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International Projects

5 examples covering the range of international projects we work on

  1. Leadership Training in Bahrain
  2. Delayed integration of Turkish Greencard Holders
  3. International Sales Campus
  4. Building an International Team
  5. Managing International Projects

Leadership Training in Bahrain

Intercultural differences between participants from various “Middle East” countries and a number of western biased management theories

The Task:
Administering a global leadership training programm for a global player in financial services to several groups of line managers in the Arabic world at a central location

The Scope:
Second and third level managers were selected by the HR department to participate in 4 leadership training modules (3x2 days, 1x3 days) to take place in Bahrain.
Topics: basic management skills, presentation skills, performance management, situational leadership

The Procedure:
The HR department was convinced of having formed fairly homogeneous groups since all participants came from the “arabic world”: Indeed, mixed groups up to 12, male and female delegates, from different countries and cultural backgrounds such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, United Emirates, and Kuwait. A wide range of ages (28-56); all Muslims, except for the facilitators, participated in the courses.
In preparing the training the schedule had to be adjusted to integrate prayer times. Also, some of the materials being used – which showed a strong western (US American) bias had to be rewritten not to be misunderstood but to be more suitable for participants with an Arabic cultural background.
In facilitating the most difficult task was to cope with the intercultural differences within the groups. What seemed fairly homogenous from a western view turned out to be a challenging mix of intercultural and interpersonal differences: How to manage a team with team members ranging from a 29 years young, western oriented female line manager from Egypt and her 52 years old counerpart from Saudi Arabia. The managers in the group had phone contact every day, but were miles apart from building a team – so extra time and preparation was necessary to have them together in role plays in a way so that the positive aspects of learning and working together could be visible. Additional time was allocated discuss the obvious intercultural differences in the group and to agree upon a code of conduct wtihin the group. As the facilitators faced similar situations in 3 of the 4 groups this part which took about 1,5 hours, was explicitedly integrated in the curriculum.

Cultural and behavioural differences as well as differences in fundamental values did not only exist between the participants but became also apparent when discussing content matters of the course design. The global course design – as often the case – was developed by a central HR department, this time in the US. The background knowledge, e.g. leadership theories on how to manage people and also practical guidelines e.g. on how to cope with performance problems had not been proven to be succesful and to fit in all cultural contexts so far. Most tools, e.g. the measurement of leadership styles had only been translated but were not adjusted to leadership styles in different cultures. In the workshop suitable examples on different leadership styles taking the local culture into consideration were developed.
A high degree of cultural sensitivity by the facilitators was one of the key factors in conducting these workshops.

The Results:
The oral and written feedback by the participants was very positive. The participants appreciated that intercultural and interpersonal differences within the group had been discussed and also that some (western) cultural biases of leadership theories had not been avoided. The participants reached an understanding of course the advantages for a global company to define common behavioural guidelines and experienced the difficulties of establishing them even in a small group.


Delayed integration of Turkish Greencard Holders

“Dynamic mix of intercultural/ interpersonal misperceptions and failed job expectations”

The Task
During their most successful years the company had hired highly skilled people, especially IT-/system specialists from various countries. About 25% of the new hires coming from Turkey. When it turned out that the communication between the German supervisors and especially the Turkish employees (all of them were greencard holders with no experience of having worked abroad before) was not very successful, and work efficiency dropped, INFO was asked to provide support.

The Scope
To find a solution to integrate a group of 25 Turkish IT-specialists who had formed a strong subgroup within a larger organizational unit and to support their supervisors on how to manage a multicultural team.

The Procedure
The first step was a workshop with the supervisors to analyse the situation. In their view the Turkish employees being in various teams had already formed a strong subgroup. They had not only build a strong informal network but also reduced the contact to their collegues (mostly Germans and other international colleagues). Although most of the supervisors had already some experience in working with multicultural teams they were very frustrated. From their point of view their Turkish colleagues were not only open to feedback but also did not use their offers to support them. They felt like “talking to them but not reaching them.”
In a next step the supervisors were provided with intercultural knowledge and also special knowledge on today’s Turkish (business) culture – both in written form and in additional question answer sessions with the consultants. The behaviour of the employees appeared in a different light and some of the difficulties with those employees could be explained by intercultural differences. It also turned out that some of the problems had probably less to do with misperceptions and misunderstanding on the intercultural level but with e.g. false expectations between the positive job preview during the recruiting interviews and the work to be dealt with on the real job.
In a third step interviews with the Turkish employees were conducted. The INFO consultants (partly Turkish) took the role of a mediator/ moderator focussing on an open and constructive dialog between supervisor and employee. It became clear from their point of view that they were very unhappy and dissatisfied with the situation and that the difficulties in cooperating were indeed based on a dynamic mix of misunderstandings caused by intercultural and interpersonal misperceptions and a vast gap between job expectations and job reality. After identifying and discussing the problems supervisors and employees were in most cases able to generate ideas on how to improve the situation in the future.

The Results
Cooperation and work efficiency increased significantly with most of the greencard holders, although some employees left their job. In one case because the differences with the supervisor could not be solved and in another because of a very strong mismatch between job expectations / job reality. In retrospect the consultancy efforts were a great success. However some of the vast misunderstandings could have been solved at an earlier stage.


International Sales Campus

“Tell me how your projects starts and I will tell you how it will end”

The Task
The - after several mergers - newly built company of telecommunication & datawarehouse products enforced a strategic sales force development in all mayor European countries.
The plan was to establish an international training campus with an initial focus on sales training.

