3 Smart Ways To STOP The Culture Clash On Your French And American Teams

Just because someone does something differently than you do, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this — especially in our modern, differences-and-diversity embracing, global work culture.

And yet. Time and time again project objectives and outcomes derail when misunderstandings and miscommunication occur on diverse teams.

This struggle becomes all the more challenging when a true “culture clash” arises in the form of an executive from another country being brought in to take-over and lead a domestic team.

Recent investor pushback against Nokia’s M&A announcement about their purchase of Alcatel-Lucent is a sharp reminder of how tricky transatlantic mergers can be.

The conflict that so often ensues in these situations
significantly wasting company time and resources, and hurting team camaraderieis entirely unnecessary … especially because that culture clash is usually 100% unintentional.

As a French professional living and working in the U.S. for over 17 years, I’ve seen (and experienced) both sides of the divide when French and American executives (and their teams) must merge together in some capacity.

I know quite well the things that frustrate the French about Americans … as well as the behaviors of the French that drive Americans absolutely crazy!

And here’s the thing—both sides are right, and both sides are wrong.

Yes, Americans and the French do things quite differently. But rather than frame those differences as obstacles to productive collaboration, I learned to explore the WHY behind those seemingly odd and out-of-sync values and behaviors.

And, surprise, surprise! — It turns out, American and French colleagues are more on page than you might think.

And, it’s important that YOU learn how to recognize and reframe cultural differences in the workplace the same way. Why? Because mastering the ability to find common ground in the face of frustrating differences is a core skill needed by ALL truly effective global executives.  

So, here are three things to understand if you want colleagues on your newly-merged French and American teams to work well together:

  1. Americans swan dive right in; the French look before they leap

    Americans equate ‘being the best’ with being first. Fueling American innovation is a mindset that says: “What the hell, let’s go for it!” That ‘say Yes and dive-right-in’ approach sometimes lands Americans in serious hot water and/or falling flat on their face, but just as often, that “crazy idea” turns into a glorious mega-success … like Apple, Google, or Facebook.

    Americans know that true greatness involves great risk, and they’d prefer to try and fail rather than miss the boat completely.

    The French equate ‘being the best’ with endurance. They value building beautiful, amazing things that last. They don’t want quick, they want quality. As such, the French prefer to think every detail through. They say “No” until you convince them to say “Yes”not with high pressure sales tactics, but, rather, with proof that you considered every angle, ran all the numbers, crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s, and know what you’re doing.

    The French know that true greatness stands the test of time, so they’d rather delay departure to double check the details rather than watch their glorious ship sink the second it leaves the shore.

    Notice what both your French and American colleagues share in commona desire for greatness, and being “the best.” Be great together by melding both approaches.

  2. Americans want you to be direct—nicely; the French think it’s nice to be direct

    It’s a long standing cultural cliche that Americans and French people find each other rather rude. I have always worked well with both my American and my French colleagues, but perhaps that’s because I recognize that their different communication styles are actually both founded on the exact same, deeply valued  principle — RESPECT.

    Americans show respect by taking the time to phrase contradicting opinions nicely. The message they’re trying to send is: “I respect you and your ideas. So, I’m going to point out what’s good about your suggestions before I offer a differing opinion. I care enough about you to soften the phrasing of my professional opinion so it doesn’t sound like a personal attack. Also, I won’t interrupt you because I’m truly interested in hearing your thoughts. ”

    French people show respect by cutting to the chase and speaking as directly and honestly as possible. The message they’re trying to send is: “I respect what we are trying to accomplish together. So, I’m going to speak plainly to ensure the points at hand remain crystal clear. I care enough about our project to not waste your time beating around the bush, and I trust your professional maturity not to take my differing point of view personally. I will likely interrupt you while you’re speaking to ask questions and that means I’m truly interested and engaged in the ideas you’re presenting.”

    … {read the rest of this article on LinkedIn, where it originally published as “Why French And American Teams CLASH (And 3 Smart Ways To Unite Them)”.}

Categories: International business, Leadership, Organizational culture, Team Building

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