LeadershipWatch

The Essence of Successful Executive Teams

Aad Boot interviewed at a wooden table
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor to be interviewed by John Mattone as part of their Expert Interview program.

John Mattone is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership, talent and culture, and the author of seven books. He is currently preparing his next release, Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership & Corporate Reinvention from the C-Suite Elite (Wiley, 2016).

John asked me if I would be willing to share some of my ideas and thoughts on Creating Executive and Leadership Team Alignment: Why is alignment so important to the success of an executive team? What are the most common signs that a team is not aligned? What are the biggest culprits for leadership teams failing to align?

Read the interview here:

John Mattone - expert series

“If you want to see real-world examples of effective team alignment, Aad Boot recommends looking at organizations that go through tough times and manage to come out strong.

“It is not in good times that you see the value of team alignment, but in difficult times,” Aad says. “Teams that manage to navigate successfully through difficult situations, that face disruptive changes and find answers, that manage to inspire the organization despite the uncertain and complex changes it has ahead.”

When teams have strong alignment, they are able to respond faster, more effectively, with more confidence and with better results.

We recently checked in with Aad to learn more about his leadership philosophy and approach to aligning leadership teams. Here’s what he had to say:  (read full interview …)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

 

The 10 Most Popular Articles on LeadershipWatch in 2015

Find here the Top 10 articles selected by our readers over 2015

For the fourth year in a row LeadershipWatch has welcomed an amazing amount of new readers, and together they selected the top 10 most popular articles over 2015. A nice blend of topics, tips and real-life stories about ‘How to Lead Complex Change’, ‘Cross-Cultural Leadership’, ‘Building Successful Team Collaboration’, ‘Post Merger Integration’, and more …

Enjoy!

Leading Complex Change

Leading Change:

Leading Change: What Does Change Mean to You

Leading Complex Change: How to Balance Strategy Development and Execution

Leading Change: 3 Reasons Why Great Leaders are Reluctant to Compromise

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Cross-Cultural Leadership:

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Build Mutual Trust

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face

Leading Cross-Cultural Teams: Do You Understand the Cultural Differences within Your Team

5 Unusual Statements that Reveal how Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Thinks

Post Merger Integration

Post Merger Integration:

Post Merger Integration: Cultural Alignment is a Prerequisite for Value Creation

Leading Multinational Companies: 3 Significant Changes in the Role of Senior Leaders

4 Tips to Make Your Team Embrace Accountability

We wish you a wonderful New Year, and we’re looking forward to welcoming you back in 2016!

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Season’s Greetings!

Season's Greetings card with colored lampsWe wish you and your families an inspiring New Year! 

Hanneke and Aad

 

Leading Complex Change: How to Balance Strategy Development and Execution

Finding the right balance between strategy development and execution has become a vital element in the success of your company. Many leaders struggle to find this balance. In my work I observe organizations getting stuck in a deadlock of what I would call ‘analysis addiction’, preventing the organization from making actual progress happen. On the other hand, I also witness organizations that are led by a ‘compulsion to jump to action’ without having a proper notion of what, why, and how they want to do things.

Maybe you also feel confronted with this challenge? How do you actually create the right balance between strategy development and execution? When is your strategy really finished and ready for execution? How do you set up and roll out corporate change initiatives in such a way that your company is able to follow and recognize the logic of these initiatives, despite the often complex and disruptive circumstances?

Hold on! There are no crystal clear answers to these questions, and I am not able to offer you the golden solution! Today’s business reality is too diverse to claim that one solution would fit all. However, based on practical experience in various business environments I can share some thoughts and guidelines that will help you.

First, be aware of the context in which many organizations find themselves. A few observations:

  • Technology is driving change more than ever before; we live in a digital age, and technological evolutions are fast and disruptive;
  • Leaders try to define appropriate answers to these digital challenges without knowing all the answers upfront;
  • Transformation programs are expected to align the fast moving needs of the business with the fast moving technological evolutions.

