Driving effective international collaboration

The CIPD’s purpose, Championing better work and better working lives is set against the backdrop of ‘an urgent and critical need to ensure the ways we work, our workforces and workplace cultures are fit for today and drive performance and growth for the future.

Following this, a key characteristic of today’s working world is that individual roles, teams and organisations have become increasingly international, and this ongoing development brings with it a host of challenges, which may affect effectiveness and success in such environments.

Why is international communication and collaboration challenging?

Four key challenges that are intensified when doing business internationally are uncertainty, complexity, conflict and diversity.


When working in international environments, we soon see that the norms we are used to are no longer universal norms and that people, teams, internal business units and even partner companies operate in different ways. This, you might say, is no different to working in domestic settings, though when others are communicating in a different language, or with different cultural norms and expectations, such situations can arise a lot more easily.

International environments are characterized by uncertainty.


In international teams or organisations there are very often paradoxical structures with teams being hierarchical, flat and matrixed at the same time.

Individuals and teams may find it challenging to receive one set of guidelines from the international parent company, on one hand, and apparently observe a different set of behaviours in the execution of tasks and actions at a local or national level.

Additionally, local laws which may affect global processes, may exist or teams may be set up differently due to local infrastructure, time zones and other considerations.

International environments are complex.


As misunderstandings are more likely to occur, so too is conflict. Building trust and relationships can be more challenging, as expectations associated with certain perceived norms can differ wildly, and sensitivities and priorities of others may not be so easily identifiable. This can all be further intensified when the business relationships are purely virtual in nature, as it is often the case that those working internationally will never meet their counterparts face to face.

International environments are prone to conflict


With different people, organisations and cultures come different ways of doing things. These often challenge our own norms and preferences in approaching tasks and activities, especially in international environments.

International environments, by their very nature, have high levels of diversity.

The goal in thinking about these four key areas of challenge is not to eliminate them. We can’t; they will always be there. Instead, we need to learn to accept them, minimize their impact, adapt and even draw from them to turn potential threats into benefits and opportunities, such as driving innovation and enabling new ways of thinking or doing things.

Following this year’s CIPD NAP conference motto, or theme, ‘Creating an Amazing workplace … through well-being and engagement: improving performance and the bottom line,’ I’ll be exploring these challenges in looking at improving engagement and driving performance in my pre-conference talk on Friday 19th at 10:00. Please come along or visit our stand at the event.

Mike Hogan, Director, York Associates International Ltd.

Established in 1980, York Associates is a leading provider of international team and leadership training and coaching (ILM endorsed). It has a training centre in York, UK, and also delivers on-site at a range of client locations worldwide. www.york-associates.co.uk


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