Stereotypes Can Kill Global Work
Working with colleagues from other countries is a fact of modern life. But working well with colleagues from other countries is not always easy.
A study by IESE's Carlos Rodríguez-Lluesma and Paul M. Leonardi of Northwestern University, published in Communication Monographs, finds that even among professional peers working together on a common project, stereotypes and pecking orders persist, leading to misunderstandings and communication breakdowns that threaten the viability of the collaboration.
A cross cultural study
The authors focused on a U.S.-based automaker that had a team of U.S., Mexican and Indian engineers working together on product development.
The Mexican engineers believed the others regarded them as "a little bit lazy," "not smart enough to come up with new ways of doing things," and likely to "spend all day talking."
Due to these perceptions, Mexican engineers repeatedly misled their U.S. counterparts about how they worked, in order to try to subvert the stereotype they thought the U.S. engineers held about them. On their part, the U.S. engineers grew wary of working with the Mexican engineers -- simply because they had gotten the wrong end of the stick.
In contrast, when working with their Indian counterparts, the Mexican engineers actively worked in the other direction: Mexican engineers regarded the Indian engineers as having lower status, they seemed to feel responsible for teaching them how to improve. They ended up working together more effectively, and their results were more positive for the company.
As cross-cultural collaborations become the norm for global organizations, perhaps more thought and effort need to be put into how to overcome the downsides of distance working.
The authors recommend that managers of multinational companies "make time and find a budget for global communication partners to visit each other's workplaces occasionally, so that they learn how they work and, consequently, refrain from stereotyping based on lack of knowledge."