Now, with this in mind, there are a few mechanisms that will help you find the right balance between defining your strategy and executing it. Let me briefly highlight them here:

1) Balance ‘learning by analysis’ and ‘learning by doing’

Strategy doesn’t always come before execution! Sometimes a strategy can only become fully clear after having tried things in practice. In today’s business world both are equally important. The traditional sequence of defining strategy, design, build, and deploy is in many situations no longer valid.

Signs of ‘analysis addiction’:

  • Reluctance to implementing things before all the answers are known;
  • Always wanting to have everything under control;
  • Focus on details, interpreting not knowing all the details as lack of competence;
  • Slow decision-making.

Signs of ‘compulsion to jump to action’:

  • Jumping to conclusions during meetings;
  • People getting easily annoyed by details;
  • Interpreting analysis as risk avoidance;
  • Continuously changing the plan based on new ideas.

2) Don’t confuse architecture and design with strategy

Business architects cannot take over the task of business leaders to define the corporate direction and the priorities that it requires! While technology is becoming more and more important for organizations, so are enterprise architecture and design. Many corporate departments have been set up for this, and rightfully so. But enterprise architecture is not the same as strategy development. There needs to be a healthy balance between the two. Architecture and design provides the analysis and the options to choose from. Executives and their management teams always should have the overall ownership over the direction of the organization and the priorities to follow.

3) Focus on learning, not on avoiding mistakes

All successful strategies are built on mistakes and temporary failures! Truly effective strategy development and execution requires an organizational culture in which experimenting, testing and making mistakes are allowed and even encouraged. In order to stay successful organizations need to involve everybody in the organization to embrace a mindset that is focused on learning: Board members, executives, managers, teams, everybody (read more here about how to create a learning culture).

Strategy development and execution cycle in blue and green

This is the second article in a series about how you can increase the success of change programs in today’s business reality. In the previous article I focused on how to stimulate your people to think and communicate in terms of impact (read here).

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Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Lessons for Leaders from China’s Lao Zi

What ancient Chinese wisdom teaches today’s leaders in times of complex change.

“Lao Zi was a native of Chu, a southern state in the Zhou dynasty. His surname was Li; his given name was Er, and he was also called Dan. … Lao Zi cultivated Dao and virtue. His learning was devoted to self-effacement and not having fame. He lived in Zhou for a long time; then witnessed the decline of Zhou and departed. When he reached the northwest border, he met the guard Yin Xi, who asked him to put his teachings into writing. The result was a book consisting of 5000 Chinese characters … Thereafter, Lao Zi disappeared; no one knew where he had gone.” (Source: Sima Qian, Biography of Lao Zi, 100 BCE)

The other day I read that business leaders are obsessed with Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It made me wonder: how many leaders know Lao Zi’s short book – commonly called the Dao de Jing or simply: the Laozi (老子). It’s 2400 years old, and easily the best book I have read this summer.

Are you looking for fresh insights on how to lead and deal with complex change, or just interested in ancient Chinese thinking?

What words of wisdom could China’s Lao Zi (The name Lao Zi is best taken to mean Old (Lao) Master (Zi)) possibly have for you today?

How about these:

Change is the new normal

Or better put: change is nothing new. The way of the Universe, the Old Master says, is change:

“Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short test one another;
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.” (Laozi 2)

Stay flexible

If you stay flexible you are well equipped to lead and deal with complex change:

“Plants and trees, while they are alive, are flexible and soft,
But when they die they become brittle and dry.
Truly, what is inflexible and hard leads us to death.

Flexibility and softness are friends of life.” (Laozi 76)

LeadershipWatch Quote

Be observant

“To know when one does not know is best.
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.” (Laozi 71)

Be observant. Become a better listener (read a few tips here). Take the time to understand what is behind unfamiliar behavior before making up your mind and voicing your opinion. Particularly in cross-cultural business situations (read more about cross-cultural differences in teams).

