Team-Building

18 10 2009
Team-Building with La Caixa at Bradford Woods

Team-Building with La Caixa at Bradford Woods

I have taken part in three team-building activities, which have been all very interesting:

  • The LOE (Leadership Outdoor Experience) of LEAD course at Chicago Booth, (Wisconsin’09)
  • A team-building day at Bradford Woods during the orientation week for La Caixa scholars (Indiana’09)
  • A couple of team-building days organized by my previous company in a resort at Yalong Bay (Hainan province, China)

These are some of the asks I have carried out during my team-building experiences:

  • Get the whole team pass over a rolling barrel situated 2 m high between two trees (LEAD). No rope. No ladder.
  • Build a boat with barrels, wood planks and ropes, and cross a lake on it. This was absolutely grate! (La Caixa)
  • Get the whole team of 30 move forward 100 m stepping only on some moveable tiles (around 10). Stepping on the ground is not allowed (Yalong Bay).

I think team-building is very important because it helps people:

  • Create network: One of the problems in the corporate or academic world is that people do not like working together. They do not ask for help, they repeat work and mistakes already done for others, and the rest hidden in their niches of responsibility neglecting cross-functional aspects. Team-building makes people know each other and feel like working with each other.
  • Know about others. Team-building is very useful to know…
    • Who is good at which particular kind of work?
    • Who is creative
    • Who is a strategist
    • Who is methodical and organized
    • Who is authoritarian
    • Who is passive
    • Who is deceitful
    • Who is impulsive
  • Know about yourself
    • How I tend to act in team settings
    • What I usually do well?
    • What I usually do wrong?
  • Know how to work in teams
    • Ask for help when needed
    • Lead when you know the topic; being led when you don’t
    • Offer observations regarding the team’s progress
    • Propose, discuss, improve ideas
    • Don’t take other people’s comments personal




Vote for Europe’s President

30 09 2009
How do I call if I want to call to Europe? (Peace Nobel Prize and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger)

"Who do I call if I want to call to Europe?" (Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize & former US Secretary of State)

I was in Barcelona during the last week of the campaign for the European Elections and I was surprised to realized that nobody was talking about Europe, but about local issues. Even the parties were not talking about Europe.

The problem of the European Union is that it lacks leadership. Therefore people are not interested in it and look back to their local politic. The rotating Presidency of the EU Council every six months does not assure leadership.

The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) has taken actions on this issue with the by creating the position of “President of EU” in its article 15. This is a great innovation. However, there are no specific plans to let Europeans vote directly for the EU President. This is the main drawback of this position: the EU president will be tributary of the national governments which elected him/her at the Council of Europe.

“The President of the USA is elected by US citizens (although indirectly) therefore he can claim legitimacy to express his views worldwide as those of the country. [However,] the President of the EU will never be free to express his views fully, as his legitimacy is granted by the Council, which can choose to withdraw his mandate at any given time [...]“. [Bibliography: President of the United States vs. President of the European Union]

I believe if Europeans could vote directly for one person to be the President of the European Union, would be much more engaged in the European Elections. I believe in a future in which Europeans from all nationalities will vote for another European, most probably from another nationality, to be the President of Europe.

Forget about national stereotypes! Forget about national rivalries! Forget about language barriers! I know this sounds futuristic but we are the Erasmus Generation! We are the first generation in Europe that can achieve this!

See my post about the Erasmus Generation





Indirect communication and indirect leadership in Asia

24 06 2009

indirectOne of my most challenging cross-cultural experience was defining a global Information Technology  (IT) plan for all subsidiaries of my company in Asia-Pacific.  There was a large number of Joint Ventures, half of them in China, and all of them used to have independent IT plans.

My assumptions about Chinese people were based on my interactions with very internationalized Chinese friends in Europe. I had heard about the differences between Chinese and Western communication. I knew I had to communicate indirectly with Chinese people. But until I arrived here and experienced it on the real world, I did not really know how to do it.

During six months, I visited subsidiaries across Asia and interviewed local staff from different departments about their software applications. I was interested in their problems, needs and plans. I had prepared very specific questions and imagined they would be happy to talk about this, as it would have been the case in France.

Unfortunately, apart from technical software specifications, I got little information at the beginning of these travels. I found problems conducting the interviews. I was using a translator and the atmosphere was very cold. There were very long gaps after questions, translations and answers. Moreover, answers were short and vague. accounting for differences between Asian cultures, this is the way they were responding to me, regardless of where I was.

I had this frustrating experience in four plants before I arrived to a subsidiary where the General Manager was a Chinese who spoke French. I told her about my interviewing problems and her advice was: Start with some small talk. Then, make open-ended questions and get very slowly into the details”.

