Outsourcing, particularly offshore outsourcing, can be quite taxing due to communication and cultural challenges; this is particular evident for countries like China, which are culturally very different from the Western world. If the cultural differences are not tackled properly, they can cause irreparable losses of both, time and finance; as tension and communication breakdowns due to cultural conditions make it near to impossible to reap the benefits of outsourcing.
Our entire lives are governed by culture and it is the primary factor that determines all the choices we make as well as the preferences we opt for; yet it essentially remains invisible to us. It is only when we actually move into a new place or find ourselves dealing with someone from a “far away land” that we are struck by the magnitude of the impact that it has on our daily lives.
There are many profound differences between the Western and Chinese cultures that can impact communications, teamwork, and motivation of your employees. Here are a few of the most pronounced differences:
- People in China put far more emphasis on team collaboration and performance than on individual contribution. People are generally more humble and frown upon on self-promotion which is very common and often necessary in the USA.
- Chinese society is far more formal and hierarchical than in the USA. Hierarchy and clear delineation of duties are not only respected – they are required for productive collaboration. While in the Western countries we see informal style practically required for successful collaboration.
- Vast majority of people in China value maintaining harmonious relationships over accomplishing tasks, and a typical Western remark such as “nothing personal” would not be understood.
- Avoiding public confrontation is built in into the Chinese culture and maintaining “face” plays extreme importance in communications. Cut to the chase, “in-your face” truth so common among Americans will gain no support in China.
- Chinese look differently at rules and regulations than most Americans. The Chinese people place more faith in personal relationships than in written rules and procedures.
Each of these differences can easily derail otherwise successful engagement, combination of them is truly terrific. The good news is that you can address this challenge in a structured manner, bridge cultural gaps, and minimize the risks of inevitable tensions that develop due to cultural differences.
Here are five proven ways to bridge the cultural gap when outsourcing to China.
- Language. In order to truly access the Chinese culture and to thrive with them, the first step is to learn their language. Unfortunately, learning Mandarin or Cantonese is likely to look like an insurmountable challenge for most native English speakers living the USA or Western Europe. A short cut here is to hire a few key on-site team members who are already bilingual. I also recommend learning at least ~50 of most common Chinese words and expressions. The good will generated by this effort could be hardly overstated.
- Cross-culture Education. Both your offshore and onshore teams can benefit greatly from learning the culture of the other shore team. I recommend hiring professional training or outsourcing advisory team specializing on cross-culture education. A one or two day event will go a long way to cover the gap.
- Team Swaps. Swapping team members, a program similar to foreign exchange student, is a great practice. Team members that are going to the other shore should go through a cultural training boot camp prior to departure.
- Capitalizing on differences.Don’t force what’s unnatural and against the grain in terms of culture, don’t try to change your team members’ cultural foundations, beliefs or habits. Changing people is a futile venture in general. Instead recognize the differences and capitalize on them. For example, the Chinese predilection to hierarchy and team collaboration can help you build stronger teams.
- Compensation and Motivation.Design compensation, motivation and recognition systems in a way they take cultural aspects into consideration. Simple adjustments such as “team of the month” instead of “employee of the month” can make a huge difference.
By no means is that an exhaustive list of tools that can help you to build better relationships with your partners in China. Would you like to go deeper into this topic? Do you have your own ideas you’d like to share? Please comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.