What I am writing here is based on my own experience and what I observed and learned. It is my point of view and it makes sense to me. It has worked for me and is still working for me. It remains being your responsibility to do your own critical thinking, don’t just believe.

And that is exactly my intention: making you think for yourself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lost in Translation: Cocreation and Cooperation on a Global Scale

People keep telling me how easy it is with technology to cocreate and cooperate on a global scale. People keep telling me that groups can get together online around a problem awaiting solution. That it happens naturally. People keep telling me that leadership is no longer required in such an environment. Anybody can and will lead.
People keep telling me many things … it’s astounding how naïve people are …
Take the real world for instance. It’s already hard and challenging to cooperate and cocreate in familiar settings. In small groups with similar cultural backgrounds. On a global scale, and involving different cultures and languages, it can become mission impossible.
Now add to this the challenges of the virtual network. And up a notch. Take the leader out of the equation. Everyone leads now. And voilà, here you go: excitement meets confusion. Eagerness meets incompetence. A recipe for disaster.
Trust me: you need a leader to make it work. And it can work. Yet, don’t ever underestimate the complexity. Human beings by definition are complex. And each one is different.
I have worked with many diverse teams. Teams with different cultural backgrounds. And of course with a gender mix of 50 : 50. The first thing I made sure was that I had A-players in the teams. The best I could find. And it’s not always easy in a large corporation to find them. They hide often in unexpected places.
The language barrier is formidable. You understand a different culture by mastering the their language and living there for a while. The agreed upon language for our teams was English. That doesn’t mean now that there was a common understanding. Even the Englishman in the group lectured the American that they (the Americans) were speaking a dialect and not real English. At least that was good for a laughter. But it illustrates the difficulties. And then there were some passionate Mexicans. Thin-skinned and with a more explosive character. Plus the usual behavior of males and females. Add to the mix me and a couple of other Germans. The proverbial definition of volatility.
Communication is an art. Mastering that art is the key to lead such a diverse team. Hence, I realized that we had to spend time together outside the office. A considerable amount of time. And we did. To the dismay of some controllers. There are always some bureaucrats in the way who don’t get it. Fuggem.
We met in Germany, in the US, and in Mexico. And I made sure that we would have some fun and unforgettable experiences. Exposing each one to the different cultures. And we also worked during these offsites. Trust was built that way. Mutual trust. It’s not easy to do in the real world. And it’s even more difficult in virtual environments.
So, yes it is possible to cocreate and cooperate on a global scale and be successful. Yet, meeting only virtually is not good enough. Overcoming cultural differences and biases is even harder. Plus the gender issues. Even in highly developed countries.
Why is it so hard? Because we are adults screwed up and conditioned by education and society.
Take some little kids. Five year olds for instance. From different countries. Put them together. Expose them to something new. A challenge. And then watch how they approach the problem. They speak different languages. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take long and a leader emerges. And their natural curiosity gets them going. Going together. They have no issues. Let alone the strange issues adults have. Kids indeed do that naturally. They thrive doing it.
And then watch the miracles happening and learn.
That’s where leadership begins: Creating the environment where kids can cooperate and cocreate. It requires disrupting education as we know it. It requires disrupting society as we know it.
That’s where leadership begins. The technology we have. The leadership we lack.