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A tool for bridging cultural differences.

Consequences of cultural misunderstanding are no laughing matter--U.S. companies have lost millions of dollars by miscalculating the cultural impact of products and services marketed outside of the United States.

While your association and its members may not be involved in international ventures of this magnitude, cultural clashes can still have negative implications. One tool to mitigate cultural misunderstandings is the Global Results Pyramid, a concept described in Culture Clash: Managing the Global High-Performance Team (2003, SelectBooks), by Thomas D. Zweifel.

Cofounder and CEO of the Swiss Consulting Group, New York City, Zweifel is a specialist in building international teams. He explains that teams move effective projects through four stages: relationship, vision, strategy, and action. Because different cultures emphasize these levels differently, organizational leaders must recognize and respect those differences to avoid conflict. The Global Results Pyramid (see illustration) helps managers visualize how different cultures might view the four levels so that they can modify their actions accordingly.


Here's how understanding different countries' locations on the pyramid can be helpful:

Relationship. In the United States, relationships are much less important than in other countries, such as Japan, Chile, or Saudi Arabia. While Americans are often so hungry for results that they tend to go directly to action, other cultures focus on developing a more solid rapport based on trust. The pyramid indicates that if you're interacting with another culture that is as action-oriented as you are (e.g., Germany or Pakistan), you can move forward at your usual pace. However, if you find yourself dealing with a relationship-based culture, take it slow.

Vision. It's risky to delve into strategy or action if you haven't shared the bigger picture with your potential international partner. While Americans and Britons enjoy brainstorming and exploring visions and possibilities, many continental Europeans can be quite skeptical of such activities.

Strategy. Once you've established a solid relationship and agreed on a vision it's time to outline and create ownership in the strategy to achieve it. Zweifel cautions that no matter where cultures fall in the pyramid, it's necessary to invest time and energy into aligning all parties with the goals and decisions that will affect the overall operations of the project.

Action. American managers are used to urgent deadlines. Cultures in Germany and Switzerland, however, dictate that people think things through, understanding exactly how they are going to get things done before they take action. In dealing with such cultures, count on taking more time to make necessary clarifications.

Any model, cautions Zweifel, simplifies reality. However, "generalization is the essence of culture," and recognizing the levels of the pyramid can help maximize global results.

--Revised and reprinted with permission from Culture Clash: Managing the Global High-Performance Team (2003, Select-Books) by Thomas D. Zweifel;
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Title Annotation:managing an association
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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