Communication, Culture and Effective Teams
The Optimization Project at Joint Warfare Centre (The Three Swords Magazine, December 2015, Issue: 29, p. 34) has been an unqualified success, demonstrating improvement in nearly all of the organizational shortfalls that it was designed three years ago to address.
The excerpt below was an article published in JWC's The Three Swords Magazine, January 2017 (Issue No. 31)
According to data gat hered through surveys, interviews, and observation, however, the optimized structure did not outperform JWC's 2012 Peacetime Establishment (PE) in one important aspect — communication. Data shows that we are no better (though no worse) communicating within or in a team than we were before we reorganized.
A visiting dignitary, upon receiving an optimization update and learning of this result asked, "Don't your leaders understand how important communication is to effective leadership?" I submit that we do indeed understand, and that each of us has tried to communicate at JWC as effectively as we have communicated throughout our careers. The difference here, as with all NATO HQs, is that we are using communication norms that have been effective for us within our home nation services.
However, differences in national cultures and communication norms may affect us when trying to reach other cultures within NATO. And, this is true for all of us. NATO is an Alliance of different nations and cultures. This diverse and collaborative environment has been one of the key factors of NATO's success for the past 67 years. However, despite our shared democratic values, significant separations exist between our individual nations' ways of thinking, behaving, and communicating. JWC has a staff from 16 different countries—it is imperative that we understand those various cultures' communication patterns so that we can improve our overall organizational communication as part of our Optimization Project.
This article will show you these significant differences, and more, which exist not only between East and West, but also between North and South; Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, as well as North America and Europe.
I will draw on the work of two prominent researchers in this field — author and Senior Affiliate Professor Erin Meyer and Professor Geert Hofstede—and, I will apply their research to identify the differences in communication norms across the 16 Nations that contribute Officers to the JWC, and how these differences can lead directly to communication gaps and miscues.
Erin Meyer is the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. I first learned of her work from Admiral Mark E. Ferguson, III (USA-N), the former Commander of JFC Naples, during his presentation to a course at the NATO School Oberammergau. Admiral Ferguson told us that studying this book was the most important thing he had done to prepare himself for his NATO assignment.
In this book, Professor Meyer uses eight "scales" to capture worldwide cultural differences, and applies them to international business environments. These eight scales are Communicating, Evaluating, Leading, Deciding, Disagreeing, Trusting, Scheduling, and Persuading. I will discuss each of these scales in general, based on her book, then plot JWC's diverse teams across them to identify where we should be aware of potential communication gaps and misunderstanding.
Professor Geert Hofstede is a social psychologist who, through surveys of people from all over the world, developed a theory of cultural dimensions. His six dimensions are Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation, and Indulgence. Some of these dimensions reinforce Meyer's work (in fact, the Power Distance dimension is the basis of her Leadership scale), while other dimensions add additional perspectives worth considering within our international teams. Through Meyer's eight scales, and Hofstede's six dimensions, we will become aware of 14 different "cultural minefields" or possible roots for miscommunication.
Despite NATO's diverse international environment, we have strong mechanisms where we are able to tackle unprecedented challenges—whatever the challenge; we are united in our commitment to overcome it. It’s our diversity that make us stronger and, also, smarter, especially, when the aim is building robust organizational cultures and achieving successful outcomes. Awareness of cultural differences is strength; it is a great step on the way for us to communicate and understand each other better.
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