Bridging Cultures

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InVision Global is a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York City. The company produces and markets pharmaceuticals for use as medications, as well as nutritional products for distribution across the Americas, Asia and Europe. Growth trajectories of the company indicate a steady increase in international market penetration, with the greatest growth occurring in Asia. Over the next five years, InVision Global will seek to target emerging markets in Africa
such as, Kenya and Zimbabwe. The company believes in advancing wellness, prevention and health in both developed and emerging markets, and is committed to supporting local communities in accessing reliable and affordable medication and nutritional products around the world.
Gary Kwong, aged 39 and born the United States, is the international business strategist at InVision Global. He has been
with the company for 11 years, and really enjoys working for the company. Gary was recently appointed to project lead for
ORIGIN a new logistics software system that will integrate InVision Globals worldwide distribution network. Previously, each InVision regional office licensed its own IT infrastructure based upon the needs of the particular region. Company executives in New York however, agreed that an integrated system would be more efficient for distribution of products
globally, and would also cut costs in relation to the individual licensing of IT infrastructure.
As a part of his role, Gary manages a diverse team of four individuals including;
Amal Hadad, aged 31, migrated from Yemen to the United States (subordinate, lower level management).
Kate McDonald, aged 36, from the United Kingdom (shares a similar role to Gary, neither above or below Gary).
Chang Su, aged 48, from South Korea (subordinate, lower level management).
Yuki Yuma, aged 58, from Japan (manager of the regional office in Japan, and is above Gary).
Gary was excited when he was asked to take the lead of project ORIGIN, as he generally loves to take on new challenges which require problem solving. Gary, despite having worked with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, has never managed a virtual team of international colleagues. Each of the colleagues above reside in the countries listed, and work in a regional office of InVision Global. There havent been any promises made to Gary but his manager told him if this project goes well, he will be the lead candidate for the open Vice-President position at InVision Global headquarters, as well a bonus paid to him at the end of the financial year. He is very interested in attaining this position, and has told management he will do what it takes to make this project a success. Further, the bonus offered by the company also helps
to motivate Gary in achieving his goals.
However, the project comes with challenges. Gary does not have any formal authority over the individuals on his team, and has to work primarily through influence and consensus to get things done. The geographically dispersed nature of the team combined with the vast cultural differences results in a variety of different perspectives based upon what is important to the individuals from each region.
Generally, the team members are cordial to one another on the surface, but Gary knows that there are tensions among
some of the staff that have an impact on the success and productiveness of the team. Gary is aware that one of the younger employees, Kate, is frequently frustrated that her Saudi Arabian co-worker, Amal. Amal seldom offers her opinion, feedback or support, and tends to defer decision-making to others in the team. Amal tends to take on multiple project tasks
at a time, but doesnt necessarily always have them completed on time. This is contrast to Gary who prefers to complete one task at a time. He also values punctuality and keeping to the schedule. The other team members believe Amal is not being accountable as a team member. Amal, having migrated from Yemen, where women lack economic, social and cultural rights, to the United States, lacks the confidence to express her opinions. Having worked in Yemen for a multi-2 national company previously, Amal encountered problems of gender discrimination. Chang Su, from the South Korean regional office also tends to shy away from discussions with the project lead Gary, and the other team members. He often needs to take time to contemplate the opinions and ideas put forward in conference calls, and finds it hard to make an on the spot decision. Gary sometimes misinterprets this as Chang being disengaged from the conversation.
Tension also seems to arise when tasks are delegated. Gary is a directive leader, who consults with the team members,
however his directions seem to be more set in stone, rather than being open for discussion. Kate believes that everyone on the team should be able to contribute in a shared, democratic process. She also believes in flexibility and adaptability when it comes to meeting project timelines. This clash of management style and of values has created tension between Gary, as the project lead, and all the other team members.
Further, Yuki, the regional manager of the InVision Global office in Japan, feels that he is being disrespected, and that his opinion is not being heard. Gary believes that there has somehow been miscommunication between himself and Yuki, and comments its just a cultural thinghe should learn how to adapt his behaviour and working style to meet our needs.
Responses like this have led Yuki to believe that Gary is disrespectful of his knowledge and tenure in the company. The team has also never met face-to-face and this seems to be what is needed to sort through some of the issues.
After one final conference call, Gary goes to bed feeling pretty good about himself. Tonights conference call lasted longer
than usual but everybody agreed that TechHow in London is the best vendor to use for integrating all the existing logistics
and distribution systems (for project ORIGIN). Others at headquarters had warned Gary how challenging it would be to get everyone on board with this decision, but he did. And this happened just in time for his meeting tomorrow morning with senior management, when Gary will update them on the project.
The next morning, Gary checks both his Twitter account and his email. He is just an hour away from the meeting with senior management when he comes across an email entitled URGENT. The email is from Yuki Yuma, his colleague from Japan. Yuki, copies everyone on the project team as well as his entire team in Japan. He writes;
What do you think? Gary mutters to himself. I think this is typical of Yuki Yuma. Gary wonders why Yuki wouldnt have
mentioned this last night in the conference call. This just annoys Gary. But why should it surprise him? If Gary says A,
Yuki says Z. But it is never to his face. He was supportive when he was at headquarters last month, and he sounded
agreeable on the conference call last night. At least he never raised any concerns.
Gary wondered why Yuki didnt speak up last night on the conference call? He mutters to himself, typical Japanese,
always so quiet and contemplative. This leaves Gary with the problem of what to say in the board meeting with senior executives given that he supposed to update them with a final decision on a vendor?
Think about what is going on in this case study. What issues are involved? What would be a culturally intelligent way of handling this?
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