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OptimusCrime

Feedback from team: you're nice

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Long story, very short: I had a feedback session with the lead I work with who told me that "I'm very nice".  I asked him to clarify and the conversation went towards this being a potential issue within the team.  I said I understood what he was getting at and that I would chew on it for a while and give an update next session.  My issue is this piece of feedback is not actionable and came at a time where I just started.  So the lead is mostly warning me that I will need to be firm on making people accountable.

Though this is pretty baked into my personality as I come from an American client services background, with an emphasis on diplomacy.  The company I work for now is very German and appreciates honesty and bluntness.  I'm not even sure where to start on this, to be honest.  I planned on looking at leaders whom I admire and look deeper at their process but this feels like throwing spaghetti at the wall.  

So what would you do with this piece of feedback?  Has anyone received this kind of feedback and turned it around?  My goal early on is to build trust and this feels like a chance to do so. 

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1 hour ago, OptimusCrime said:

I come from an American client services background, with an emphasis on diplomacy.  The company I work for now is very German and appreciates honesty and bluntness.

There's the issue right there. I attended a great session at GDC, don't remember what year, where the speaker talked about how different work cultures exist in different cultures. German vs. French vs. American vs. Japanese vs. Chinese... a lot of research has been done on this, and I wish I could remember the names and terms. Can't find my notes right now. But some Googling brings up:

http://blog.condecosoftware.com/different-countries-different-work-cultures

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6666162_Managing_Multicultural_Teams

You're not doing anything wrong - you just need to understand the psychology of your teammates and adjust your approach to them.

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It is certainly well worth reading, both for your position and by anyone who is engaging in global work.  Tasks like porting a game frequently hit it, and it is important to understand.

Those links talk about harmony when dealing with Asian cultures. That's one we must watch for vigilantly on our global port projects. As an American who works with some Chinese groups, I find generally the Chinese groups are eager to please and generous in terms, but when it comes to the work, it rarely matches the written agreement. There is a major cultural gap where agreements and contracts are seen more as guidelines, and instead they work toward trying to have a peaceful relationship. This is a sharp contrast with US contracting where the contractor is expected to do whatever work is required (even if it means some difficult and unfriendly tasks) to meet all the written terms. It is also hugely destructive to the relationship to mention any individual, either for praise or for criticism. Personally I find Chinese groups are easy to get along with, but difficult to achieve firm commitments and accountability.

With German groups it is good both to own mistakes and to speak up as soon as an issue appears. American culture tends to value being self-sufficient and finding answers themselves. Working with German groups in general it is better to speak up and ask who has the domain knowledge early, then explain both that you are trying to find a solution but also value their expertise or experience if they know the answer. Constant communication is critical, and the culture values discovering and leveraging individual talents.  In many ways it is the opposite of Chinese culture, where instead of being shameful to call out individuals or point out differences, it is best to speak for each individual's unique skills.

As Tom wrote, it is well studied and there are articles online and many excellent books (dead tree editions) on the subject. Good libraries will have many business books regarding international business.

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Thanks guys.  I am more familiar with Chinese and Indian cultures having managed them as offsite resources.  Agree with your assessment, frob.  We were working on contract negotiations with our Chinese developers and they would say yes but not really mean yes.  We would often receive our contracts back red lined despite coming to an agreement.  

I'll check out those links this weekend.  My working style was fine everywhere else I've been and finally this caught up to me.  It's a chance to step up, I'm unsure how exactly to do so, but I take it that being direct with my lead and asking him some more clarifying questions could be that step.  

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Posted (edited)

I don't know if this helps, but as a German being (but not with an IT background) i can say that in some cases American working culture differs, i would say fundamentally. A former girlfriend of mine was sent on an assignment to the US (she worked in the automotive industry) and after a few weeks she was almost desperate. Though she worked in a quite conservative company, she was used to direct communication in the team and across team borders if necessity arose. I recall her saying that she had the feeling that people in the US branch of the company where more like fulfilling their roles and being hierarchy oriented. I always thought this was a company thing ...

She adapted, but i can imagine that different working styles can cause problems, to an extent that personal adaptation becomes very difficult.

 

Edited by Green_Baron

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I've never had advice like this, but I have seen American middle management being too "nice" and electing to steer into the iceberg instead of upsetting people by insisting that they change course. I suspect this is the metaphorical fate that your current manager is keen to avoid. Most likely this is just going to be a learning process for you where you learn to combine your 'nice' demeanour with sufficient assertiveness. Being a producer can be pretty tough because you're often in a position where you're expected to hold people to promises but have no real power to enforce them - but walking that line is what the job's about. :)

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On 7/5/2019 at 12:51 PM, Tom Sloper said:

I attended a great session at GDC, don't remember what year, where the speaker talked about how different work cultures exist in different cultures.

Finally found my notes. The title is "Smoldering Conflicts: Managing Cross-Cultural Teams," and it was 2014. Maybe you can find it on the GDC Vault. A lot of the valuable source material came from The Hotstede Centre (geert-hofstede.com).

 

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