What Happens When Developers Stop Developing and Start Focusing on Their Team
It’s important from time to time to reset and do what we do for clients, for ourselves. The Aperian Global Online Learning Tools team, who is charged with the recent rebuild of GlobeSmart, our industry-leading online cultural intelligence resource, recently took part in their own facilitated GlobeSmart Profile Team Debrief. The debrief compared work styles and opened the doors to important conversations among team members.
The Online Learning Tools team is primarily based in Oakland, California with several colleagues in Bangalore, India. Building relationships, and working effectively with each other, particularly ensuring their Indian colleagues feel included, were at the forefront of the discussion.
“One of the things we have already done is to reschedule one of our weekly team meetings each month to a time of the day when our colleagues in India can more easily join us,” said Joe Loree, eLearning Content and Design Specialist. “Yet this is still only one meeting out of the four that they attend, and they often are just listening in. The meetings are typically task-focused and little time is spent building relationships. Also, the meetings cover all the team functions, so not all topics are relevant to them. Since they are not there three weeks out of four, the US-based members get used to taking the lead on topics that are relevant to them. In the debrief session, on the other hand, it could be said that the task IS the relationship or the task is discovering ways to enhance the team relationship.”
Why is an Exercise Like a Team Debrief Necessary?
Not only does a team exercise like this offer a chance for colleagues to listen to each other and understand what is important to each one, but team members also learn to leverage their cultural tendencies and work style differences. Ultimately, it’s a step toward the goal of a becoming a strong, cohesive, successful team.
According to some members of the team, just hearing diverse thoughts and definitions around concepts helped the group understand one another. Even when asked, “What is culture?” definitions varied among team members from “my personal history that I carry with me to the present,” “patterns of behavior,” “social habits,” and “broadly shared norms, values, and practices,” to “the unconscious to the people who live in it.”
The saying “a fish can’t see water,” meaning we tend to be blind to our own culture, also applies to the work environment. Worlds collide at work, and not everyone is the same. When a colleague reacts differently than you would, it may simply be because you’re thinking in different terms. Staying aware of the otherwise neglected “water” and recognizing the differences in work styles are good first steps to reaching an understanding.
The Aperian Global Online Tools GlobeSmart Team Profile
A few surprising and important revelations from the team were discovered as a result of the debrief session:
– Even those of us who are in the cross-cultural field may cling to a particular notion without realizing it. Through the debrief, the team was able to work through and get past several stereotypes. For example, the profiles showed that Indian colleagues, based in Bangalore, were unexpectedly very close to the egalitarian end of the egalitarian-status dimension. The country average for India is skewed more toward the status end of the dimension. The takeaway? Always remember that the country average may not apply to every individual from that culture. It’s important not only to consider country of origin, but the whole person, including cultural background, personality, job function, personal experiences, education, gender, and upbringing.
– Team members in content and design roles, where a mistake early in the development process can mean a lot of trouble later on, tend to be more certainty-oriented. Contrarily, those in more technical support positions lean more toward risk orientation. “I believe that something is going to be broken, so why worry about it so much?” said Web Tools Administrator, Michael Van Vleet. “When you are in tech support, every project is a work in progress and able to be revised, which is a fairly risk-centric outlook.”
– Managers who are more risk-oriented need to communicate clearly and openly to direct reports that are particularly certainty oriented. In our Online Learning Tools team, certainty-oriented colleagues tend to ask many questions and may feel self-conscious about asking questions of their risk-skewed manager. Establishing that the risk-oriented manager welcomes the questions and doesn’t mind going over things in detail will go a long way to ensure the colleague feels their concerns are validated and addressed.
– When managing a more relationship-oriented colleague on a task-oriented team, bring the relationship-oriented person in on people-related projects. For example, play to the relationship-oriented colleague’s strengths by allowing them to help with onboarding new employees.
When One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Style Switch
Like any team, the Online Learning Tools team has a broad mix of personalities, backgrounds, and cultures, and having a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t apply. It’s necessary to use strategies like style switching in order to engage with those whose style may differ from our own. Though it’s not always comfortable or easy, style switching helps bridge gaps and return impressive results.
For example, how does a very direct manager successfully work with a team of indirect colleagues? Aperian Global co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Ted Dale suggests that fellow direct-oriented managers use more private settings when meeting with indirect colleagues. “Will I ask direct questions to them in group meetings? Probably not. A better strategy would be to meet with my indirect colleagues in a more informal, one-on-one setting, perhaps at a bar or coffee shop, or in a 1-1 phone call or web meeting. It is also important to pay attention to how you say something, to be clear and try to be more observant.”
There was a collective appreciation at the conclusion of the debrief for the non-threatening manner in which issues were brought out in the open and discussed.
It also became clear that patience and understanding go a long way in the quest to establish strong working relationships, and stepping out of comfort zones by style switching serves as a good approach to bridge gaps and manage differing work styles.
If you and your team are interested in diving deeper into your various cultural dimensions and work styles, in turn working as a more cohesive, empathetic and productive team, check how the GlobeSmart Profile can help.