Coaching in a different culture

Coaching in a country with quite a different culture to the one you are were born into is both interesting, challenging and rewarding. I’m from Scotland, known for the openness of its people and individualism. But here I am working on a project in Slovakia, which has a much more collectivist culture and the people are shyer by nature. Coaching in Slovakia for me has been quite a learning curve on the differences in nature between our two nations.

When coaching a group of colleagues in a work setting in Scotland and the UK in general, people are generally more comfortable discussing issues openly. What I have had to learn in Slovakia is that in a company, because of the collectivist nature of groups, individuals are less likely to speak openly in front of their colleagues about issues in case what is said is taken the wrong way or even personally by their colleagues. For this reason, at the company I’m helping at the moment, there can be communication issues within the different teams and also because of the collectivist mentality, I have often noticed that while theoretically everybody is responsible for fixing problems, the reality is often that nobody in the team takes the responsibility for fixing problems.

As a coach, how am I able to help them improve this situation? First I had to understand the different mentality and different way of talking about problems. Also key to being an effective coach is gaining the trust of the employees, showing them you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and what is said in my office is treated as confidential. An interesting result of this, is that many employees have opened up to me, explaining in great detail the issues they face in the course of their work, the most common issues being the way work for their team is organized, incomplete communication and less than optimal time management of projects. What I have been working on is getting them to talk to each other in the same way they talk to me in private. The goal is to reduce the amount of complaining about situations and move the focus to helping them fix for themselves the reasons for complaint. I have discovered that complaining is a national sport in Slovakia.

The process goes like this. Each team consists of six members, headed by a project manager, the company designs and builds automated production lines for the automotive industry. First I speak to each member of the team privately, where they identify the issues which effect their work and the team as a whole. It is easier for them to speak openly when done away from their team members. After speaking to each member, I bring them all together for a team coaching session and highlight the key points which were raised but without saying who said what. It is very important I have found, not to mention who personally said what as it might be taken the wrong way by the other team members. Slovaks try to avoid disagreement at all costs in their work environment and is often the reason why issues go unresolved and they resort to complaining in private. In the team meeting with all the key issues raised the next step is what can be done to address them. I encourage them to look for solutions themselves rather than me saying, I think they should do this or that. I will sometimes add a suggestion based on what they say, but for maximum buy-in they need to create the solutions for themselves. Then I create the action plan based on what they have agreed and they all sign it. It is about helping them develop individual responsibility for the improvement of their team. We then have follow up meetings both privately and as a team to see how the plan is working or if something needs to be modified.

One thing I must say is they know there is a need to change and improve ways of working, the company has grown from 140 employees four years ago to more than 300 today. With such rapid growth, ways of working, sharing information and organization have to change but with appropriate coaching and change management, we as coaches can help companies such as this towards ever greater success.

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