While it’s impossible to summarize an entire culture in three succinct words, this is what was done recently in Italy to help Italians to understand and work more effectively with their American team members.
The facilitator of the cross-cultural discussion boiled Americans and the American expectations down to the three Cs – Control, Competition and Choreography.
Instead of summarizing his viewpoints here, I will share some observations on these three Cs based on my professional experience bridging onsite and offshore Indian and US teams.
Another way of looking at control is “taking initiative.” While these concepts are similar, they are also a bit different. The similarity lies in the fact that Americans feel that by taking personal initiative and accountability, they are in charge of their destiny. While this could all be an illusion, the American society is more or less set up to maintain this appearance, and for most Americans or people who come to the US, this has proven to help many achieve the ‘American dream’.
This idea of control is not so obvious in other cultures including India, or as in the article, in Italy as well. While Americans are considered control freaks by much of the rest of the world, Americans may consider most of the rest of the world “irresponsible” for not wanting to take matters into their own hands to do what needs to be done, especially in a time-sensitive way. While this can happen in other cultures, it often doesn’t get played out in the same way with the same urgency that it can or does in the US.
In the US, I am expected to be a team player. I am expected to share my work with others on my team, as they are with me. If this doesn’t happen, I can be penalized and they will think I am not cooperating. This wasn’t the work environment I had in India. I feel the US is a lot less competitive than India. It surely is a lot less competitive than I thought it would be!
An Indian friend of mine practicing medicine in the US told me this. Of course, the balance of competition and cooperation varies not only based on the national culture, but the corporate culture and the career field in general. While this is true, many NRIs I have spoken with who have spent considerable time working in the US find this to be one of the most attractive aspects about working in the US. They elaborate on this by telling me that,
Because in the US we are expected to share more, this helps everyone succeed. I don’t feel that my sharing puts me or others at a loss. In fact we all gain, and our careers become more fulfilling because of it.
We could say that control is an essential element of choreography, or that these two concepts overlap. Choreography could mean meticulous planning and keeping people in the loop. Choreography could also mean using process to automate daily life. Many Indians that come to the US say that life in the US is too automatic, too predictable. It’s true that Americans like to plan things, even to the extent of planning out vacation time! This is perplexing to many who are not familiar with US ways.
While we could continue such a list with many more descriptive words to generalize what Americans expect in the workplace, cross-cultural trainings would go into more detail into how to bridge these world-views through open communication and behavior modification. To learn more about how cross cultural trainings can help your employees feel successful on their next international assignment to the US or while working virtually from offshore, contact us today for more information on face-to-face and virtual training programs.
Tips for making life easier in the US
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