Following a lengthy engagement with a client overseas, coach Javier Pérez Fernández reflects upon agile42 working style and company culture
The differences in culture and approach written from the perspective of an American Coach in Berlin
One of the advantages of having a company that spans three continents is that you get a diverse array of opinions and approaches. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of having a company that large is that you get a diverse array of opinions and approaches. Sometimes it can feel like you have no idea what other people in the same organization are doing.
This is a problem that many of our clients face and we are no different. After a few conversations with our European coaches about how they operate that left me more confused than when I started, I decided to do exactly what we tell our clients to do: Go and See.
When we tell our clients to do this, we are used to hearing these normal excuses: That is too hard; It is too far away; I am too busy; I don’t speak the language. Well I can tell you, these are all real challenges, but they are far less insurmountable than you may think.
Well, it started with a simple, important (and often overlooked) step: we decided to. Specifically, I said, “I would like to work in Europe to see how you do things.” and Marion, our CEO, said “Sure.” Of course, we both understood that we were far from making it happen, but from there, the ball was rolling. We both made a commitment and we were going to see it through.
This was followed by a conversation with others in the company that would have to support this trip - the people who would cover for me in North America and those who would partner with me in Germany. Our sales team started looking for clients who were comfortable working with an English-speaking coach (we were lucky enough to find two!).
Finally, I made the necessary family arrangements. It is often easy to forget that everyone has his or her own schedule, and it takes time to coordinate. I was going for 4 months, and that meant I had to make plans with my family and my home. This wasn’t just my problem though. Both the North American and German offices helped line up the trip close to my children’s summer break from school so that my family could move with me.
All-in-all, the effort wasn’t herculean, but it was far from trivial. However, it was worth the effort.
1. Tools and Techniques
First, I learned how a lot of the tools and practices that originated from Germany were meant to be leveraged in coaching. Sure, I had read the instructions and talked to people at meetings, but seeing them in action was completely different. Additionally, I was able to share how we had been adapting these tools to our circumstance, which opened up possibilities they had not considered themselves.
2. Culture and Temperament
I expected to learn about the difference in tools that were applied, but what I did not expect was to learn about the difference in problems. The circumstances, culture, and temperament of the clients we worked with meant that while they faced many of the same problems and struggles as our clients in the US and Canada, the right approach to solving the problem was completely different. This led to a better understanding of the problem thanks to seeing it from different angles. I also got to learn some things about pace and company cultures that challenged many norms I once thought were immutable. Ultimately, this changed my views on how we approach our coaching back in the US.
3. Company Connectivity
agile42 invests a lot in keeping employees connected. We visit other countries regularly, we collaborate remotely, and we all get together annually in one location. However, working together for an extended period of time adds a personal connection that you cannot get in short stints.You become part of the team, and not just a visitor.
4. Personal Growth
We grow when we are challenged, and nothing is quite as challenging as being thrown into a new context with a new team (in a language you don’t speak) and being expected to deliver excellence from day one. This trip tested my skills and forced me to adapt. The most notable challenge was when one of the clients decided that they didn’t want to speak English but wanted to converse in German instead. It was their prerogative - we were in Germany after all - and I was the outsider. But how could I help and contribute? It turns out that you can get a lot from tone, body language, and pulling just enough from the conversation to follow the thread. Matching this with the understanding of conversations between other coaches, I was surprisingly able to add value.
5. Employee Loyalty
When you make your employees an instrumental part in how you bring your company together like this, it goes a long way. Not only did I learn and grow from this experience, but my family did as well. What could have been a difficult long trip became a shared, meaningful experience. Many companies talk about investing in their employees, but they only consider tangible benefits such as continuing education and compensation packages. However, what makes people stick around are investments that develop the person as a whole.
So the next time you feel disconnected from another part of your organization and you’re not quite sure what’s happening at the office in Beijing or London, don’t set up another conference call. Don’t ask for better documentation. Instead, plan a trip. Go and See!