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Do you find it hard to get input or clear answers from your global business partners? Have you ever wondered why your global employees are contributing very little to your meetings? Or how brainstorm sessions can take place in complete silence?

If you recognize some of these challenges, you are not alone!

These are challenges that a lot of Danes face when working globally.

In this article you can find out why challenges like these occur – and get 5 tools to help you manage the challenges and boost your global activities.

First check: Is the risk high or low in the societies you and your global partners are from?

At C3 Consulting, we have developed a sharp and powerful model – the 4R Model – that you can use to navigate in your global collaboration.

The model focuses on 4 cultural dimensions, that you should be especially aware of when working globally: Rank, Responsibility, Risk & Relationships.

In this article we'll highlight one of the elements; ‘Risk’ (if you'd like to know more about how to use the 4R Model in general, check out our article here).

‘Risk’ deals with what kind of risks there are in the society you live in.

When you work globally, you should always start by examining what sort of society you and your global partners or employees are from: Is it high-risk or low-risk societies?

You can examine this by asking a lot of questions:

Is my society characterized by a sense of security or insecurity? When do I risk losing my job, and what are the consequences if it happens? What will happen if I make a mistake at work or make a wrong decision? What if my family get ill or if I get ill – what are the consequences?

We have a very low risk in Denmark, since we have a welfare system.

If my family or I get sick in Denmark, I don’t have to worry about going broke or losing my house. I can easily disagree with my boss without losing my job.

And even if I do lose my job, I have social security, which means that my family’s future and safety won’t be at risk. This means that the risk at work won’t influence my life situation.

But there is a much higher risk in many other societies, such as Hungary, Russia and many countries in the Middle East, Asia and South America.

If you lose your job in a high-risk society, it can have serious consequences. You will lose your income, and thereby the opportunity to enroll your kids into a good school or to live in the safe areas of the city. And you may also lose your health insurance with your job. This means that in high-risk societies the risk at work can influence your whole life situation.

Living in a high-risk or low-risk society has great consequences for the way we lead, collaborate and communicate.

If your work situation involves high risk, you typically won’t “take chances”, such as coming up with new ideas, disagreeing with your boss, admitting if you haven’t got enough time, or openly revealing mistakes.

The risk of doing so is simply too high.

This is the source of countless misunderstandings and a lack of progress when collaborating across high-risk and low-risk societies. Employees not taking initiative, missed deadlines, and silent brainstorming sessions are just a few examples!

So what to do if you realize that you are from a low-risk society but your employee, co-worker or partner is from a high-risk society?

The answer is simple: You create situations with low-risk, where your global employees or partners can feel safe adding input, honestly briefing you about problems, taking responsibility for assignments, or whatever you would like to achieve.

And how do you create these low-risk situations?

We'll give you 5 tools to do so now.

How to create low-risk situations: 5 simple tools

1. Build relationships – and get information!

If you are good at building relationships, you will naturally create low-risk situations.

A relationship-building situation such as a business dinner is informal and playful. Here you sit and talk casually while eating, drinking, and getting to know each other. In this type of situation you can get much more information than you can during a more formal meeting.

This leads us to the second cultural dimension of the 4R Model; ‘Relationships’. When you increase the relationship, you will typically decrease the sense of ‘Risk’ for the individual employee or partner.

2. Always remember: INFO = big group, INPUT = small group

If you plan a meeting, be sure to inform your employees and colleagues in advance what the meeting will be about. This gives them a better chance to prepare for the meeting, and they will feel safe and secure, because they know exactly what is going to happen.

Here it’s important that you know the difference between an input- and an information meeting.

At an input meeting, you will ask for input, information or feedback from your employees. At an information meeting, it’s you who actively gives the information – for instance as a leader to a larger group of employees.

Perhaps you want to inform about a new strategy you’re working with. This is a low-risk situation for the employees, because here they can lean back and receive the information passively.

During the meeting, you suddenly – as a typical Danish leader – ask the employees to add some input.