In that subsidiary, where the local Management supported me, my interviewees were much more engaged than in other places. This made me realize that many interviewees were passive because they were afraid of getting in trouble by saying something the Joint Venture management would have preferred to hide.

This General Manager’s advice worked very well. I asked an HR officer in that subsidiary what he would do if a new staff arrived. This was an indirect question. I could have asked how the employee arrival procedure was implemented in the IT systems. He answered he had to create accounts in Systems A and B, which were not interconnected. By using follow-up questions, I found out that both systems did not exchange any data and he had to synchronize this systems manually after every staff-related data change. He spent around three hours a week doing this.

After that subsidiary, I confirmed in other subsidiaries in China, Korea and Thailand that the incompatibilities between system A and system B were resulting in a lot of extra work for local staff. Back to the headquarters of the company, I informed the Directors of Department A (the headquarter department managing System A) and Department B (the headquarter department managing System B) about this.

Director A and Director B both came from Greater China. They both spoke English but were not really westernized. They blamed each other for the issue. I tried to arrange a meeting with them but they did not want to work together. I could never get them in the same room. I made many proposals, like for example sharing a common database, but they refused them with a harsh tone highlighting the disadvantages. They did not want to be told what to do by a new employee like me. An answer I heard from both directors was that her system could exchange information but the other one could not because the other department was more concerned about its own interests.

I did not know how to handle the situation. I was totally disoriented. Then, I got an interesting feedback, which reminded me of the French-speaking Chinese General Manager. One senior colleague told me: ‘Lead them indirectly, in such a way they feel they are still in charge”.

I guided them separately to brainstorm about possible solutions focusing on the pros and cons. Then, I shared the solutions with them. I avoided digging in their personality conflict.

I knew Director B did not consider this issue as a priority. I explained to her why that was a problem for her. I told her I met some local staff, who were reluctant to use her system because it was not compatible with System A. I explained how the information of System A was useful for her. Then, she proposed sharing data automatically. However, when I presented this idea Department A, Director A argued this would involve confidentiality risks. This answer was final and blocking. During the following month, nobody talked about the issue.

I had studied how those risks could be managed but could not tell Director A directly because I knew she would react defensively. Instead of telling her, I asked her how to avoid them and she proposed controlling this sharing manually. Then, I told Director B about that and she did not object. I drafted a preliminary project definition and discussed it with them. This way, I reached a consensus to launch a project to connect both systems by a manual data interface.

Thanks to this experience, I improved my indirect communication ability with Chinese people. I learnt practical skills to ask questions and get feedback indirectly. I also learnt I had to understand people’s feelings, fears and agendas so that my interlocutor does not feel embarrassed, uneasy or annoyed. My interviewees in the subsidiaries were afraid of getting in trouble. Communicating indirectly reassured them. That is why I had to be indirect too.

The second thing I learnt is that effective leadership does not necessarily mean other people recognize you as a leader. This is another aspect of indirect communication. Leadership is about getting people to work together for a higher purpose. Sometimes, you need to guide people subtly so that they find their own reasons to give you what you need, as I did with Directors A and Director B.

I discovered this communication and leadership style in China. Obviously it also exists in the Europe and in the USA. It just depends on people’s personalities and personality depends on much more aspects that cross-cultural or international factor.

Image: I found the picture on copyblogger





Chinese Working Culture

10 06 2009

Chinese workerAfter having worked and lived in China and Hong Kong for three years, I think I have identified some of the most important aspects of Chinese management style. Obviously this is just a generalization and all generalizations are wrong. But I think that up to a point this generalization summarizes very well my experience with Chinese managers. I am not trying to create an stereotype about Chinese Management. I am just trying to describe my experience. (I do not believe in stereotypes. See this post)

My experience is that the following 11 traits, which can be classified in 5 groups, are common in Chinese workplaces:

Group 1: Confucian values

Confucius has been probably one of the most influential person in China. He lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. He did not develop any philosophical idea himself but transmitted and defended traditional Chinese values, which, according to him, were being lost at that time. His ideas were very criticized by Mao Zedong 25 centuries later. But I still think today’s Chinese people are much more influenced by Confucian thinking than by Maoist thinking.

