Multi-Kulti Corporation - How to Deal with Cultural Differences in the Workplace

Service Business

When the American automotive giant General Motors began to gradually lose market share in the mid-1950s, a solution to this problem began to be sought. One of the ideas was to establish a cooperation with Japanese Toyota in the 1980s, the result of which was to be a small, trouble-free car for the middle class. It turned out that this decision hit the spot - but not only because of the Chevrolet Nova that was created, which was received very enthusiastically and had an extremely low failure rate. The car was the product of something much more spectacular - a complete transformation of American GM employees.

How Japanese Culture Remedied American Cars

The collaboration between General Motors and Toyota to create a new car model that would benefit both parties was planned at GM's Fremont, California plant, which left a lot to be desired. The ward staff were wayward and undisciplined. Alcohol and gambling repeatedly appeared in the factory, and the daily absence of 2-3 out of 10 people was the norm. On Mondays, absenteeism was so great that it was sometimes impossible to start the production line. Moreover, this carelessness also translated into the quality of the cars that left the factory - they were less and less popular, so employees did not identify with the brand for which they worked. There have been cases of putting loose screws or sandwiches into mounted doors, which then buzzed while driving or spread bad smells after some time. There have also been cases of the engine being inserted backwards or one of the pedals removed.

When Toyota management became acquainted with GM employees, she decided to send them to her home for training. Thus, groups of several dozen American workers flew to Japan for two-week training sessions. It was then that the revolution began. It turned out that the Japanese work in small teams, each responsible for something different and everyone trying to make the effect as good as possible. Managers were not supervisors, but partners - they responded to the demand, offered advice and assistance, accepted the suggestions and ideas of their subordinates regarding the improvement of work, tools or place. Americans, used to working in huge, non-personalized teams and with managers who only scared and chased them on, were shocked. But then they started trying to catch up with their Japanese colleagues - even after returning home. The Japanese model of work transferred to the factory in Fremont gave truly spectacular results, and the Chevrolet Nova was for a long time one of the favorite models of cars purchased by consumers. An American worker could identify with such a car, with the pride of the creator engaging in its production.

The story of GM-Toyota collaboration has a happy ending and shows that cultural differences are something to draw ideas from and solutions to problems. Nevertheless, nowadays, with the development of international cooperation, it can be seen that multi-culti corporations also bring considerable trouble. An example may be various stories about the cooperation of, for example, Polish and German employees of one of the international clothing companies, which almost ended in a complete fiasco. After a few hours of cooperation, German workers decided that the Poles were outrageously unprepared, had no ideas, did not contribute anything and that they had to be managed. On the other hand, the Polish cadre complained about the lack of opportunities for discussion, stiffness and the imposition of their own will by their German collaborators. Who was right?

Cultural training as a recipe for success

In the example above, both sides were (and were not) right. However, the problem was only resolved when the management approached a training company dealing with intercultural management for help. As part of the organized training, it turned out that the Germans were completely surprised by the fact that they were perceived as imposing their will and not listening to arguments, and the Poles had a lot of ideas, which, however, did not have a chance to break through mutual dislike and misunderstanding.

It might seem that such cases are isolated in Poland, but this is not true - many companies already employ foreign specialists, and international cooperation is still developing rapidly. Therefore, the management of an enterprise planning cooperation with foreign specialists should consider whether such intercultural training will be a useful investment. Since misunderstandings on this background may paralyze work between citizens of countries from one European culture, such as Poland and Germany, what can be expected from cooperation with, for example, Japan, India or Brazil?

Introductory training versus hot training

Companies that specialize in international management offer several different types of training. The first relates to a situation when a company is unable to communicate with a foreign contractor (and it is not a question of employing a translator) or when a multinational team is unable to cooperate with each other. In such a situation, the training aims to teach what such a different culture looks like, what is valued and unacceptable in it, what are the styles of people management and cooperation, whether the boss is a partner or an always unattainable model, what gestures are commonly accepted, and what an offense. Currently, companies that do international business at a high level and with big money benefit from such training even before starting cooperation. Thanks to this, it is not only easier to reach an agreement, but also gains an additional advantage in relation to the competition, which is a certain familiarity with a given culture, appreciated by its representatives.

Corporations that invest in specialized foreign staff are also increasingly opting for the so-called induction training, i.e. trainings carried out before arriving in the country of employment or in that country, right after arrival. Cooperation with a specialist is aimed at making it easier for the new employee not only to agree with the team and learn the rules of the company. Most often, such training is comprehensive, and therefore a foreigner has the opportunity to find out what are the rules of interpersonal contacts at work and outside, what savoir-vivre looks like, how not to commit a faux-pas in personal relationships (e.g. by visiting guests to a Chinese family, never bring a clock as a gift - it's like wishing someone a quick death). Information is also provided on where to shop, how to travel by public transport, how to use medical care and entertainment facilities. Often, when cooperation with a foreign employee is planned for a longer period of time, such training also covers the family of the employee who comes to a new country with him. Additional costs? Perhaps, but disproportionately small in relation to the costs of breaking the contract with a foreign specialist - and it is estimated that up to 50% of such events are caused by the family's mismatch with the new culture.

Huge corporations with an established tradition that operate on virtually every continent also focus not only on training, but also on the competence that everyone has (although it is not always trained). It is about being understanding and open to other cultures. In this case, specialists in intercultural management are also employed, but their task is to adapt individual cultures to each other, clarify possible misunderstandings and protect against conflicts. In a company that manages this way, you can meet many holidays - from Christian Christmas, through Jewish Hanukkah, to the Swedish Midsummer rites. Nobody is forced here to celebrate holidays that do not belong to his religion or tradition, but has the opportunity to get to know them, meet together and thus understand a foreign culture. Acceptance from others is the biggest advantage here.

Therefore, the multi-culti corporation is a great opportunity for the company's development, but also a huge threat. When people from different cultures are to cooperate with each other, it is worthwhile to familiarize them and make initial agreements with a specialist. And it does not matter whether the new manager will cooperate on the largest projects of the company or will be assigned to the management of the production department. The example of GM-Toyota shows how important it is to manage lowest-level employees and how much different culture can support them. Therefore, you should not be afraid of foreign cultures in the company, but get to know them, in order to be able to derive the best from working together.