Cultivate your inner strength

“To be like water, that’s the highest.
Water benefits all creatures; yet itself does not compete.” (Laozi 8)

Last but not least: watch your health

“Fame or your own body: which matters to you most?
Your possessions or your health: what is worth to you most?”
(Laozi 44)

But how to take care of your health when you are swamped with work and pressed for time already? Here’s what Lao Zi shares in that other delightful book of Taoism, the Zhuangzi:

“These are the rules for staying healthy:

Can you embrace the One? And never lose it?

Can you, without consulting oracles, foretell fortune and misfortune?

Do you know where to stop? Do you know where to let go?

How to not put the blame on others but instead look inside yourself?

Can you be unbridled?

Can you be unsophisticated?

Can you be a like a baby? A baby can howl all day, yet its throat never gets hoarse – harmony at its height! A baby can clench its little fists all day, yet its fingers never get cramped – so perfect is its inner strength! A baby can stare all day without once blinking its eyes – so little affected it is by things that do not matter.

To move without knowing where you are going, to stand without knowing why, flexibly trailing about with things, and riding along with them on the same wave – These are the rules for staying healthy.” (Zhuangzi 23:1)

Lao Zi, legend has it, lived to be 160. Should you now decide to print his words and hang them on your mirror: know that I have done the same.

What reflections or thoughts do you have after reading this? Let us know!

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Photo: DonkeyHotey/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of our Expert Series in which Hanneke Siebelink shares valuable leadership lessons from a list of experts, researchers and role models she selected. The LaoZi is among the most loved and translated works in world literature. Arthur Waley’s translation into English (1934) is excellent. For Dutch readers we highly recommend Kristofer Schipper’s translation into Dutch (2010).


Hanneke_actief2Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

Leading Complex Change Programs: Stimulate People to Think Impact!

Over the past 25 years I have been involved in various complex change programs for companies in all kinds of markets and circumstances. But in the past years I have seen the world of Business Transformation, Program and Project Management change substantially. Those of us who are leading complex transformations know what I am talking about. Organizations are confronted with new technologies, new products, and new market conditions that force them to re-invent the way they deal with change and roll out change initiatives. How can they keep pace? Traditional change and project management methods no longer seem to be sufficient. In this article I will highlight a vital element that determines the success of change programs in today’s business reality: Stimulate your people to think and communicate in terms of impact.

A few observations:

  1. Technology is driving change more than ever before; we live in a digital age, and technological evolutions can be very fast and disruptive;
  2. Senior management tries to define appropriate answers to these digital challenges without knowing all the answers upfront;
  3. Transformation programs are expected to align the fast moving needs of the business with the fast moving technological evolutions.

In order to be successful, one of the most essential challenges for transformation programs is to establish the right level of co-creation and alignment between 3 worlds: business management (‘what do we need from our technical colleagues in order to be able to achieve our strategy’) – technological experts (‘what do we need from ‘the business’ in order to be able to define feasible technical options, and to set realistic implementation priorities’) – process owners (‘what do we need from management, HR, and technical departments to be able to execute the changing business rules, processes and tools efficiently and effectively’).

One of the most essential challenges for transformation programs is to establish the right level of co-creation and alignment between business managers – technological experts – and the users/executors of the new processes and tools.

As McKinsey&Company describes it: when companies take a systematic approach to prioritizing initiatives and involve input from a range of company stakeholders, executives are more likely than average to report successful transformations (read the McKinsey article here).

What does this ‘systematic approach’ actually mean? What kind of mindset do we need to create a successful systematic transformation approach throughout the organization?

Quite often I see organizations translate this into an ‘action planning’-mindset: discussing actions and planning, negotiating deadlines, putting it in extensive documentation, and communication about the actions and planning. Even in organization that claim to apply agile roll-out principles I regularly observe this action planning focus. But does this really help stakeholders to create alignment on their mutual needs and expectations?

