Clash of Cultures

     I’ve had the opportunity to work in some interesting business environments in the last couple of years. What made them interesting was the partnerships of multiple organizations with different cultures striving towards common goals.  As an Enterprise Coach, it is part of my role to help these organizations navigate these cultural differences. These differences often exhibit themselves in obvious and sometimes mundane ways.

     In one instance, where Company A had hired Contractor B to deliver a program of projects, Company A was interested in transparency and the use of Big Visible Charts.  They believed that broadcasting the true state of affairs was a valuable communication mechanism and helped everyone understand not only our successes but where problems existed and thus where priorities could be found.  Management of Contractor B on the other hand was very concerned about displaying any information that could be construed as negative.  They were only interested in broadcasting positive news.  They feared that the broadcast of problems or perceived failures would be a drag on morale.

     Interestingly (and possibly related), these same organizations also had vastly different meeting cultures.  Company A was protective of their peoples’ time.  Meetings were scheduled only when required participants were available and there was rigour around responding to meeting invites in order to make the best use of everyone’s time.  Company B had a culture where meetings were scheduled regardless of whether required participants were already booked.  Further, people who were double or triple booked then selected the meeting they would attend in real-time.  This resulted in the meeting organizer never really knowing who would show up for the meeting until it occurred.

     These cultural difference have a marked effect on the ability of the companies to work together effectively.  So what to do?  Well, the first step is to identify the differences; accept that these differences are likely ingrained.  The second step is to refrain from trying to shift one company to the other’s culture; instead start the process of creating a new culture for the combined team.  The third step is to engage the team in a discussion of how best to address these differences for the good of the projects.  The fourth step is to establish working agreements in these areas, explicitly agreeing to review and adjust those working agreements as the team discovers new situations.  As with every working agreement, it’s important that everyone model the agreed upon behaviors and be willing to hold each other accountable to these agreements.

     While these kinds of cultural differences often occur between organizations, they also occur between different departments, groups, and teams within a single organization.  Can you recognize those differences within your organization?