A collaboration between two companies works just like any other relationship. People who share a worldview understand one another easily. Those who hold different values have a harder time doing so.
That’s why companies that share values and have similar cultures have better chances of succeeding in their collaboration. Organizations that have entirely different cultures and share few values will find it hard to collaborate.
When considering the problem of cross-culture partnership, it pays to look at the layers that build a culture.
First, there is the culture of the region or country where the company is located. Then there’s the company culture the particular organization has built for itself over the years. Finally, there’s also the culture and values shared by the company’s employees.
I believe that company culture is one of the critical elements in organizations. It derives from the company mission, vision, and values. It’s the company culture that regulates how we communicate, make decisions, manage errors, and drive innovation. Your company’s culture is a central point of reference that synchronizes the team and directs your hiring process.
However, every company culture is embedded within a broader type of culture; the regional or national culture.
And cross-cultural business can be tricky
In Western societies, we tend to think about time as linear. Every minute we spend on not making a decision or not performing an action is lost to us. The past doesn’t matter as much as the current deals and the possibilities they create for the future. That’s how we approach decision-making and expect everyone else to do the same.
And that’s also where we clash with people coming from cultures that treat time differently.
Western executives often expect Asian managers to make quick business decisions or consider a current deal on its present value. But many Asian cultures perceive time as cyclical. The past is important to them, and they tend to think long term. They don’t see time as racing away but coming around again in a circle where similar opportunities will present themselves again to people who are then wiser by days, months, or years.
As you can imagine, that can create a lot of cross-cultural friction between companies trying to collaborate with one another. They perceive time differently, and that changes their expectations in the decision-making process.
On the other hand, the company culture is always developed under the pressure of people who create the company. It’s impossible to build a company where 100% of its employees are fully synchronized with the culture. Negotiating the company culture is an ongoing process, and smart managers can pinpoint the risks unsynchronized employees may present to the company culture. Take this broader context into account when considering to launch an outsourcing partnership.
Culture synchronization in practice
An outsourcing relationship is a situation in which two different companies come together to collaborate. In its essence, it’s a meeting of groups of people who were shaped by different cultures and hold different values. And now they have to synchronize, find common ground, and negotiate their differences to develop an effective collaboration process.
At Sunscrapers, we’ve been collaborating with clients from all over the world, and our experience taught us that these questions are vital for synchronizing right at the beginning of a collaboration.
Establish communication standards
First, it’s smart to outline the standards regarding the amount and regularity of communication between two companies. In general, we should try not to get in each other’s way and pay attention to how much we communicate depending on the gravity or urgency of a situation. However, some companies are used to more meetings and interactions – and a smart outsourcing partner will cater to that need.
Agree on terms of collaboration
Another question to consider here is how the partner perceives himself as part of the process and participant in a communication routine. It’s good to figure out to what extent a client prefers to leave the outsourcing party to work on its own and when they want to become part of the process.
For example, one of our clients would always participate in our retrospective sessions but only listening to our team and never adding any comments. We interpreted the lack of comments as approval – whereas in reality, it was a passive role the client needed to be part of the process.
Proactive vs. passive outsourcing
When teaming up with a company, consider the kind of outputs expected by the client. Does the client expect their outsourcing partner to be proactive and autonomic in supporting their activities? Or maybe they’re merely looking for someone to complete the requested tasks without any input or reflection?
Level of formality
Consider the level of formality as well. While in some companies people tend to address one another formally, in others informal communication is standard. Smart outsourcing partners pay attention to that and adjust their communication style to match their client’s standards.
Two companies collaborating on a project should also make critical decisions about data transparency. They need to be on the same page about what type of information is public and what type needs to be confidential.
Finally, it’s a good idea to talk about definitions of concepts that are critical to a project’s completion. For example, a high-priority task or a done task can mean different things to companies that collaborate with one another, depending on their processes.
Taking the initiative and making decisions
Synchronize the decision-making process
When collaborating with another company, learn what their organizational structure looks like and what kind of decision-making process they have in place. That way, you’ll know whom to contact in case of questions or recommendations – and how.
Employee initiatives – welcome or not?
Another thing worth your attention is how your partner perceives the ideas and initiatives coming from team members. Perhaps everything needs to be organized at from the beginning, and there’s low tolerance for modification? Some company cultures encourage employees to participate actively, but only in a specific time and place (like planned meetings).
Talking about mistakes
Finally, pay attention to what is the company’s approach to communication about mistakes or errors. You need to know whether it’s good to talk about them openly or not. Some companies see public conversations about errors as potentially hurtful to people involved in the project and discourage them.
At the end of the day, a good outsourcing partnership means that two companies are basically playing to win together. It’s a good idea to be particularly considerate at the beginning of a partnership to allow greater synchronization and develop a collective process that satisfies both parties. It’s much better to be careful rather than risk hurting someone unintentionally.
When building Sunscrapers, we were inspired by the culture of American and British tech companies – that’s how we developed the values that direct our operation: technical excellence, integrity, ambition, hard work, and modesty.
Outsourcing is never a piece of cake. But I hope you can see now why collaborating with a company that shares essential elements of your culture is just so much easier.