5 Growing Pains of Global Businesses

By Gonzalo Ramirez, Manager of Corporate Partnerships

Every day, all around the world, there are businesses expanding across a border, over an ocean, or through another language, for the first time. There are also many organizations that have successfully accomplished this many times. Both the experienced organizations and the new comers often find that their businesses encounter many of the same growing pains, pains that are related to the hard dollar costs of doing business across a larger footprint. One of the threads that ties it all together is Cultural Intelligence (CQ).

There is no doubt that there is a tremendous ROI to doing business globally, but when a team struggles with cultural intelligence, those returns can be elusive. Miscommunication can cause mistakes to compound, misplaced expectations can deflate a team’s spirit, and the realities of the work that must be put in can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Last month, we facilitated a Leading with CQ Workshop with a client’s global leadership team. They brought in leaders from their business units in Brazil, China, France, Poland, and the USA. During one of the exercises we asked them to share successes and challenges of global growth. While there were many great successes uncovered in our session, these were the top 5 challenges:

  1. Long Hours

In the US, weekends are recognized on Saturdays and Sundays. But around the world, the day or days to rest do not always align with the Saturday and Sunday norm North American’s might be used to. So, for a US based employee who may value a linear approach to their weekly schedule, working on the weekend to connect with a colleague across the ocean may be disruptive.

CQ Knowledge helps globally focused individuals and teams understand the differences between “my culture and yours.”

  1. Lost in Communication

Communication on the surface seems like an obvious one. When it comes to language differences, we can hear it coming from a mile away! But the issues can go deeper than simply speaking different languages. There are many colloquialisms that we use daily—sometimes becoming so ingrained into our communication styles that we don’t even know they’re there.

While many sports analogies, and old “sayings” are learned through experience in that culture, it’s more common that we’ll run into situations where we don’t “know what we don’t know”. For instance, in parts of Asia, you’ll likely find many people favor communication that places a high emphasis on tone and context, not necessarily on explicit words (see our book Expand Your Borders: Discover Ten Cultural Clusters).

With CQ Drive, you can develop the motivation to understand other cultures. Cultural differences you are likely to encounter may impact your personal and/or business goals.

  1. Cultural Expectations

What does “now” mean?

This is an eternally frustrating question to many people who have worked in a multicultural context. Even among Latin American cultural clusters, the way that “now” is expressed varies. Understanding that this can be an issue can lead us to dig for clarification and set clear expectations.

What is our goal?

Finding a common goal can be more difficult to pin point than many people realize. While working with a different client, we discovered that their efforts to instill the value in managers to run their units like an “owner” fell flat in some parts of the world. In some cultural contexts, a business owner is often not seen as contributing to the success of the business and may be perceived by employees as lazy. “Knowing what you don’t know” isn’t a requirement of cultural intelligence, but being able to adapt when you learn from someone else’s perspective is key to succeeding.

People with high CQ Strategy are able to plan ahead by considering how cultural differences are likely to impact diverse teams.

  1. Distance Traveled

We are more connected than ever. Yet you can only win if you show up. A lot of pain has been shared around the world by people forgetting various time zones. For virtual meetings, being vigilant of time zones might seem trivial, but it can sink a first impression if not handled well.

Crossing time zones in person is no different and can be even more disorienting. Globalizing teams usually anticipate the increased need to travel. Anticipation, however, doesn’t always prepare you for the reality of how difficult it can be to readjust your daily rhythm to a travel schedule.

Ultimately the distance must be closed, whether you do it virtually or in person. Planning your meetings for diverging and shared cultural values will make a big difference. When you show up and engage with your clients or teams, you will be better positioned to build trust. Just remember your time zones!

When moving a plan into culturally intelligent Action, it is very important to be prepared to adapt as you learn something new about your cultural differences.

  1. “Integration is difficult”

One of the hard truths about global growth is that integration is difficult. When organizations merge or expand across borders, they are absorbing many different cultures into their own, while at the same time sharing their own cultural values. This two-way street can be difficult to navigate. But, research shows that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams when they have high CQ.

Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action all impact our ability to function effectively in a global business. But, cultural intelligence is not a static measure—it can be developed!

Doing the difficult work of developing an organization’s CQ pays dividends. At the Cultural Intelligence Center, we use a research-driven approach to assessing and helping the development of  CQ in individuals, teams, and leaders. Learn how your organization can implement behavior change at and improve your CQ through our Workshops, eLearning and proprietary Assessments by contacting us today!

CQ is an ongoing education

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