whatever the roots of unhealthy narcissism are – a spoiled childhood, dependence on parents and inadequately developed sense of personal responsibility, or compensation for a lonely and deprived childhood – the consequences can be harmful to others (e.g. lower self-worth and burnout) and to the organization (e.g. irrational decision-making and excessive turnover).  What can we do to not feel helpless in the face of such behaviors?

15 Tips for Managing Handling Narcissistic Colleagues

Of all the types of people I have worked with in my career, those who behave narcissistically are the most difficult.  Never allow yourself to feel helpless or abused.  You always have choices, even if at times you feel you don’t.  

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Do show an interest in Maori culture when working with New Zealanders; visit a Marae, a sacred place which has both social and religious purpose and observe Maori ceremonies. Make sure you pronounce Maori words correctly; it is a sign of respect.

Do avoid comparisons to Australia when it comes to use of the word ‘mainland’. New Zealanders have personality traits more like the British than they do to Australians. Having said this, do not underestimate the bond between the two countries; as well as forming an important tourism market for one another, there are many shared qualities and ideas, dating back to the spirit of ANZAC at Gallipoli. Immigration, employment and residency are easy between the two countries and both represent important trade partners for one another. It’s best to view the two countries as brothers (or sisters) indulging in sibling rivalry.

Respect the fact that New Zealanders are highly courteous. Like the British, they will stand in line politely and will not push past one another in crowded places. In a shop, the money is placed in the hands of the cashier rather than on the counter, and shopkeepers will always greet visitors.

Do compliment New Zealanders on their beautiful country, their fine wines and their delicious food; they are justifiably proud of all three.

Top 10 Essentials When Working with New Zealanders

  1. Accept that if you come from a fast-paced environment in another country, some New Zealanders may appear to be more relaxed than you are used to.
  2. The business communities in Auckland and Wellington, however, are fast-paced and energetic.
  3. Dependability, straight talking, enthusiasm and innovation are important qualities and any business presentation should emphasise these.
  4. New Zealand is geographically isolated, and the domestic market is very small, but as a country it is outward looking.
  5. New Zealand is rated by Transparency International as the second-least corrupt nation in the world; openness and honesty are prized.
  6. Many New Zealanders have similar goals including owning their own home – and often a boat – and to secure a good education for their children, all of which are comparatively easy to achieve.
  7. Avoid a hard sell; New Zealanders do not appreciate brash behaviour or grandiose claims. Back any presentation up with facts and figures.
  8. Accept hospitality if it is extended and expect to discuss sport at some point. New Zealanders are very sociable and a drink after work is a good way to get to know your counterparts better.
  9. Remember that New Zealanders are not only influenced by the ‘old country’; there are large numbers from Southeast Asia living in the cities here and many New Zealanders travel extensively in the Pacific Islands, from where the Maori originated.
  10.   New Zealand may be a small market and its people relaxed and easy-going but do not make unfavourable comparisons with Australia; their cultures are entirely different.

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Leadership is Always Old and Always New

Always “old” because somethings don’t change.  A leader has always guided others into the future through the positive energy of their vision, strategy, and influence.

Always “new” because the world changes relentlessly, and leaders must take on the disruptive challenges of their own times.

What is the Major Disruption of Our Time?

The Digital Transformation of Business

In other words, the radical and accelerating impact of digital technologies on how businesses must adapt to succeed – their models, structures, processes, competencies, and relationships.

The revolutionary impacts of digital are everywhere:

  • In the Borderless workplace – networked, matrixed, mobile, in the Cloud
  • In the Borderless workforce – the best people collaborating virtually across geographies and cultures
  • In Borderless knowledge -data and information flowing to the right people at the right place at the right time, in the right way, and from any device

In this economy, organizations don’t just need more leaders, they need different kinds of leaders – Borderless Leaders with digital DNA.

Leaders who are:

  • Skilled in deriving maximum benefit from digital relationships, e.g. with customers and partners
  • Fluent in guiding diverse matrixed teams or networks of teams 
  • Outstanding in ‘being there’ virtually when they are ‘not there’
  • Adaptable in flexing to complex organizational shifts in power and influence
  • Capable in handling disruptive change to find new opportunities
  • Adept in building collaborative cultures of knowledge sharing, experimentation, and innovation 
  • Accomplished in using and mixing digital technologies for most impactful communications
  • Inclusive of differences to stimulate collaborative solutions

Are your leaders set up to thrive in your organization?

To survive, your business must become borderless, not just global. Explore our e-book series to understand how you can transform your business.

Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.

English may be the language of business globally, or almost globally, but for employees relocating abroad, this is no excuse for failing to learn the local language. In fact, even learning the language is not enough. Without cultural awareness, it’s only half the job done – akin to using an online translation tool that can interpret the words but has no notion of context. Here are a few reasons we believe language learning and cross-cultural communication training go hand-in-hand.

