24 de junio de 2015

Trust in Teams

Trust is a key element in a team’s performance.  Is the glue that binds relationships together and is so essential because it provides a sense of safety. When team members feel safe with each other, they open up, share information, work faster. And they are more willing to accept and expose vulnerabilities. In contrast, when people distrust each other  they will probably fail to have open discussions for the fear that they may lead to a conflict or an embarrassing situation. And open and honest discussions are necessary to get new ideas and to produce high quality and innovative decisions. So trust is not only important at the interpersonal level, it’s also a basic requirement for achieving innovation.

In a business context, what does trust mean for you? You may recall a former positive experience, a time when you were part of a team that worked well:

-What did you and the other team members to create a sense of trust?
-What role did the leader play in that process?
-What were your feelings when you worked in the project?

 What are your trust criteria when working in a team?  

  • Loyalty?
  • Reliability?
  • Competence?
  • Expertise?
  • Predictability?
  • Openness?
  • Honesty? 
  • Commitment?
  • Ethical behaviour?

How can you make them grow?

Think, reflect, and if you have a couple of minutes, let yourself be inspired by this powerful video of the Cirque du Soleil:

Trust is a confusing thing, it seems so simple, but when you try to pin it down, it can be so elusive (…) We expend so much energy watching and calculating, trying to predict, reading signals in people, ready for anything to change suddenly, preparing to be disappointed. So much energy spent …

We talk about trust as something you build, as if it is a structure or a thing, but in that building there seems to be something about letting go. And what it affords us is a luxury. It allows us to stop thinking, to stop worrying that someone won’t catch us if we fall, to stop constantly scanning for inconsistencies, to stop wondering how other people act when they are not in our presence. It allows us to relax a part of our minds so that we can focus on what’s in front of us. And that’s why it’s such a tragedy when it’s broken. A betrayal can make you think of all the other betrayals that are waiting for you (...)

Trust is your relationship to the unknown, what you cannot control, and you can’t control everything. And it’s not all or none. It’s a slow and steady practice of learning about the capacity of the world. And it’s worth it, to keep trying. And it’s not easy.

27 de mayo de 2015

Management style in Spain: still so different?

Years ago, in the late sixties, the Spanish Ministry of Tourism launched an international campaign with the slogan Spain is different. It was not specified how or compared to what Spain was supposed to be distinct or special, but this was not important, since the main focus of the marketing action was to promote the Spanish traditional attractions of the so-called sun-and-beach tourism. Nowadays, almost fifty years later, any sensible traveller who visits Spain will notice that the cultural diversity of the country goes far beyond the typical exotic images of bullfights and flamenco, with each region offering its own richness in terms of climate, language, folklore and traditions.

But what about the Spanish management culture?  Does it differ so greatly from those of other Western countries? Is Spain still different in that respect? 

One should be aware that Spain is a country of contrasts, and this also applies to its corporate and business culture. There is a mix of tradition and modernity, a permanent tension between old and new, and I personally think that this ambiguity is also present in the way Spaniards work and conduct business. In my experience, more than in many other Western countries, large differences in management style should be expected depending on the size, region and ownership structure of the company. 

The traditional bureaucratic structure of Spanish corporations has evolved a lot during the last years, but broadly speaking, the leadership style in many companies is still fairly paternalistic. Decisions are made at the top and delegated downwards, although  managers are also expected to ask employees for their opinions. There is a clear separation between the tasks of the boss and those of the subordinates. Each employee knows where she or he is situated in the hierarchical chain in terms of duties and responsibilities and assigning extra tasks that do not correspond with the “official” job description can lead to misunderstandings and negative results.

Indeed, this is what an American client of mine experienced when he tried to implement in Spain a model he had successfully applied in Denmark and the Netherlands. Believing that his level of Spanish was insufficient to communicate with his team, my client chose a member of his Spanish team to act as a sort of ambassador, a contact person between him and the others. Information and reporting were supposed to be channelled through that person who, in this way, acquired a privileged unofficial status compared with the other team members. Their reaction was a mixture of jealousy and suspicion. Suddenly, their former colleague was not an ordinary team member anymore. But he was not the manager either … The situation caused a lot of confusion and negatively affected the performance of the team as a whole. Additionally, the ambassador was not very happy either because he did not know how to manage the duties of his new role while remaining loyal to his colleagues and friends.  So we had to redesign the organizational chart, create new channels and work in the communication style of the American boss for a better fit in the Spanish subsidiary.

Now, going back to the initial question: are Spanish management practices so different? I think that every culture is unique and comparing them has the risk of simplification. That being said, I would answer Yes to anyone tempted to minimize or deny the existence of cultural differences. But I would say say No, not really to professionals with a global mindset that have developed the intercultural skills that give them a real ability to understand and adapt to sometimes strong and sometimes very subtle differences in the various business situations they will meet in Spain.