Last week I attended 'Hopping the Pond: Transatlantic Trade and Economic Forum'
How do you know you are in a meeting full of Brits?
- Self depreciating humor
- Speakers introduce themselves and immediately apologize that what you are about to hear probably won't be very good
- Monty Python jokes
- Humble recollection of events and achievements
- No spontaneous applause
My guess is the majority of attendees were British, but I don't have the statistics.
The speakers were excellent, telling stories and examples of how companies have invested in Seattle from England and how US companies have used England as a spring board to growth into Europe.
I asked each of the business owners what lessons they learned from their rapid international expansion and here is what they shared:
- Hiring the wrong leader slowed down their business growth significantly.
- Pull the plug sooner on poor performance, make the call after three months.
- Get the right mix of full time and contract employees in new markets for ultimate flexibility.
Each of the five speakers got up and sat down with no applause, at the end the event organizer politely said:
"May I invite you to join me in a round of applause for our speakers" and we all dutifully applauded. With more American attendees, I am sure there would have been more spontaneous applause.
Many people assume the British and American cultures are similar, but that is far from reality. My observations for this conference were amusing and didn't impact the outcome, but you can halt business deals, break down relationships and ruin your reputation with one slip up.
Walk a mile in someone else's shoes
It reminds me of when I worked with BMW on a cultural awareness workshop after they had acquired Land Rover and every British executive now reported into the German BMW Executive Team. We explored how each culture made decisions, communicated, socialized and disagreed. My favorite part was having German leaders pretending to be British and vice versa in a meeting setting where they had to reach agreement on a topic. Walking a mile in someone else's shoes always has a lasting impact. Afterwards the leadership team had a greater understanding of each others culture, spent less energy complaining and made decisions faster.
Does your leadership team appreciate the cultural differences when you are doing business or is it holding you back?
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