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International teams: successful intercultural cooperation

100% international - that's the philosophy of Detecon International GmbH. For a telecommunications consulting firm like Detecon, international teams are crucial. Employees work more effectively and are more productive when they work in teams. And international teams benefit even more thanks to the cultural background of each team member.

In a functioning international team every member will have a specific task, yet all of them work towards the same goal and support each other in reaching it. 'Team spirit is particularly strong in projects abroad, because generally everyone has to pull together,' says managing consultant Stefan Krämer. He has been managing international teams at Detecon since 2005.

International teams are becoming more relevant

Krämer has observed that the number of international teams in the consulting industry is on the rise. 'Local staff are now better qualified. In many countries the quality of training has improved, so it's easier to find qualified people in countries where this was still a challenge ten years ago,' he reports. 'Today, many Eastern Europeans are fluent in another language, notably English, and are highly educated so they are much in demand when international teams are being put together.

Their knowledge of the local market and their language skills are major assets for international teams,' he explains. Incidentally, these are two of the most important skills that any successful international team player has to have.

International teams – greater than the sum of their parts

Intercultural cooperation is an ideal tool for managing the increasingly complex processes we face in the workplace today because good international teamwork is more than the sum of each member's input. 'Ideally, each team member will have their own role to play while the team manager coordinates the project and monitors its progress. The team members are assigned to a specific function, such as in the technical, financial or marketing fields,' explains Stefan Krämer.

Variety in companies

In the current debate on diversity management, at German companies, the focus is on quotas for women. While this is important, since too few women are in leadership positions in Germany, diversity means more than that. 

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Rules for successful project work in international teams

'Managers of international teams have to be particularly good at keeping to a strict project schedule and delegating jobs,' says Krämer. 'They need to have a feel for which role to assign to which team member depending on their specific know-how and, where relevant, their cultural strengths.'

Solid English skills are vital for all international team members. They also have to have strong cultural awareness, meaning they are able to deal sensitively with all cultures. 'For instance, cultural awareness means knowing who's responsible for taking decisions on the client side when working in Saudi Arabia, Russia or Cameroon. Employees may have very different ideas depending on their culture. It's important that we understand the situation,' Stefan Krämer points out.

Another important factor for successful international teamwork is a positive attitude. Members should never lose sight of the project goal, and they should convince their fellow members of the importance of working as a team.

And last but not least: constructive criticism is welcome and beneficial, but personal attacks are absolutely out of the question. That said, the chemistry among team members has to be right. If you are unable to get along with another team member, make sure you say so. Maybe the team roles can be reassigned or a member replaced.

In short: a good team member will bring a good mix of hard and soft skills to the job. International teams in particular require communication skills, diplomacy and cultural awareness.

International team members should be aware of the following principles, especially if they are new to the team:

  1. Accept a team role that corresponds to your functional and cultural skills,
  2. Maintain a sense of community and commitment to the team,
  3. Keep your eye on the overall goal,
  4. Stay objective whenever you have something positive or negative to say,
  5. Talk to someone if things are not going well.

Your team skills are much in demand from international companies, so make sure you bring them up during interviews. Don't forget to mention any team successes you have had. 'We brought project XYZ to a successful close,' is exactly what an HR manager wants to hear.

Webinar: Intercultural Communication at Work

Interaction with people from other cultural backgrounds, who may have different styles of communication, is a part of many Germany-Alumni’s daily work routine. This exchange is interesting and rewarding – but occasionally, misunderstandings occur without anyone being aware of their intercultural element. A capacity to deal with cultural differences is essential for good communication and helps to prevent conflict.

Watch the recorded session of the webinar!

The webinar was part of the focus topic “Setting out – People on the move”.

April 2012

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