Friday, November 21, 2008

The World That Works Together...

One of the fascinating aspects of working in an international business is seeing the different attitudes that people in various countries have toward work, the workplace, and their co-workers. The cultural distinctions are very evident and usually easy to observe.

This morning I was chatting with some folks from the Philippines. They explained how this weekend they would be going on a "team-building" trip. They would getting on a bus along with eighty to one-hundred coworkers and driving to a resort four hours outside of Manila. There they would spend the weekend "team-building," which in this case sounds more like an extended corporate-sponsored party.

No family members, no spouses, no significant others. And it wasn't mandatory either. Yet from the sound of it, attendance was expected to be very high.

Now, imagine a similar activity taking place in the United States. A non-mandatory, non-family weekend event like that would get what, 20% of your average American workforce to show up? We have a tough time getting people to commit to going to dinner for a night when we have visitors in town. A weekend would be out of the question.

Recently, at a facility in China a group of my fellow workers had a team building activity that involved going out to a "farm" and doing things like riding horses. This event occurred on a Friday and all employees were not only forced to attend, they had to use one of their VACATION days since they wouldn't actually be working that day. Now, try passing that one by a group of American workers and you'd have an instant mutiny on your hands.

Yes, the cultural attitudes towards work are often worlds apart. And the stereotypes about the different cultural norms are often not far off base.

Today, I went to lunch with a group in town from Latin America. We were supposed to meet people from another local facility at noon. We arrived at the restaurant at 12:25pm. And stayed until 2:15pm. A long lunch punctured with frequent conversation--maybe half actually concerning work--and then a departure process that required more public physical contact than a typical Minnesota family displays in years. Vive la difference.

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