  1. You could be fluent in a language but without cultural awareness, the nuance of what someone is saying might be lost on you. A Japanese colleague may be trying to give you negative signals by saying things like ‘I will see what’s possible’ or ‘I will try’. Anybody with cross-cultural training will know quickly to interpret this as ‘no’, or to realise that there is a problem. Similarly, a German colleague may say something that sounds unusually sharp or even rude. Most likely, though, they’re simply communicating in the typical, direct German style.
  2. Understanding the Indian head-wobble, the passion and expression of an Italian, the meaning of the African handshake or the cultural significance of the wai (bow) in Thailand are all part of an awareness of non-verbal communication. Textbook language learning will not teach you this – but all of these are essential elements of communicating.
  3. Cross-cultural training in support of learning a language will teach you real subtleties of speaking, too. For example, volume. North Americans may speak much louder than, say, Scandinavians or Asians. Even with the best intentions, nobody wants to come across as loud and crass, or timid and unconvincing, simply because they have not been taught how to actually to speak the language in an appropriate way.
  4. Understanding the culture of a country makes getting by in everyday interactions much easier. Even the simplest things, like knowing always to say ‘Bonjour’ when you enter a shop in France, or knowing when and whom to tip in the USA. Small gestures, but these help to maintain the social fabric and help you to avoid any faux pas in your adopted culture.
  5. Speaking a language fluently is impressive, but somewhat lost if you arrive in a new country with no knowledge of how business is done. Cross-cultural training in support of language learning will teach you how to sell, listen, negotiate, manage a team and delegate. So you can put your fluent Arabic to the test by building relationships with customers and suppliers before diving in to seal the deal, or use your Mandarin to listen quietly while your customer speaks, rather than interrupting them.
  6. Understanding the culture of a country is, of course, way more than mere business etiquette; it’s understanding what shapes society, how values are formed, what and who inspires people. Speak the language and you already have an advantage here. Read local newspapers, watch TV, study literature, go to a sporting event or chat in the local coffee shop. Look at art, learn about mythology and understand how local culinary specialities have evolved. These are all ways to improve your cultural awareness beyond formal study.
  7. Even if you are moving to another English-speaking country, the nuances of the language will be different. Language, like culture, is constantly evolving. A British person moving to South Africa would need to understand the culture there; the concept of ‘African time’, the hierarchy, the tribal system, the context of South Africa today. An Indian moving to the USA may speak English but would need to grasp the idea of speaking louder, more directly, coming across as confident and self-assured. This is all part of cultural awareness.
  8. Finally, possessing cultural awareness, especially following formal training, is a big selling point for any individual looking to work abroad. Employers are more likely to hire someone who is curious, tolerant and culturally aware than an individual who shows purely academic knowledge.

TMA World specializes in developing the people skills needed to work effectively across borders through blended learning solutions. We deliver training programmes globally that focus on how to work effectively with colleagues who are geographically dispersed as part of a global virtual team. Click here to view our learning solutions

Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.

The dilemma is a common one. You’re dealing with executives at the highest level and you want to impress. But how do you achieve this without appearing too aggressive, or too timid, or even disrespectful? Knowing a little about the individual helps, of course, as does doing your homework on the company culture. But in a broader context, you also need to understand the national culture and how it affects the role of leadership.

Here are 8 Tips on How to Impress Senior Leads Across Cultures:

  1. In Japan, understand the value of silence when dealing with senior executives. Silence allows the harmony in the room to be preserved; it provides time to think and formulate a response; and it is a sign of possessing wisdom and self-control. Never try to fill a silent pause with chatter. Remember that Japan is a group-orientated culture. While you should make initial eye contact with the most senior person in the room to acknowledge their status in the hierarchy, do not try to appeal to them as an individual, but to your Japanese counterparts as a whole.
  2. German companies can have fairly steep hierarchies and it is important to show respect to those at the top – and to understand that many German business leaders have arrived where they are thanks to their technical expertise. Do not be over-familiar. Certainly do not use first-name terms. Be prepared to back up your case with a solid technical argument. Present your case in the context of the rules and structures favoured by German leaders and communicate in a direct and explicit way.
  3. In South Korea, a leader is seen as similar to the head of the family, or clan. Leaders with family connections to the company are all the more powerful and respected and will adopt a paternalistic style. South Korean leaders will formulate and accept detailed plans but use these to build consensus and then, most likely, adapt them. Foreign executives dealing with South Korean leaders therefore need to show flexibility. Korean companies also place strong emphasis on corporate social responsibility so showing an understanding of CSR and its relevance will create a good impression.
  4. Kenyan leaders are treated by subordinates as wise, paternalistic elders. While you, as the foreign executive, may not share this cultural viewpoint, you should still treat business leaders with respect and a level of deference. Value is placed on honour and saving face. Decisions are made from the top down and the leader’s opinions are rarely questioned. However senior you are, you may still be kept waiting by your Kenyan counterpart when it comes to turning up for meetings, or making decisions.
  5. In Thailand, leaders come across as authoritarian and autocratic, but the ultimate goal is to preserve harmony. Thai businesses have steep hierarchies. You will need to build a relationship with an individual and their company before doing business – and they will want to place you within your own hierarchy so they can understand how you should be treated. Even when dealing with executives of similar status, focus on saving face and avoiding direct confrontation. If you are going to attempt the wai (the bow offered as a traditional Thai greeting, hands clasped in the prayer position), be aware that the most junior person bows first, and the depth of the bow is related to the seniority of the other person.
  6. In the USA, successful leaders are dynamic, decisive, inspiring and profit-orientated. When dealing with senior executives, show respect without coming across as indecisive, or apologetic. Keep sight of your personal brand; you need to make an impression. Be polite and deferential, yes, but make sure you sound informed and decisive. Do not be too familiar; just because you are in a culture where structures are flat and everybody is on first-name terms, you should not treat senior executives as your new best friend. 
  7. Australians value leaders who are charismatic, accessible, inspiring and participative but don’t assume all Australian leaders are similar; a growing Asian population in Australia has considerable power in business and some leaders may display more Confucian Asian traits than Western.
  8. In Saudi Arabia and to an extent, other Arab cultures, a leader’s position is related to family connections, status and age as much as their job title. Relationship building is essential. Impress senior leaders by dressing smartly, showing respect, following protocol (for example, observing a formal seating arrangement around the table and using the correct terms of address). Be patient when meetings are interrupted, maintain face at all time and negotiate hard but with respect. Prepare to make concessions to allow others to save face. Always make sure you are dealing with the most senior person as they are invariably, after consultation with other stakeholders, the decision maker.

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Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.