The Scope
To support the project leader in forming an international HR-team responsible for the development and roll out of a European wide sales training program The first training had to start within 8 months.

The Procedure
Together with the German project leader project goals, milestones, and important stakeholders were defined. A kick-off workshop with the HR-representatives from 11 countries was prepared which should also serve as a role model for local kick-off workshops.
The kick-off workshop (3 days) consisted of three parts:
A) A teambuling module which demonstrated the impact of culture on work- and communication styles which led to discussing and agreeing to a code of conduct for the work in the project team. Also various aspects of working in a mulitcultural teams were discussed in order to anticipate possible problems.
B) A project planning module to clarify and gain acceptence on the project goals, milestones, interdependencies , and project roles was developed and tasks defined to be worked on locally/ in the headquarter. In addition time was needed to support the team members in their local project planning. Expected obstacles (e.g. “difflicult stakeholders and resistance”) were discussed.
C) Simulation of a video conference and a “chat meeting” as travel costs should be balanced in the project. Meetings were only scheduled at the beginning of a new milestone and virtual meetings were sheduled in between.
The basic milestones in this project were:
- Analyzing sales skill level (locally)
- Defining a common corpus (platform) of subject and behavioural sales training
with link to the compentency model
- Communication of the concept
- Identify and evaluate internal/ external training partners
- Conducting pilots, preparation of Roll Out
- Roll Out
- Definition of Standard Processes & Evaluation
In running the project it turned out that the planning in the beginning and the issues discussed in the kick-off were very helpful – 50-60% of the foreseen problems actually occurred and could be coped with more easily. Of course also unexpected problems occurred. At one point an additional Friday/Saturday project meeting was necessary in order to handle some issues which affected the scope of the project (managing new change in sales structure). Also the fact that two HR-representatives left the company in the middle of the project was critical as it was hard to find adaquate replacements in the local units.

85% of the projcect goals were achieved within the timeframe. Except for one market in all major European markets pilots were run in month 6 to 7. The roll out was completed within 12 month so each member of the sales force had an individual training plan and over 90% had at least taken part in one training module within this time. The quality and effectiveness of training was rated high in most cases, although it had been hard to find appropriate suppliers in all relevant countries. The competency model of the company had been integrated successfully therefore providing a useful framework to extent the sales campus to other training areas.

Building an International Team

Variety is the spice of life

The Task:
After an international merger in the food industry the sales managers from all around the world came together for a two day benchmarking meeting. Followed by that the client wished to have a day of teambuilding.

The Scope:
In a one day workshop the 12 participants were supposed to get to know each other, learn about each other’s strength and work successfully together as a virtual team.

The Procedure:
The international sales team was composed of managers from Australia, North America, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Switzerland.
The group was divided into three different subgroups with members from different countries.
The first task was a simulation where each group has to solve a task according to the rules of an imaginary culture. Throughout the simulation team members change which means a mixing of cultures and of course work styles. The task to solve stays the same, but the only language all of the group speak is a silent language. Writing is not allowed either.
In a detailed debriefing team member describe their attitude towards newcomers to the team, not having the same work styles and not communicating properly any more.
In this context the simulation came very close to the real every day work situation.
From the simulation the team derived a number of do’s and don’ts for their working together.

The afternoon was committed to a team course.
The group as a whole had to Climb a tower of vision:
Climb through a tunnel of goal establishment
Travel to the island of limited resources and reach the area of fair fighting

In their oral feedback the participants unanimously mentioned that the teambuilding day was the best of all three days they had together. In a relaxed, but professional atmosphere they really had the chance to get to know their colleagues from a round the world, learn something about their way of thinking and acting under different conditions.


Managing International Projects

On the search for common ground in a German/Japanese project

The Task:
Alignment of work and communication styles in a bi-national project in the automotive supply industry.

The Scope:
Two workshops with project managers from Germany and Japan responsible for different components in the development of a new vehicle.

The Procedure:
The first workshop was only held for the German managers who had initiated the support of an external consultant.
In this two day workshop the German side in a first step analysed the state of the project. During the analysis two different areas which endangered the financial and time frame of the project were identified:
1. Difficulties based on cultural differences in work and communication styles.
2. Technical problems.

• Cultural differences were visible in different communication styles which had a severe impact on the length and structure of meetings.
• The Japanese counterparts had formed a subgroup frequently travelling back to Japan which added another hurdle to successful communication and controlling the travel budget of the project. (cultural differences)
Based on that information a brief lecture on Japanese work and communication styles, as well as information on Japanese business culture was provided.
In a second step an action plan to tackle the technical problems was developed.

Two months later in a joint workshop the Japanese and German project leaders came together for a late kick off meeting under the title ‘How to make good things even better’. (It was the first time that all parties involved in the project came together for a workshop)

First in plenum the group identified areas of improvement.
The focus was on:
• Finding a common ground for communication like who talks when to whom and where. (Travel costs)
• Establishing a common procedure to choose and evaluate suppliers. (Technical problems)
• Develop a handbook of definitions of terms and procedures used in the current project.(Cultural differences)
• Align the procedures of how to proceed in a project.(Cultural and technical problems)
In groups of four (two Germans and two Japanese) strategies to solve the problem areas mentioned above were developed.

The Feedback:
The written feedback given by the group was very positive in the respect that the facilitator’s know how of the cultural differences as well insights into the business processes had made it possible that many of the obstacle that were in the way of successfully finishing the project had been identified and could within the time span agreed upon be abolished.

A year later the result of the successful working relationship could be seen on the roads.


INFO GmbH - Institut für Organisationen
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