An intercultural coaching case study featuring the “Inner Team”
Excerpt from the book “Coaching in interkulturellen Führungssituationen und Aufgabenstellungen“
Published by Werner Luksch, 2012, GRIN Verlag
Introductory explanation of the concept of the “Inner Team”
The following excerpt out of the book is a short case study featuring the method of the “Inner Team” and how you can find the right communication and behavior in a difficult cultural setting. When we are confronted with a request, a communication , a decision to be made or other situations which require a response or an action we usually hear different but frequently also contradicting voices and impulses in us. Which voice should I follow? What is the right decision? What is the most adequate and effective behavior in a certain situation? The concept of the “Inner Team” helps us to understand the multiple voices in us, and through the development of our “Inner Team” enables us to find the “right” answer or behavior. We can find a balanced communication and a powerful way to act in a manner which is in compliance with ourselves and the requirements of a specific situation.
The concept of the “Inner Team” has been developed for practical use by Friedemann Schulz von Thun, Professor of Psychology with a focus on communication, consulting and training. The concept is practically and frequently applied in training, consulting and coaching.
Now to the book and the intercultural story “As a Commercial Business Manager in Kuwait”
In my first foreign assignment as a young professional in business I was as a commercial and financial project manager for a European electrical company in Kuwait. One of my main tasks was to clarify outstanding payments for completed projects with the Ministry of Electricity and Water and to accelerate the disbursement of payments. At the beginning of my job I, therefore, went to the head (controller) of accounts payable of the ministry. As I arrived in his very spacious office I found a typical configuration for this region in his office. The controller sat somewhat elevated on a platform located behind a large desk. In two rows to the left and to the right in front of him various Arabs were speaking with him while sipping tea or coffee. They were seated on small stools and looked up towards the controller. I greeted when I entered the office but the controller himself did not show any notice of me. I took a seat on one of the stools. I was brought tea with sugar. Although, I had taken classes in Arabic back in Germany, I was not able to follow or participate in the conversation. I sat there and waited and tried my best to make a friendly face. After half an hour I was finding this more and more difficult. I was pressed for time and still had a lot planned to do. After an hour, and still without contact to the controller, my anxiety was high. I thus decided to leave and, in a friendly manner, said goodbye. From that day on I had great difficulties in winning the controller’s cooperation and had to resort to other laborious means in order to get information and accelerate payments – what had gone wrong?
I must add that I had been well prepared on the cultural aspects of this stay abroad. As mentioned,
I had begun to learn the Arabic language. I had attended seminars on Islam and had participated in events with experienced project managers. I knew that I must have extreme patience in this region, that communication between business partners is not only based on business and unlike us they do not get right to the point. I had, therefore, invested a lot in the “cognitive dimension” of intercultural competence. This example goes to show that after all learning it is still not guaranteed to display the adequate cultural behavior when it is required.
Now, many years later, reviewing my “Inner Team”, I heard various voices and, the longer the wait the louder some of them got. Listen to my inside voices:
– How arrogant and presumptuous that guy is. He does not even take notice of me. He’s sitting behind that huge desk just looking down on us.
– At least I can sit here undisturbed with a cup of tea – it is obviously a different culture and they are, however, hospitable.
– How can I make myself noticeable and engage in the conversation? When you don’t speak the language sufficiently it’s difficult and I have never been good at “small talk”.
– It doesn’t sound like they are talking business but rather about something private and trivial.
What are all these people doing here during business hours? They’re blocking the flow.
– I am running out of time. I still have important things to take care of or else I’ll have problems with my head office in Germany.
– It is insulting to ignore me like this and letting me wait, even if I am the supplier and he is the customer.
– If people in responsible positions in the Ministry behave this way, it is no wonder that we have to run after each and every payment.
– If I leave now I’ll show him that he cannot treat me like a little schoolboy and that will make him give me more attention in the future.
– You have to have more patience – remember the seminars. You have to invest more in the “relationship” with your business partner.
My inside team during this situation looked something like this:
The Cultural Understander:
A different culture … A personal relationship is important.
My time is running … Still have a lot to do.
Not good in smalltalk …
No wonder nothing functions here.
I‘ll teach him to give me more attention.
Hardly takes notice of me. Impudent fellow …
Every statement (voice) or groups and combinations of statements are represented by a member of the “Inner Team”. Above are the major team members which I have identified. By taking the role as the head of the team it would have been my task to facilitate a team meeting which finds a balanced and cultural adequate response and behavior in this specific situation in the ministry.
It also leads to the question of how can we adopt to different cultural conditions. Separation or assimilation? The conclusion is not the chameleon like adaptation to a different culture but rather the integration or reconciliation, i.e. the broadening of ones own behavioral repertoirs, characteristics and values which appear meaning- and useful to us.
In the Ministry I had an hour to get my “Inner Team” in balance. After listening to my inner voices and after identifying the associated team members (see chart above), the next step was to achieve
a balance and reconciliation of the conflicting arguments. This is done by taking the role of a team leader and lead a team meeting with the various team members of the “Inner Team”. Like any other team leader a team leader of the “Inner Team” moderates the team meeting, integrates different opinions and input and manages conflict. An important aspect for the team leader is to look behind the positions of the various team members and identify their needs and interest behind these positions. This opens opportunities for reconciling conflictual arguments.
A team discussion in the ministry could have taken place as follows.
The Impatient: You have no time, you have to leave now because you urgently have to do a job for the home office.
The Cultural Understander: You’ve learned that, in this region, good personal relationships are the foundation for good business relationships. You have to have patience.
The Team Leader: “Impatient” how would it be if this afternoon’s bank appointment was postponed to tomorrow? It can wait another day and we can take the time we need now. We are now laying the basis for future collaboration with the controller.
The Impatient: OK, I’ll try, as long as I can take care of my job for the home office this afternoon.
The Offended (pretty mad): I don’t care, he’s treating me like dust.
The Cultural Understander: That’s not personally coined towards you. There are a lot of people sitting around here and waiting. It’s part of the game. If you don’t accept that, then you won’t achieve anything.
The Team Leader: We will now give him, in a friendly manner our business card, so that he knows who was waiting for him. That will help to bring more attention to us.
The Offended: That probably won’t do any good!
The Cultural Understander: If we treat him with respect he will treat us respectfully in return.
The Team Leader: We will now approach him respectfully and take the time necessary to build
a good personal relationship. By postponing the bank appointment we will then be able to take care of our job for the home office and, in the long run, we can have a good relationship which will bring us the desired attention and appreciation. Alright?
All: OK, we’ll try.
The ideal solution would be if all team members involved could satisfy their needs and we can create a balance with respect to the different needs and interests of the members of the “Inner Team”.
If I had worked with the concept of the “Inner Team” in the above situation I most probably would not have left the ministry after an hour without having taken up contact with the controller and most certainly I would have saved myself a lot of pain and effort over the next two years.