  • Harmony: For Confucius, harmony is the highest value. In the same way that nature is harmonious, society must also be. I think the reason for this is that since very early in history, China was very densely populated, and Chinese early leaders had to pay much more attention to developing an harmonious organization of the State, than early civilizations in Europe or the Middle East. Keeping things in order is very important in China.
  • Obedience: For Confucius, human beings need to develop relations of obedience or subordination so that the society is harmonious. For example, the subject has to obey the king, the son has to obey the parent, the little brother has to obey the older brother, the wife has to obey the husband, etc. (Note that the feminist movement is much less developed in China than in western countries). This thinking is still very deep in the mind of Chinese people of the XXI century. For example, the feeling of respect for the elderly is much more strong in Hong Kong or Shanghai than in any western city I know.  It is not strange at all for a son to give half of his salary to his parents.
  • Circular thinking: For the Chinese, quite a lot of concepts have a circular nature. One clear example is time: the same things happen again and again. History is circular and not lineal like in the West. The best example is the history of China which can be summarized as the continuous succession of the following four stages: “arrival of a new dynasty”, “dynasty at its height”, “decline of the dynasty”, “China in chaos” and start back again. Note that this circular pattern cannot be easily applied to the history of western civilizations. Another clear example is human relations understood as a continuous exchange of favors or services among people. In China, the idea of doing something for somebody else in exchange of nothing is less common than in the West. The reason is that the favor is circular and it has to come back to the person who did it. For example, at work in China, if a colleague or business partner helps you in something, he understands that he is developing an important link with you and that he will have the right to ask for a favor back in the future. The favor has to come back to him because it is circular.

Group 2: Communication

  • Indirect Communication: Indirect communication is another consequence of the high population that China has always experienced. Taking into account that you have many neighbors and that they are very close, you better pay attention to your communication in order to avoid conflict. This is how they think. In Spain, where I come from, I think many managers are very likely to care more about resolving conflict than about avoiding it. In China, it is clearly the contrary. I have a quite detailed post about indirect communication here.


The art of war, Sun tzuGroup 3: Management

The art of the war is a great military treatise written by a Chinese general of the 6th century BC. The amazing thing about this book is that if you replace “War” with “Business”, “Army” with “Enterprise”, “General” with “Businessman”, you get the oldest Business strategy book of the world. In this book, there is a sentence that says “The general should be calm, reserved, methodical and fair”. When I read it, I was very surprised because this is just the most accurate description I have heard of many of the Chinese managers I know.

  • Calm: In the West “time is money”. In the East is not necessarily that way. Chinese people are usually very calm and patient in business. I think of two very deep cultural reasons for that. On the one hand, taking into account that Chinese civilization is 5000 years old, it is understandable that taking some months more to finish a project is not so important. On the other hand, time is not important because time is circular. Please see my description of “Circular Thinking” (3rd item of group 1).
  • Discretion: confidentiality is a consequence of indirect communication. For Chinese people, some things have to be kept secret in order to avoid conflict. However, if it finally comes out that they were kept in secret, they may create more conflict than if they had been public. My experience is that Chinese leaders are much more reserved when talking about business strategy, goals, objective, performance, than Western leaders.
  • Method: Chinese managers care very much about how things are done. Things have to be harmonious (See 1st item of group 1) and harmony is not about results but about methodology. On the other hand, Imperial China was famous in Europe for its rituals. I think some Chinese managers (especially those whose work is not directly related to operations) are more focused on following a harmonious methodology rather than achieving a good result.
  • Fairness: I think fairness is a kind of universal value in China and in the West. If a manager is not fair, he will loose his credibility and people will not follow him.

Group 4: decision making

From my experience, Chinese people make decision guided by two forces, which are usually opposed. Chinese managers will look for a balance between them:

  • Control: In a complex society with a high population density where harmony is the highest value (see 1st item of group 1), things cannot be trusted to chance. Things must be controlled in such a way that harmony is achieved. Following this philosophy, Chinese managers usually prefer to control as many aspects of the topic in hand as possible. The negative side of this is that it is not uncommon that managers focus onto details too much and are not willing to delegate tasks to subordinates.
  • Consensus: Consensus is an important element of indirect communication. Decisions in China are usually taken by consensus in order to avoid conflict. Chinese managers in an enterprise (or in The Party) may have very different views about a certain topic. The decision has to make sure that nobody is too unhappy about it. I would like to give an example about Chinese politics, which I know that may be misunderstood in western countries. One of the differences between the politics in democratic countries and in China is not, up to an extent, that decisions in western democracies are made by consensus or debate and in China they are imposed by authority. I think they are debated in both places and that consensus is searched in both places. The key difference is that in China the debate is private and in the West is public. Please see what I wrote about discretion (2nd item of group 3). This political example was suggested to me by a Chinese friend  and business contact who was educated in France. I think the example is very interesting although many people might this interpretation of Chinese politics.

Group 4: Risk attitude

I think Chinese attitude to risk is controlled by two strong forces. These forces are also opposed.