Here is my point: to create successful transformation we need to build an ‘impact’-mindset in our teams, rather than an ‘action planning’-mindset.

To create successful transformation we need to build an ‘impact’-mindset, rather than an ‘action planning’-mindset.

A few examples of the importance of an impact-mindset during transformation programs:

  • How do we define business requirements? How much of our focus turns to inventory and action planning versus to impact-analysis and impact discussions?
  • How do we communicate very complex technical options to business stakeholders? Do we keep the details out of their sight (‘they are not interested in the details anyway’)? How well do we understand and explain the potential business impact to them?
  • How well do we understand the impact on people and processes? Do we have the right people around the table? Cross-team, diverse areas of expertise, HR and ICT together?

Stimulate your people to think and communicate in terms of impact. Why? Because it makes our expectations towards the changes and end-results more accurate and more precise! It creates a stronger mutual understanding of what we want, about what is possible, and about the priorities we set. It increases alignment between stakeholders, and therefore the chance of a successful transformation program.

What is your experience with transformation programs? What points would you add? Please share!

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Photo: Andrea/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

How to Avoid 3 Big Collaboration Traps? Morten Hansen’s Book Helps

Collaboration across functions and company units has become a top priority for firms in the United States, Europe and Asia (read more here). And yet too many collaborative efforts fail. A whopping 75 percent of cross-company teams are currently dysfunctional, according to a recent study. Clearly there are serious and often underestimated traps. Morton Hansen’s book can help you to avoid them.

‘Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.’ It was this statement by management professor (UC Berkeley) Morten Hansen that made me read his book ‘Collaboration’ when it was launched. Four years and lots of client cases later, Aad and I still turn to it from time to time.

What makes this book powerful?

Not just that it is based on solid research (Hansen spent 15 years analyzing what differentiates good from bad collaboration in large multinationals.) Not just its central thesis that the objective of collaboration is more than tearing down silos and getting people in different business units to work together. It is to generate results. We couldn’t agree more (read our previous article about how to get collaboration right).

What I like best is Hansen’s take on what could possibly go wrong. When stimulating cross-company collaboration, companies and organizations can run into serious, and often underestimated, traps. I am picking 3:

Collaboration Trap 1: You collaborate too much

In today’s fast-paced business environment, it is easy to get carried away with collaboration. Many companies see increasing collaborative efforts as a smart way to deal with insecurity and change. But setting up too many collaborative projects, without sufficient focus can slow your business down (read more here). Or worse: become the enemy of reaching concrete results. Lack of results, in turn, inevitably affects trust. Ask any business team that fails to make real progress. Or ask the men and women leading the EU.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the key to being successful with collaboration is to know when to say no to it. If you can decide when collaboration does not make sense and turn down projects which don’t have a solid business case in their favor, then you increase the odds the collaborative projects you do undertake will be winners. – Morten Hansen

Collaboration Trap 2: You haven’t analyzed existing barriers

‘Different situations have different barriers. Leaders must first evaluate which barriers exist in their organization. Not doing so is the same as throwing darts in the dark; you have no idea what you are hitting.’

Building smart collaboration across functions and company units starts with understanding the nature of the barriers that may be present in your organization. For instance: People, working hard to meet their own targets and feeling swamped already, may drag their feet when asked for help by people in other business units. People may find it hard to search large enterprises for ideas and information. Or they may simply not have learned how to work effectively as cross-unit, and often virtual, teams. Different collaboration barriers require different types of intervention.

Collaboration Trap 3: You underestimate accountability

To make collaboration generate results, the last thing you need are teams where people hide behind one another’s backs and don’t take ownership. But how to make cross-unit teams embrace accountability?

