One of the most often asked questions about cultural differences and the business environment would be, ‘When two different business cultures meet, who should adapt to whom?’ The question is a good one, but quite difficult to answer. At Global Business Culture we don’t believe that there is one, definitive answer. We have two answers – one relating to when you are working externally from your organisation and the other when you are working internally.
Externally we believe that it depends if you are buying or selling. In other words, the seller should always adapt to the expectations of customer. Why should your client be expected to adapt to your way of doing things (even if you feel your way is in some way better)? However, it is not enough to say that the seller should adapt to the expectations of the buyer because you then need to know what the expectations of the buyer are. Obviously, the expectations of a Chinese clients will probably be very different that the expectations of a German client. This becomes a knowledge gap issue – do you actually know what the differing expectations of a Chinese or German client might be? This is where you need information and the best place on the web to find detailed country-based cultural knowledge is at www.worldbusinessculture.com. This site is full of practical information on how business is done in 40 key economies and comes complete with further reading lists, e-learning packages and much more.
The question of who should adapt when working cross-border internally within your organisation is, strangely, more difficult to answer. Whereas people are unlikely to refuse to adapt to the expectations of a key client, it is much more likely that people in branch offices will be resistant when told they have to do everything the way it is done in head office and people in head office rarely seem to be keen to be told how to do things by people in a small subsidiary. Internally, cross-border project team need to be able to come to a mutual agreement about the best way forward and this should, ideally, be a ‘third way’ which takes the best from everywhere. The best way to achieve this is to develop internal ‘Team Operating Agreements’ which determine the way things will be done. ‘Team Operating Agreements’ are a subject in there own right and are addressed in another section on this website, ‘Global Virtual Team Leadership’.