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How to Handle Cultural Differences on Your Team

Deadlines
Internal Communication
Cultural differences
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

6 December, 2017

Ryan deals with cultural differences within his American and Filipino teams and renews the American team’s trust with the Filipino engineering team.

Problem

I was an engineering manager in the Philippines when the company had relocated a part of the engineering team there. Tasks and projects would come in from the US. Filipinos commonly have very different level of assertiveness when compared to Americans. They do not like to fail and therefore compensate for difficulties they are having with time and hard work.I remember one particular project where their dedication and difficulty with saying "no" led the team to be totally burnt out, and yet they still did not meet their deadline.

Actions taken

We were facing two extremes, Americans who speak more openly and Filipinos who fear to disappoint people by saying no. Their lack of assertiveness impacted the estimations of time they would give, as well as, their decision making. My previous experiences led me to believe the reasons behind this behavior were very cultural, such as:

  • Filipinos value not disappointing their partners and coworkers.
  • The job market for good jobs is competitive so they highly value job security. I decided to have a meeting to align everyone and renew our trust in the Filipino engineering team. They needed to understand that their behavior was harming the business, as they weren't delivering projects at the times they had estimated, and as a result they weren't shipping on time.

Lessons learned

With a cultural difference, it's very important to drill down to the bottom of the problem. As I am Filipino myself, but have interacted a lot with other cultures as well, I was able to quickly understand the reasons for the problems the engineers were having, and then knew how to make things better by renewing the company's trust in them.


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