For you, this is a completely innocent request. But for your employees, this is a cause for alarm: All of a sudden they have to be active and give information back! In high-risk societies, this is a high-risk situation, that is really unpleasant to be in. Therefore many would rather do nothing, than risk doing something wrong.

So if you want to turn the communication from informing to asking for input, you have to turn the big group into smaller groups at the same time. Speaking up in a big group is very high risk, since you stand alone and you have to tell your opinion to your boss, who you don’t want to criticize or risk losing face in front of.

This leads us to the 4R Model’s third cultural dimension; ‘Responsibility’.

In high-risk societies, responsibility at work is not something you actively seek, because with responsibility follows the risk of failing. So in order to have your employees take responsibility for tasks such as discussing how to solve a problem or implement a new strategy, you can lower the risk for the individual employee by dividing them into small groups.

When you divide the big group into small groups, the employees can discuss their opinions and tell – as a group – what they have talked about – as a group. It’s much more low risk when the employees are able to say “we have discussed” or “we think” instead of “I’ve been thinking” or “I suggest”.

So remember: If you’re having an information meeting, it’s perfectly fine to have it in a big group, but if you want input, information or feedback, it’s better to do it in small groups.

And the same rule applies if you’re organizing a workshop, training your global colleagues, or whatever activity you’re doing: INFO = big group, INPUT = small group!

3. Use breaks actively – and create space for questions

If it’s too quiet during a meeting, have a break.

You can change the often formal atmosphere at meetings to an informal atmosphere, simply by taking a break. During the breaks, you can build and nurture the relationship to your global colleagues or employees over a cup of coffee. This will again create a low-risk situation for your colleagues, who can now feel safe giving you the information you need.

And during the breaks, your employees also have the opportunity to ask you the questions they don’t want to ask in front of the big group.

4. Rank: Throw the boss out of the room!

Here we will talk about the fourth and last cultural dimension of the 4R Model; ‘Rank’. This is an area, where we Danes often get in trouble because we’re used to a very flat management structure, where we have no problem discussing with and in front of our boss.

As a Danish leader, you should be aware that many of your global employees are used to a management style that is much more hierarchical than the typical Danish one.

So even if you wish to maintain your ‘Danish’ management style when working globally, you should know that your global employees see it as high risk to give criticism or to give input directly to you.

We see it again and again during input meetings, that the discussion stops as soon as the leader curiously walks past to listen to the employees’ suggestions.

So even though you think you can innocently ‘listen in’ on your employees’ discussions, you should notice if your presence actually is a show-stopper for useful discussions. If so, then leave the room and let your employees discuss freely!

5. Communication: Repeat, repeat, repeat

Your way of communicating can also reduce the risk for your global employees and colleagues.

A simple approach as repetition gives your employees more and better opportunities to understand the new information, for instance at a meeting.

It’s especially useful when you’re speaking a language that isn’t your or your employees’ native language.

If you repeat and explain the new information many times, it’s not necessary for the individual to put themselves in a high-risk situation by asking questions in front of the big group. In this way, your employees get a better understanding, and you make sure that everybody grasps the new information fully.

Try the tools – and experience the effect!

If you as a Dane work globally, you will almost certainly collaborate with partners or colleagues from societies with a much higher risk than the Danish one.

So my advice is: Use the 5 simple tools to create low-risk situations.

And make sure that you always have the 4R Model in your tool box, because there are lots of other ways to create low-risk situations. And when you get familiar using the 4R Model, you can dynamically adjust ‘Rank’, ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Relationships’ and thereby create a lower ‘Risk’.

Try it and experience how the low-risk situations create progress, give you important information, and strengthen your relationships!

If you try out using these tools  – or already know and have used them – I would love to hear about it! Share your experiences and input on LinkedIn – or email me at ad@c3consulting.dk.

I look forward to reading your input!

Annette Dahl, CEO and Chief Trainer at C3 Consulting

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