Proponents of distributed, global teams promote the idea that building empathy builds great teams across international borders.
I am all for this, being a cross-cultural trainer. Part of attending a cross-cultural training is building empathy for the other culture's way of doing business. When we learn about our teammate's culture or our client's culture, we can get into their mindset and try to understand why they do what they do. We can also try to understand how our culture and our normal behavior may impact interactions with our associates from another culture. This answers they question, "Why do people from XYZ culture tend to get upset when we do ABC, which is totally normal and wouldn't upset many in our culture?"
Empathy is getting into someone else's shoes to understand their viewpoint. Cross-cultural empathy is the same with a layer of cross-cultural understanding. When we come into a different culture, we may often realize our normal ways of being either don't work in the new culture, are not understood the same way by people in that culture, or could actually offend people in the other culture. How we negotiate that is where the rubber meets the road. Negotiating these situations in real life with only people from the host culture may be easier than negotiating these situations on cross-cultural teams where one feels they have to act one way with their international teammates and a different way with their teammates from home to get the same point across. Let's see a few real life case studies:
Negotiating When You are The Only Foreigner: "They Moved Away From Me, But Are Friendly!" An Indian's Experience of First Impressions in the USA
Negotiating Cross-Cultural Empathy While Managing Remote Teams: Why an Indian Manager's Requests Were Being Met with a Cold Shoulder
Jennifer Kumar helps to build effective cross-border onsite and offshore teams through management coaching and cross-cultural facilitation. Contact us for more information.