From Unlearn to Unleash: 4 Ways to Maximize the Potential of Your Global Team

In today's global business culture, time is money and employees are too often perceived as expendable. The importance that many companies place on efficiency and productivity is many times linked to quick production and immediate profit. However, this method of reducing cost at all costs ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it strips engineers and researchers of their freedom to fail, marketers of their thoughtful connections, and managers of their abilities to maximize the collective contributions of their teams.

The result is a frighteningly homogeneous brand of leadership that saps each industry of its true potential, which indisputably rests in the globally collaborative human resource. This takes an active and measured commitment to growth; to speed up the time to market, you invariably have to slow things down first.

My cross-cultural consulting firm constantly sees corporate conflicts born from misunderstanding and rushed, mishandled processes. Sometimes slowing the process down is the only way to increase its efficiency and productivity, especially if there is a cultural gap in understanding why employees do and behave in the ways they do.


The more I work with multinational companies, the more it becomes clear to me that global firms are sitting on talent gold mines; after all, they can, and do, recruit top talent from top employers and universities all over the world. Yet once the talent is hired, the new employee, full of potential, fresh ideas, and the latest perspectives, is often asked to take his or her role as a cog in the corporate machine.

What a waste.

By telling new hires how to think, perform, and participate, companies are bypassing the education and training they were hired for in the first place. This "bulldozer" approach to employees is a recipe for disaster.

What is true in cross-cultural settings is also very true in the intergenerational workplaces. On a recent training course in Singapore, a young engineer pulled me aside to tell me how difficult it was for him, a fresh mechanical engineer graduate, to execute the orders he receives from his boss, a senior engineer who had worked for the firm for 20 years. Not only was he micromanaged, but he was also forced to do it the way it has been done under that manager's watch for decades, missing out on all the new technology, processes, and new materials that the new engineer brought to the organization.

I invite my clients to unlearn the counterproductive rank-and-file management tactic and introduce increased engagement strategies to encourage understanding and communication.


As Dean Ryan said in his commencement speech to the class of 2016, one of the most important questions you can ask in life is "Wait. What?". In other words, timeliness and clarification are crucial to understanding, which is a vital precursor to effective and considerate decision-making and conclusion-drawing. Without understanding you are not only missing the boat, you think you can make it fly.

Taking the time to understand a cultural or a mindset gap may, and probably will, get uncomfortable. It's not easy to listen and to be open to new ways of thinking, behaving, and interacting. Reserving the space for increased knowledge also opens up pathways for communication, collaboration, and innovation. Sitting with the discomfort is also a great reminder that we all, even those of us who specialize in aligning cultural differences, have a lot to learn.


Of course, being open to understanding is only the beginning. Global workforces are becoming increasingly more diverse, not only in their cultural footings, but also in the ways information is conveyed, processed, and shared. The trick to maximizing the talents and energies of these workforces is with a dedication to employees as individuals, and to the specific experiences, skill sets, and cultural angles they each bring to the brain trust. This is a crucial step most multinational companies miss; they typically insist on retraining and re-educating, which is a misuse of time and resources. Rather, if you add to the established skill set rather than rebrand or repurpose it, you get the benefit of both experiences.

This re-training is called "acculturation," and it often forces whatever each employee brings to the equation out of the equation. We standardize as a gut reaction to become efficient; however, most companies take this approach to ruinous extremes. Without unique and innovative individual contributions, companies cannot evolve or keep pace with a global economy that never stops changing and moving.


One of my favorite sayings is from Alvin Toffler: "The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." This is to say that to unleash, we have to release the obstructive concept of "that's not how we do it here" and replace it with a willingness to try something new. Prejudices, ego, and controlling behaviors have no place in the global economy; agility, flexibility, and collaboration are the marks of a global company that is shaped by the minds who work within it, not the other way around.

There are several benefits to slowing down the team-building process. Not only does a company benefit from a wider collective knowledge, which results in fewer recalls, customer complaints, and production problems, it also benefits from increased employee loyalty, satisfaction, and retention, as well as smoother collaboration and improved communication. This measured approach gives space for individual contribution within the framework of team collaboration, giving everyone the benefit of an additional perspective.

Sometimes it's not about finding the right talent. Sometimes it's about tapping into the gold mine--or gold minds, rather--you already have within reach. By mining your company's amassed experience, you may find hidden depths and resources you never knew you had. The trick is taking the time to ask the right questions and, more importantly, taking the time to listen to the answers. That moment between resistance and acceptance is the space where amazing growth can occur. And this is something from which we all could benefit.