What happens when you introduce change to a multinational company which has individuals from 16 different countries? Working together in an online environment and adjusting to change is a challenge. I’ve been looking back at the time I worked with European colleagues for a French company.
We managed an international web project from Europe and India and in doing so learnt a lot about the different cultures in each other other’s countries.
The company provided IT and business services to their clients who were large organisations in the public and private sectors. Day to day, the people they employed looked after clients’ computer systems and administered the processes that enabled business to be done. The head office – which we referred to as Group – was based in France - Paris.
Adjusting to change: From Independence to Centralisation
Sixteen of us made up the project team, led by the Group Digital Manager. We were each the web manager for our country, brought together by a project to rebuild the company’s website. Sixteen countries’ websites were to become one.
We all had managers in our own countries. I worked on the UK Marketing Team who were based in Hertfordshire. My office base was Manchester and like many of my UK colleagues I worked from home.
Working together: Meeting Customers’ and Prospects’ Needs
Country marketing teams worried that when the sites became one they’d lose visitors. Centrally, it was felt that cross-selling opportunities would be easier from a single site. This sparked some interesting debates amongst the 16 web managers and also amongst each country’s team.
Working together: New website, new ways of working
With the new website came change. Changes included centrally authorising content for publication on the new site. Decisions previously made by each country’s Marketing Manager were now made by the Group Digital Manager.
Most of the decision making discussions took place during teleconferences. Our weekly calls focused on sharing ideas and expertise as well as project control. It wasn’t possible for the whole project team to meet face to face so we’d become accustomed to dispersed ways of working.
There was a good mix of web skills throughout the countries and everyone was encouraged to express ideas and escalate issues. Everyone’s commitment to the project helped overcome any barriers that might have been caused by the sometimes impersonal nature of group telephone calls.
Adjusting to change: Punctuality and socialising
Eventually we got to meet some of our colleagues face to face at the Paris head office. Two differences stood out: punctuality and social breaks.
The meeting started 15 minutes late and no-one commented. As suggested by the French business etiquette guide 10 minutes late is acceptable. In the UK being just one minute late for a call or meeting could be frowned upon. This is where I feel that the UK business etiquette guide is a bit too generous suggesting 5 minutes late as being “OK” and I would recommend to start on time. There would be anger and restlessness at the wasted time.
12 noon arrived and a colleague left saying, “I’m off to a birthday lunch.” The social event took priority and that was OK.
I’m sure that, like me, you will find in businessculture.org a valuable source of information when faced with situations like those I’ve described here.