The Secret to a Productive Collaboration 

Intercultural Teams

5 Keys to Success with Intercultural Teams

Communication inside of companies is becoming increasingly challenging in an age of heightened globalization and internationalization. Colleagues in international positions communicate simultaneously across national borders and time zones. The distance, different cultures, languages and interests come with plenty of potential for conflict.Quite frequently, this will produce damaging friction. So what can be done to ensure that intercultural teams collaborate productively and efficiently? Thino Ullmann has the winning formula for successful intercultural teamwork.

Communication 2.0 is Not Enough

Communication tools like e-mail and telephone conferences are standard and ubiquitous. In general, though, they only reduce the spatial distance, while leaving other obstacles essentially in place. This means that colleagues can quickly feel excluded and assume a passive role.Time zone differences should not be underestimated, either: While the one colleague is just starting the day, the other is ready to head home.

The 5 Keys to Success with Intercultural Teams

#1 Presence status as the basis of successful communication

Information about the presence or absence of employees and colleagues is the foundation of fruitful communication, irrespective of whether they are at the company, in their home offices, in a hotel or travelling the world. Availability is apparent at a glance, so working hours and time zones are largely irrelevant. I can see immediately whether or not I can contact my colleague by telephone, chat or e-mail.

#2 Group chat functions as indispensable tools in telephone conferences

They are found in each company and every culture: The somewhat reserved colleagues who avoid taking center stage. An integrated chat function or online voting systems ensure that they will contribute to telephone conferences nevertheless. Chat translators are great ways of breaking down language barriers as well.

#3 Social intranet as the company’s very own Facebook

To foster a sense of cohesion in a company, it is imperative to create a shared, interdepartmental knowledge base, to celebrate success and to promote innovation. Doing so will strengthen togetherness and leverage the value chain. One-sided and rigid communication by e-mail and CC lists is not enough. A social intranet is a far better tool.

#4 Collaboration platform as a knowledge reservoir

Everyone is doubtless familiar with the corporate philosophy that employees are the most important capital. But besides their labor, they also provide another important capital resource that is increasingly becoming a key competitive edge, namely knowledge capital. It is essential to safeguard this knowledge reservoir that colleagues have accumulated, for instance through long-standing professional service, training or special qualifications. When possible, it must also be placed at the disposal of other company stakeholders. But what’s the best way of managing this knowledge capital? A central collaboration platform is the sensible way of disseminating information, while promoting meaningful interaction, networks and teamwork as well.

#5 Device independence as a precondition for the diversity of devices

These days, device diversity – e.g. for cellphones or notebooks – is an increasingly prevalent feature of globalization. Of course this will influence the success of other efforts, also. Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are fairly uncommon in Germany. In contrast, they are the principal form of organization in China, the United States, India or Brazil. So in a global and holistic approach, a local consideration of device strategies will not be sufficient. In other words: The solutions must accommodate the various requirements, irrespective of the device or platform.

Best-of-Breed vs. Best-of-Suite: Is There an Ideal Solution?

The diverse solutions under consideration can be put into practice in different ways. For instance, a company can trust various products and vendors, or alternatively a tailored range of products by just one vendor.

#6 Best-of-Breed

In the past, many companies have preferred the best-of-breed approach when procuring enterprise software. IT executives using this method will attempt to identify the best possible solution for the individual requirement. Applied to our solution concepts, it means that different vendors or various products are selected, depending on the need.

  • Presence status: Cisco CallManager, IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Skype for Business, Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Unify…
  • Telephone conferences with group chat features: Cisco CallManager, IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect…
  • Social intranet: Workspace by Facebook, Microsoft Yammer, Coyo, Communote
  • Collaboration: IBM Lotus Domino, Google for work, Samepage, SharePoint, Confluence (by Atlassian), Google Drive, Onedrive for Business, Box for Business
  • Device independence: Various providers

No doubt, while “best-of-breed” ensures independence and flexibility, it also has a number of drawbacks. For instance, how will maintenance and support of heterogeneous solutions be organized from a holistic perspective?

And what about efficiency? That’s why I believe that best-of-breed is the wrong approach, especially in terms of improved communication and collaboration.

#7 Best-of-Suite

I prefer the best-of-suite approach. Taking the Microsoft range as an example, this would mean for our solution:

  • Presence status: Microsoft Skype for Business/-online, Microsoft Office 365 Teams
  • Telephone conferences with group chat feature: Microsoft Skype for Business/ -online, Microsoft Office 365 Teams
  • Social intranet: Microsoft Yammer
  • Collaboration: SharePoint/-online, OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups
  • Device independence: On all standard x86, iOS, Android, OSx, etc. platforms

#8 Microsoft Office 365 Groups as an opportunity for software consolidation

In Microsoft Office 365 Groups, these applications are even consolidated to create a one-stop solution. What’s more, they come with additional features that significantly facilitate inter-team and cross-border collaboration, including:

  • Calendar: Planning of meetings, events, Skype for Business meetings
  • Group mailbox: Group communication by e-mail
  • Libraries: Storage/editing of files and folders
  • OneNote: Central ‘file repository’ for group members
  • Office 365 Planner: Organization, i.e. assignment of tasks, project plans, access to project progress, etc.
  • OneDrive Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC) Preview Status: Data syncing
The consolidated product suite by Microsoft Office 365 Groups. Source: Microsoft

#9 The opportunities of software consolidation. Summing up

Reducing vendor numbers with a “best-of-suite” approach can cut costs, tap into unexploited potential and boost efficiency. Significant economies of scale are also possible – from licenses to deployment and even operations. Microsoft offers this approach across all areas, integrating the suites in all existing infrastructures, regardless of whether they are run in the cloud, on-premises or in a hybrid setting. At the same time, the Office 365 suites let companies consolidate vendors and hence achieve additional savings by cutting licenses.

  • User Productivity, Unified Communications
  • Office, Culture

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Erik Moll

Go-to-Market Manager - Americas

Digital Transformation

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