Cultural differences: not a drawback but an asset
When a Swiss-founded web development company in Cambodia has employees from Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Nigeria and Cambodia, and works with clients in as many countries, cross-cultural understanding is as important as coding skills.
“At Web Essentials, we consider our intercultural differences not as a handicap, but as an enriching, value-adding feature of the business,” said Christoph, a Swiss account executive. “The longer we work together, the more we learn about each other.”
In four years of providing TYPO3 web development services, Web Essentials has learned a lot about working cross-culturally, and recent workshops on teamwork, personality and values helped staff learn even more.
Staff did a Myers-Briggs personality test to understand their own personalities and the personalities of their colleagues, and also discussed different cultural perceptions of values like respect, equality, work ethic, and individualism and collectivism.
Understanding both individual personalities as well as different cultures is crucial to working together well.
“Everyone inherits from the values of their families and their country,” Christoph said. “We can avoid a lot of conflict and misunderstandings by considering those values within the realm of a multicultural business. And also in the way we interact with our partners and clients from other countries.”
Leak, a Cambodian Product Owner at Web Essentials, agrees. “I learned a lot from the training. Before that I was having conflict and it was really hard for me. The training taught me about conflict, what causes it, and how people react to situations differently.”
A recent Web Essentials survey showed that the TYPO3 community sees communication problems to be the biggest problem they face. Yet few companies do cultural training to minimize communication problems, making Web Essentials uniquely positioned to work with clients from around the globe.
“If we as a person understand ourselves better, it helps at work,” Leak explained.
To understand how different personalities react in common business situations, as well as to understand how clients react in these situations, staff did a role-playing exercise.
Groups role-played acting assertively, aggressively, passive-aggressively, and passively in a situation where a client asked for the reason behind a delay in development.
It caused laughter to see Dominik, Web Essentials’ Executive Director, acting uncharacteristically quiet and shrugging his shoulders when asked why something had gone wrong. This passive approach went against his Swiss culture of valuing transparency and understanding what is going on, and against his personality of speaking his mind!
While this training was incredibly helpful in understanding personality and cultural differences, it’s not over yet. Training on organizational culture is yet to come, which will help staff understand how Web Essentials’ culture and the culture of clients’ organizations affect their work.
With this training and the perspective that cultural differences are not a drawback, but an asset, Web Essentials is uniquely positioned for better cross-cultural understanding, ultimately leading to better web development.