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From Germany to Denmark to China and Beyond

A promotion for this manager meant relocation from Germany to Denmark and business travel to East Asia. To prepare for his new role, he combined intercultural executive coaching with C3's virtual learning programme, GLOBAL STEPS.

A manager with an engineering background had been working for the same manufacturing company in Germany for over six years when he accepted an opportunity to relocate to Denmark.

His new position put him in daily contact with production sites in East Asia and included business travel several times per year. He was excited to work with his global counterparts, but he knew he had to understand their way of doing business first:

"It was a major motivation for me to have the chance to learn something new. I’d never travelled to Asia before, so I decided I needed some training to be prepared.

I knew I had to learn how to best navigate these complex relationships in light of how our business is organized."

The manager reached out to HR, and they contacted C3 Consulting to find a quick and targeted solution to make sure that he was prepared for his new responsibilities.

Finding the right solution

To meet the manager's specific needs, C3 combined GLOBAL STEPS with personalized 1:1 coaching.

GLOBAL STEPS is C3's virtual learning programme, in which participants watch videos and use other online resources to solve three challenges related to intercultural awareness and communication. By solving the challenges, either individually or as part of a group, participants learn how to adapt their work style for more effective global collaboration.

The manager had plenty of praise for the online programme:

"I like that you have the chance to watch all the video sessions. You can repeat a lesson depending on how important you find it, so it's quite flexible in that way. I’m much more accustomed to watching YouTube videos on how to do something rather than reading manuals, so for me it is a good way to get the basic knowledge.

As for the online challenges, it was not like: open up the document, type in something for two minutes, and then close it again. It took some time to think about what to put in, and how to put it, and what was really the gist of it.

Also, it was important to put my thoughts into specific words and sentences. I’ve realized that sometimes you think things are clear until you try to explain it to someone else, and at least for me it’s very helpful when I have the chance to explain to someone else what I think."

By learning about the underlying concepts through the GLOBAL STEPS programme, the manager was able to use his 1:1 coaching sessions to their fullest advantage.

The combination gave him both a broad understanding of intercultural communication and the opportunity to gain deeper insights into concrete issues that were specific to his individual situation:

"We would have a virtual meeting to talk about the basic concepts, and then I would go through an online challenge. We talked about the results of that challenge and then moved on to the next one at our next meeting.

I realized that what I wrote down for the challenge would be the basis of my next coaching session, so I included things that were important to me.

I knew I was really part of the training. I was not only a consumer; I could give my input and the final outcome would also depend on me."

Applying the training in real-world situations

While the main goal of the training was to prepare the manager for successful collaborations in East Asia, he quickly realized that it could also help him adapt to his new Danish work environment.

Recognizing cultural differences with the 4R Model

C3's 4R Model (which focuses on the cultural dimensions of Rank, Responsibility, Risk, and Relationship) provided a framework for understanding the different norms and behaviours the manager observed at his new workplace:

"The 4R Model has proven to be a valuable tool that gives a structured way to get a clear view of cultural differences.

When I learned about these things, I almost immediately recognized them in daily life, and I decided to do my own 4R Model based on my experience living in two cultures, my native Germany and now Denmark, within the same organization.

Before the training, if you had asked me what the differences were between Denmark and Germany, I could have stated some of it but I was not really aware of the full extent of all of it.

When I was forced to write it down, I was really surprised: they’re entirely different! There are more differences than similarities."

Understanding hierarchy in Denmark and China from a German perspective

Once he began recognizing how his Danish colleagues were influenced by their cultural background, he realized that he could use the same concepts to understand his East Asian counterparts. This helped him feel more prepared for his first trip to China:

"The working environment here in Denmark is different, and it’s basically because hierarchy does not play such an important role as it does in Germany. Seeing these cultural differences first hand within my own organization has shown me that I am able to adapt to different systems. And this has helped me greatly in my work in China.

You are in a state of mind where you say: okay, yeah, actually that’s strange, but to a certain extent I expected it to be strange and I have some background knowledge to understand why it is strange.

So you’re one step ahead, and you can focus on different things. Instead of dealing with the situation, you can deal with the background of the situation."

Using cultural understanding to communicate effectively

Because he better understands the role hierarchy plays in the way people communicate when others are present, the manager has learned to be careful about how he distributes emails to his Chinese counterparts.

He makes a conscious decision not to copy too many people, which has had a positive impact on the quality of information he is getting:

"As soon as you involve someone else, the person is either obliged to do what the manager expects, or if you include people who are on a lower rank, they need to show that they are strong deciders and that they will lead in a certain direction.

If you put a lot of people in CC, you will get a quick answer and you will get the answer that is politically correct."

Looking forward to future opportunities

The training has been so helpful that the manager is considering it for his entire team:

"I can see now that my colleagues here in Denmark have a certain way of dealing with things, but there are still times when I think: if more people had this background knowledge and made it a part of their daily life, I think there is room for improvement.

I think it would be helpful. We just need to find the time to do it."

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