Collaborative leaders who hold themselves and others accountable engage in a few key practices. They spell out what they are accountable for – which targets, what kind of job. You can’t hold yourself and others accountable if you don’t know what to be accountable for. They then accept responsibility for mistakes and poor performance, no matter the circumstances and whether or not others mess up a collaborative effort. – Morten Hansen

Amen to that.

The focus on cross-company collaboration will increase, as road ahead becomes more complex, the world increasingly global, and technology increasingly connective.

Make your own collaborative efforts count, and avoid these 3 big traps.

Thoughts? Feel free to share your own experience below!


Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of the Expert Series investigating how high-quality collaboration helps leaders to build success when faced with complex change. Business leaders, experts and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink explain how they did it and share valuable lessons they learned along the way. You can find previous LeadershipWatch Series articles here.


Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, business units, functions, teams, and cultures. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

How to Lead Global Teams: One Powerful Tip for Westerners

Friends, Business, Team

How to lead cross-cultural teams, particularly teams where East meets West? What are concrete things you can do to help your global team in real-life business situations? This was the topic of my recent keynote at SIETAR Europa’s congress in Valencia. Here I want to share my one most powerful tip for Westerners.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently (May 2015) released its forecast of what will be the Top 10 economies of 2050. Just in case you still had doubts about how the balance in this world is shifting: Eastern economies (including China, India and Indonesia) move up rakings. Western economies (including the US, Germany and the UK) slide down.

Economist, table with statistics on global economies

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

Not surprisingly, business leaders increasingly approach us with questions like:

“We have just been bought by an Indian multinational. What can I do to ensure that our global research teams deliver, within the agreed planning? I noticed that the Indians are bad planners already.”

“I think I inadvertedly offended the Japanese person in my global HR team. When I told him in clear terms what I expected him to do, he just stood up and walked out. What went wrong?”

These are just a few examples of how leading cross-cultural teams comes with its own surprises. Even to the most experienced (read here how GE’s Raghy Krishnamoorthy describes his cross-cultural missteps).

How to lead cross-cultural teams, particularly teams where East meets West? What are concrete things you can do to help your global team in real-life business situations? This was the topic of my recent keynote at SIETAR Europa’s congress in Valencia. I want to share my one most powerful tip for Westerners.

Stimulate your team to invest in personal relationships.

I believe that in today’s business world, the importance of building relationships outside the business context is crucially important. To really get to know the person you are working with, not just the colleague or the member of your team.

Now if you are Italian, French or Greek, this probably sounds obvious. But for a Dutchman like myself, it is not.

Graphic about task versus relationship oriented cultures

For the Dutch, and for most Americans and northern Europeans I know, work is work, and private is private. I am extremely open about my business and about what I want to achieve, but if you ask me about my family I’ll be a little bit reluctant because: how well do I know you? It is not that I don’t want to share, but for me family is private.

I recall a nice discussion with a global business team I coached. A Danish team member shared how he had received a wedding invitation from a colleague in India. ‘Flying all the way to India?’, he had thought. ‘How can I decline this invitation without insulting my colleague?’ At that point the Indian team members started to laugh: ‘Do you really think that, when we invite you to a wedding, we are expecting you to come? You shouldn’t feel obliged to go, though you would certainly be welcome. But in our culture it would be very rude to not send you the invitation.’

Experience has thought me how important it is to invest in personal relationships, even when the next deadline looms on the horizon. And I am still learning every day.

So if you are leading business teams where East meets West, build those personal relationships. And stimulate your team members to do so too.

Like this article? Find more useful insights on how to lead cross-cultural teams here:

How different cultures look at time and planning

How to avoid making people lose face

How to help your cross-cultural team deal with different perceptions of authority and hierarchy

Some things you can do when working with people born and raised in the Far East, creating a communicative environment where people feel they can share their thoughts and ideas

How to build trust in cross-cultural teams

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Photo: moodboard/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Strategy Execution: Get Collaboration Right!

To execute your business strategy successfully and keep programs on schedule, supporting people to get collaboration right is just as important as good planning. Have you really thought this through?

