How to improve expat effectiveness

In support of a recent workshop for the Expat Center Amsterdam, we conducted a small-scale survey among our audience.

The two main conclusions of this survey were:
Expats are active on all organisational levels of the companies they work for, from the Board to line management.
 Regardless of the organisational level, all expats are confronted with a gap in business culture, which diminishes their effectiveness.

How to improve expatriate effectiveness

This second conclusion is confirmed by international research. This means that the gap in business culture as the main obstacle to expat effectiveness is a global phenomenon. International research also shows that when trying to eliminate or at least to diminish this main obstacle, it is not enough to focus only on the expat. A wider perspective is required in order to improve effectiveness.

Rule 1: 80% of expat effectiveness depends on business team support.

One can not expect expats to be productive in total isolation. He / she needs all the support the team members can provide; from implementation of job tasks to communication with peers and clients.

Rule 2: Team members need excellent business culture competencies.

Since the gap between business cultures is the main obstacle, all team members (including expats) need competencies to build bridges across this gap. We define a business culture as the way a group of people is used to earn a living (e.g. to collaborate in a team, to serve clients or to close deals with business partners).

Business cultures come in all shapes and sizes. Examples are project team cultures, specific organisational cultures (e.g. Shell, Philips), local cultures (e.g. City of Maastricht), economic sector cultures (e.g. banking sector) or national cultures (e.g. Dutch, Chinese or American). Business culture competencies are those competencies necessary for bridging the cultural gap.

Examples are the ability to:
observe and become aware of one’s own and other people’s culture
 build productive relationships with people of other business cultural backgrounds
 identify commonalities between two or more different business cultures
 appreciate other values and norms
 integrate some of these other values and norms into your own value system
 create a new common business culture

Rule 3: Team managers need international leadership skills.

To facilitate this process of bridging the gap, team managers need to act as facilitators or coaches. They need to create a team atmosphere of open-mindedness, empathy, dialogue, shared values, inclusion and team learning.

Rule 4: 80% of team effectiveness depends on organisational support.

What applies to an individual also applies to a team. One can not expect a team to be productive in total isolation. It needs all the support it can get from members of the Board, line management and staff departments.

As a staff department, Human Resources can support these teams by helping the team members to develop business cultural competencies. Management Development programmes or Corporate Social Responsibility programmes could include special training provided by internal or external experts. Individual or team coaching is a very effective tool to develop business cultural competencies.

Create awareness of differences

An important step in developing these competencies is to create awareness of cultural differences within your own and other team members’ business culture.

Daniel Le Gras


Daniel Le Gras

International Business Coaches is a highly specialized coaching and training service in (inter)national team building and team effectiveness. Over the years we have designed a coaching tool "The International Team...

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