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Case study: Feedback

The following comments are provided as food for thought. Different interpretations are, of course, possible.

How does Frank explain the failure of the Polish, Spanish and UK teams to follow his leadership approach and work more closely together?

Frank seems to think that national cultural differences are the problem. He also feels that negative motivations are driving the behaviour of some of the other people – jealousy or unwillingness to give him credibility.

What do you think of Frank's explanation? What other factors could explain the team's lack of support for cross-border collaboration?

Like many business professionals, Frank seems to blame national cultural difference for the problems. But this is often an error. There are usually other and more significant factors involved. A belief in the negative motivations of others is also common but again usually false.

Frank's leadership challenge is to engage people in the different countries in a change process, to give them a clear sense of purpose for the change, and to inspire and enable them to achieve this change. Frank seems to be trying to achieve too much too fast. It could be that his timetable for change is too ambitious, or possibly too disruptive to the local operations. It may also be that he hasn't explained the case for change clearly enough, so that the local teams don't understand the value of coordinated campaigns and/or they fear that such campaigns may fail. Interestingly, they may be right. So, rather than acting negatively, they may be acting positively, in the interest of maintaining local sales with effective local campaigns.

Language skills may also be a problem. The Spanish and Polish colleagues may not have the necessary level of English – or the confidence – to work with fast-speaking native English speakers in Britain. Finally, the key reporting line for the local team members is to their local CEO. If this person does not support the international cooperation and wants to maintain a focus on more local operations, it may be that the team members want to collaborate but cannot.

To what extent do you think Frank's email is an effective way to resolve the situation?

Frank's email is an escalation and creates an opportunity to confront the issue, and possibly to build understanding of the reasons why the team is not working as a team. But the email also contains clear signs of frustration, is almost disciplinary in tone and assumes "little cooperation". So the email could be seen critically and discourage people from working with him. Many professionals would find the tone too hierarchical and disrespectful. However, others might say that it is necessary at times to be direct, to call out unacceptable behaviour and to remind people of their responsibility to execute the group strategy.

What could Frank do differently to encourage collaboration?

As an alternative to writing such an email, Frank could visit the various countries to meet the local teams and ask them how they feel about the new international structure, where they see its challenges, etc. In other words, he could begin by listening to people and trying to understand their motivations and opinions. He could then modify his leadership and communication style as necessary.

© Business Spotlight

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