In today’s turbulent business environment, where companies and organizations are learning how to deal with an increased rate of complexity and change, strategy execution is high on the agenda of business leaders. How to turn good ideas into concrete results? How to beat the competition? How to increase responsiveness, flexibility and speed?

Strategy execution has changed!

HRS Business Transformation Services, slide with title 'How Strategy Execution Has Changed'There is a need for companies to take a close look at their business models and strategy execution habits

If the past 25 years of working with companies and business teams to achieve strategic objectives have taught me one thing, it is this.

For strategy execution to succeed, focusing on deliverables, planning, analyzing data, and controlling finances is important, but not enough. Getting collaboration right, across teams, functions and company units, is at least as important. And probably even more.

I recall a study conducted by IMD’s Professor of Innovation Management Bill Fischer and his team. Fischer, a firm believer in the power of good teamwork, investigated how the giant Chinese home appliance maker Haier accelerated and improved strategy execution by changing the way its employees collaborate.

Here is what he found.

Like many companies, Haier used to be organized with strong hierarchies, with separate departments (R@D, manufacturing, sales, HR, …) run by layers of managers. Convinced that these silos within Haier slowed the company down in this fast-speed internet age, CEO Zhang Ruimin took a bold step. He practically reversed Haier’s internal structure and broke the large firm (70,000 employees) down into a network of ‘mini-companies’, or self-managed teams of cross-functional employees, each responsible for its own profit and loss.

“If we don’t challenge ourselves, someone else will.” – Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin

It works broadly like this. Any Haier employee can generate his/her own idea and submit a prospective business plan (including sales goals, plan of attack and a budget for the resources needed), based on careful studying of customer comments and market information. If approved by senior management, that person can create and lead his/her own team to implement the project, which involves persuading staff such as engineers, designers and sales experts to join. Team members share in the resulting profits, and have the right to elect a new leader if the team underperforms. In Zhang’s words: “In the past, employees waited to hear from the boss. Now, they have become entrepreneurs, collaborate across functions and listen to the customer.”

While the Haier Group takes business transformation to the extreme, the example brings home at least one important point. Improving business performance by getting cross-functional collaboration right does not just happen by itself. It requires new ways of thinking, new approaches that fit today’s reality and challenges. And an active and continuing involvement of senior leadership is essential.

In the way we work with our clients, getting collaboration right is about finding the most effective combination of:

  • Fostering a mindset that encourages collaborative behavior (team development, learning to think across borders (functions, cultures, departments));
  • Making decisions and setting priorities that create clear and transparent responsibilities (dare to make choices, even if the consequences are sometimes hard to predict);
  • Putting processes in place that stimulate continuous feedback loops between people, teams, and leaders (team structures, meeting & communication rhythm, networks)
  • Assembling a portfolio of integrated technologies that facilitate collaboration
  • Measuring and finding the right balance between ‘learning by analyzing’ (study), ‘learning by doing’ (experimenting), and ‘learning by evaluating’ (anchoring what works well).

What things would you add? Share it with us!

Co-written by Hanneke Siebelink

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Photo: GotCredit/Flickr (Creative Commons)


How to get collaboration right: some useful reading material

Good books:

– Reinventing Giants: How Chinese global competitor Haier has changed the way big companies transform. By Bill Fischer, Umberto Lago and Fang Liu, 2013

– Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity and reap big result. By Morten Hansen, 2009.

Good articles:

The Collaborative Organization: How to make employee networks really work

How to Create Collaboration that Generates Results: Five articles with interesting tips


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader and program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and our services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

What Western Business Leaders Learn in China

Shanghai City Skyline with view
The Chinese learn from us more quickly than we learn from them. Let’s reverse the situation, and use working with Chinese people to our advantage.

