In Focus:  Global versus International

A colleague of mine was involved in a large and complex project. His responsibilities included managing weekly con- ference calls between U.S. headquarters and two overseas development groups, one in Nice, France, and the other in Bangalore, India. One day, we had a casual conversation about how these calls went.

“It's always the same thing”, he said, tongue in cheek. “When we discuss plans and next steps, the Indians agree with everything and the French agree with nothing. After the call, they’ll go and do their own thing anyway!”

Every time someone asks me about the pitfalls of managing global projects and teams, I remember this story. What my colleague described, and actually mastered much more effectively than he made it sound, is a great example of the challenges of working in a global, rather than merely international, project environment.

Let me define these terms: the term ‘global project’ is commonly used for one reaching across several countries: as in the above story, three or more local teams collaborate, with each working in its own cultural, political, and legal setting. In contrast, the term ‘international’ here describes project collaboration between teams crossing only one cultural, political and legal border, for instance in a US-India project.

The Challenge

Leading in a global environment presents a much more complex challenge than working in an international one. To explore the differences, imagine that you’re an American holding a conference call with a French-only group. It would probably be most effective for you to present plenty of information to this group, explain the rationale behind your plans and actions, defend those through logical arguments when challenged, be outspoken where needed, and persistently drive the debate forward until your counterparts signal agreement. By taking this approach, you are adjusting your style to better match that of the French side, which increases your likelihood of winning their support.

If, on the other hand, the call was with an Indian-only group, you might want to focus your communication mostly on its leader, refrain from appearing argumentative or confrontational, emphasize benefits to the Indian side, underline areas where agreement was already reached, and allow sufficient time for decision making, even if that meant not reaching a decision during the call. Again, adjusting your style will increase your effectiveness across cultures.

But what do you do when you are dealing with both of these groups on the same call? When communication practices, decision making styles, and other cultural preferences seem mutually exclusive? When passionate arguing could make you more compelling with the French side but would let you appear overly pushy in the eyes of the Indians? When delaying a decision might be best from an Indian perspective but could be a mistake with the French team?

Adjusting Cross-Cultural Practices for Global Teams

No matter with which culture or cultures you are dealing, the first rule of engagement is to learn, for each of them, what you need to know about the ways people communicate, collaborate, and make decisions, to learn about what they respect in leaders and what hierarchies mean to them, and to learn about everything else that is relevant for your interactions.

When managing a global team, your leadership approach will also need to change. No longer can you simply adjust behaviors and practices to only one other culture and then expect that to work across the board. Instead, it is crucial to ensure that everyone on your global team has a working understanding of key cultural characteristics of their own culture, as well as those of everyone else. Your communication practices will need updating, too: simultaneously working with multiple cultures requires much greater clarity of communication, as well as more frequent clarifications of objectives and intentions. Moreover, you as the leader of a global team may frequently need to fill roles such as moderator, translator, and mitigator between the different cultures and sub-teams involved. Successful global project leaders not only continually hone these skills but are also highly flexible, adaptable, and willing to disregard their personal egos when required.

Are you ready for this challenge?

This article is also available in PDF format  (requires Adobe Reader ).

Book Of The Month


How corporations achieve sustainable success in today's global economy.

(click title for full book review)


Web Site Of The Month
Country Ranks


The largest economy? Traffic deaths? Air pollution? Prison population? Carbon footprint? Whatever it is you are trying to find out about a country, you'll likely find it on this website.

(click title to visit this web site)


Quote Of The Month

Creativity requires
the courage to let go
of certainties

Erich Fromm


All of the 50 individual Country Sections from Negotiating International Business are available online  for free.

Click here to download Country Section PDF files


Leadership Crossroads
is a competent resource for

  • Global Business Coaching & Training
  • Negotiation Training and Assistance
  • Cross-Cultural Project Management
  • Organizational Learning and Development
  • Executive Coaching
Would you like to know
    more about us?

Lothar Katz is the founder of Leadership Crossroads.  He has a wealth of experience in achieving productive coopera- tion across cultures and driving business success on a global scale.
A seasoned former executive of a For­tune 500 company, he regularly interacted with employees, cus­tomers, out- sourcing partners, and third parties in more than 25 countries around the world.

Contact :
Leadership CrossroadsTM, 2010

Global Business Practices:
Ten Tips for Doing Business in Austria

  • Austrian dialects include many words not taught in high-school German and can be very hard to understand.
  • Punctuality is highly valued. Don't be late for meetings.
  • Don't introduce yourself using only your first name. Don't call Austrians by their first names either, unless they explicitly invite you to.
  • Even long-term partners may appear somewhat reserved during your business interactions in this country.
  • Companies tend to be very hierarchical in Austria. Decisions may require several levels of approval.
  • People's initial reaction to changes or new proposals is often negative. Give them time for a detailed analysis.
  • Be prepared to discuss things in much greater detail than you may be used to. Prepare backup information whereever appropriate.
  • Austrians tend to be less direct than Germans are. Watch for subtle points and between-the-line messages.
  • Being loud, in meetings or at business restaurants, may be regarded as bad manners.
  • Frequent eye contact conveys sincerity. However, don't stare at others.

Our newsletter is a bimonthly publication about all aspects of International and Cross-Cultural Business Management.  Past issues can be found in our  newsletter archive.

If this issue has been forwarded to you, would you like to subscribe to it now?

If you are a current subscriber but you do not wish to receive this newsletter in future, simply send a blank e-mail to