  • Caution: Caution is the underlying force that keeps Chinese people from taking risks. China is an unstable country with regular natural disasters, social instability, with no social security (retirement)… As a result, Chinese people pay especial attention to assuring their future. And what do they do? They save money, much more than Europeans and Americans. At workplace, some Chinese managers also trend to avoid risks, specially those involved in stable business models or sectors. On the other hand, taking into account that Chinese people are very obedient to senior people at work, a not uncommon way of avoiding risk is letting the supervisor make decisions that in the West would most likely have been done by the subordinate.
  • Ambition: Ambition is the opposite to caution. I think this is the Chinese personality trait that has most influenced the recent economic development of China. Chinese people are ambitious (in the good sense of the word) and this ambition make people take risks in order to have the option to get a potential future benefit. Some studies show that Chinese entrepreneurs tolerate much more risk than their American counterparts. Some studies even show this is not something related to the current economic situation of China but something quite cultural. For example, some studies show that there are more Chinese proverbs promoting risk-taking than in western countries.

1st Image: a Chinese worker in Luohu (Shenzhen). The picture belongs to me.

2nd Image: The Art of War, Shambhala Publications. I found this image on Amazon.com





About me

28 04 2009

GlobThinkI grew up in the Basque Country, a beautiful region in northern Spain where, since very little, I was in contact with different languages and cultures, Spanish and Basque. That is probably why I always had a strong desire to become international.

I traveled abroad for the first time in 1997 on a high school exchange to Australia with a government scholarship. Things were different in Spain and Australia but not necessarily better or worse. For example, Australians valued friendship while family links were by far more important in Spain. In Australia, I learnt that being international is about open-mindedness.

I used to live with my parents until I went on an exchange to Germany in 2002, as part of the telecommunication engineering program I studied in Spain. In Germany, I started living on my own, sharing my apartment with international students, managing my own money… Being international made me become an adult.

In 2004, my passion for new challenges took me to France, a culturally appealing but completely unknown country for me. In France, I worked for France Telecom, launched a Research & Development project that was funded by the European Union, and was recognized as an engineer. On the other hand, being one of the first non-French citizens to obtain a sponsorship from the French Government, which allowed me to work in Hong Kong, was an important accomplishment for me because it represented my success at becoming truly integrated in France. Being integrated is just another side of being international.

In Hong Kong (2006-2008), I defined the first global Information Technology strategic plan for around sixty subsidiaries of a French tap water multinational company in Asia-Pacific. I convinced senior managers from different countries and cultures to resolve Asian region-wide issues. I learnt to understand their ways of thinking, agendas and feelings and guided them gently, with no formal authority, so that they found their own reasons to work together. Being international is about leadership but not about authority.

Learning Mandarin is an important personal project for me. I spent three holidays in Beijing taking a 3-week intensive Mandarin training each time. But my chances of practicing Mandarin back in Hong Kong were limited because Hong Kong people speak Cantonese. I was discouraged but did not give up. When I moved to Shenzhen (China) in 2008, I finally was able to talk in Mandarin with everybody in the office. Learning mandarin, I have found may obstacles but I have learnt that being international is also about making efforts.

I am currently an MBA student at Chicago Booth (2009-11). With its six Nobel prizes (82 in total at the University of Chicago), Chicago Booth is probably the most intellectual school in the world and this is something I feel in the classroom. At Chicago Booth, being international is about generating ideas that change the world.

Finally, as someone who has greatly benefited from receiving a number of scholarships in different countries, I hope to contribute to others. Being international is about giving back…and this blog helps me to organize my ideas about applying my international know-how to business and society.





Why Globthink?

25 04 2009

Globthink is a personal blog of an MBA student at Chicago Booth. As I explain in my profile, my whole life has been determined by my aspiration to become international. For the last 7 years, I have been living out of my home country, Spain, and have had many enriching experiences that have shaped my personality. I consider myself an international person. I have what we could call an “international asset”, my international experience, which I would like to apply to something: something useful to others and something that I can live on (because I need to live). But the question is: How? Where? With whom? When? Why? This is what this blog is about.

I would like to discuss the vision, mission and values of this blog.

Vision

A world in which people from different cultures and countries live, understand and collaborate with each other in fair terms and for the common benefit.

Mission

To explore and share ways in which an international mindset can be applied to business and society and set these ideas in motion.

Values

  • Open-mindedness: Being international is about accepting other points of view and about forgetting about stereotypes.
  • Integration: Being international is about being integrated in your country as well as in other countries. Being international is not refusing where you come from.
  • Leadership without Authority: Being international is about leading people from different cultures and countries. This leadership is based on motivation, inspiration and empowerment but not based on authority. It is not about becoming a planetary dictator.
  • Effort: Being international takes efforts. It is not easy. It is not just about having fun. You need to dedicate time and efforts to be able to understand other peoples and cultures
  • Idealism: Being international is about generating and implementing ideas that change the world. You really need to be an idealist and an intellectual person.
  • Generosity: Being intellectual is about giving back to society. It is about doing something for others.







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