Jack Ma founder and chairman of the successful Alibaba Group, discovered the power of e-commerce when he was touring the United States. Xiaomi co-founder and president Lin Bin must have learned more than a few useful skills when he studied (Drexel university) and worked (Microsoft, Google) in the U.S. And where were most of China’s Top 30 Young Entrepreneurs educated? You guessed it. In the United States, and Europe (Click here for the inspiring Forbes list of young Chinese entrepreneurs).

I recall a conversation with a Chinese business student in Shanghai. Though he had never been outside of China (‘Maybe I need to save a little more’), he spoke remarkably good English. He knew what countries made up the European Union, described Paris, London, Rome. He quizzed me about our history, our habits, how we worked, what we liked. He had just finished reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to make friends and influence people’ – a book he clearly loved. I told him I was touched by how much he knew about us, his hunger to learn more. He replied with words I will not easily forget: ‘Thanks! And what do you know about us?’

“The fact that so many Asian people come to the West to study, and so few Westerners do so in Asia, is not a sign of the superiority of the Western mind and model. On the contrary, it impoverishes our mindset, if not our culture.” – Dominique Moisi

The Chinese learn from us more quickly than we learn from them. They graduate from the best Western universities, apply for jobs in western firms, or learn to understand the western mind by actively seeking interaction, like my Chinese friend did in Shanghai. Judging from the rapid rise of companies like Xiaomi and Alibaba, this approach clearly serves them well.

Let’s reverse the situation. Let’s stimulate our curiosity and learn to understand what is behind some unfamiliar Chinese/Asian patterns of interaction.

Let’s use working with Chinese people to our advantage.

Like these Western business leaders did. Here is what they say they learned in China, or by working with Chinese people here:

Seeing the big picture, including context and relationships

Joerg Wuttke , Chief Representative of BASF China: “Some time ago I was on a project with a Chinese team, who drew maps of influence, maps of personal and family and business relationships, then stood back and thought about things that could happen. And they saw the impact move from one map to another. They are masters; they showed me how to see the big picture. Although I now know the maps were not even that sophisticated, I can feel the many more hidden layers that come into play, of people, of interests, of long-laid plans. I can feel them like a seismologist and I have learned to play the existing forces.”

Improving negotiating skills

Jacques Rogge, former President of the International Olympic Committee: “In every negotiation, you want to look for a win-win: that is true for companies in West and East.  But in Asia, I find, there is more emphasis on reaching a win-win situation. This has to do with the great respect that Asians have for each other.  They always want people to save face (read more about saving face), so reaching a win-win situation is a specific goal for them. It is a matter of respect.  Showing respect is a quality that we all have, but a quality in which Asian and Chinese people excel to such a degree that it becomes important for us to be aware of it” (read more about Jacques Rogge’s China experience here).

Increasing flexibility by mastering different problem solving methods

Ton Buchner, CEO AkzoNobel: “I am generalizing here of course, but Americans and Dutch people typically see a problem, attack the problem straight on by dividing it into a series of smaller problems, then solve these one by one, then put it back together. Chinese people, on the other hand, first walk away from the problem, analyze the situation from a distance, then look at each other and jointly figure out a solution. The first method is not better than the second, but I have learned that, depending on the problem, one of both methods will be more effective. It helps me to lead this company.”

The conclusion seems clear. Working with Chinese people pays. Chances are that the experience will broaden your mind, make you a better business leader, and equip you with more tools to face the challenges ahead.

And it’s backed up by solid research too: China improves executives’ minds (here is a particularly nice study about it: ‘How China Transforms an Executive Mind’).

So what are you waiting for?

Share your own experience below! What have you learned from working in China, or with Chinese people here? What habit or practice did you find particularly useful, and did you incorporate in your work a business leader? Would you recommend actively seeking opportunities to work with Chinese people? Let’s share experiences here, and learn from the Chinese as quickly as they learn from us.

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Hanneke SiebelinkHanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, business units, teams, and cultures. She is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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