Kia Motors Mexico: Bridging Cultures

Kia Motors transplanted management and company culture from South Korea to Nuevo Léon, Mexico when they opened their sixth vehicle production plant, a USD 3 billion investment. Aperian Global worked with 400 Kia employees from both South Korea and Mexico to improve team trust, establish cultural understanding, and develop a shared vision.

Problem

Automotive plants generally suffer from a lack of teamwork due to the division that production lines create. This can lead to high turnover, lack of work morale, and poor team performance. Leadership wanted to proactively counteract this and address cultural differences between employees, before communication breakdowns and misunderstandings occurred. They strived for a shared vision among staff and leadership.

Koreans and Mexicans often seem to have a different attitude toward work... We have been very, very busy at the factory production line and therefore we didn't really have time to focus on communication, and this needs to be improved.

— General Assembly General Manager, KIA Motors Mexico

Figuring Out the Solution

To get to the core of the problem, key stakeholder interviews were conducted with department managers.

These individuals—some from headquarters in South Korea, some local Mexicans—were experiencing team issues firsthand. They offered valuable insight that would be the key to developing an effective solution.

The interviews uncovered three major areas that had to be addressed:

  • Trust
  • Cultural Understanding
  • Communication and Collaboration

Getting Alignment Across Departments

Long-lasting and sustainable solutions require buy-in from management. An executive team alignment session was held to get consensus on the core issues and to discuss strategies before working with the teams on the ground.

Our consultants debriefed Global Team Assessment results with department heads, providing valuable insight into the struggles their teams faced. Together with our consultants, the executive team developed ways to create visible leadership support for this new initiative.

Building a Foundation of Trust

Having leadership work together to uncover team issues and encourage team discussion was the first step in creating a foundation of trust. The Driving Team Performance workshops were customized to the needs of 21 different departments and occurred over a span of seven months. Two Aperian Global facilitators with English, Spanish and Korean skills led each workshop with the assistance of a Korean manager and a Mexican manager.

Practicing Cultural Understanding

Facilitators opened up a conversation on specific cultural challenges that teams faced. Teams were able to discuss the different sides of the issues and brainstorm ways to mitigate these problems. Leadership led by example and demonstrated how both cultures can work together harmoniously.

Collaborating on a Shared Vision

Once teams were able to discuss problems openly and think about solutions, they were tasked with a team-building exercise: to develop a shared vision for their department. Team members had to communicate and collaborate to come up with their vision. While doing this exercise, they were able to discuss and realign their goals as well.

Action Planning for Team Performance

The Driving Team Performance workshops closed with action planning that put team solutions into practice. It allowed managers and team members to consider challenges that will come up in the future, and how to effectively tackle issues as a team with a committed strategy.

Outcomes

Out of 400 Driving Team Performance workshop participants:

  • 96% agreed the program would help their department improve team performance.
  • 93% agreed the seminar demonstrated how individual performance and behavior impacts department results.
  • 96% agreed the program topics helped to find the main issues of each department.

The project placed as a top 12 winner in the contest “Change and Innovation Leaders Award” hosted by multinational conglomerate company Hyundai Motors Group.

The workshop helped open team members’ minds to change the way we work.

— Driving Team Performance Workshop Participant

This experience allowed us to achieve agreements like a solid team.

— Driving Team Performance Workshop Participant

Global Team Assessment is the best. To know the situation is the key to solving the problem.

— Driving Team Performance Workshop Participant

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