International teamwork for an enhanced performance
People at thyssenkrupp | thyssenkrupp worldwide | For the future of thyssenkrupp our colleagues around the world are working to make our company more flexible, efficient and enhance the performance of our processes. This means, among other things, developing the soft skills - such as intercultural competence - necessary to work successfully on an international scale. One example of this is the global teamwork through which the E-commerce website "Online Metals" was optimized. A task that we could only succeed in together - and across continents.
The beginnings of an international team
The online metals platform had already existed for 20 years. In 2019 it was time to migrate to new software to further improve the performance of the online shop and the user experience. This was achieved, among other things, by transferring the site to the new SAP Hybris system. Teams from Germany, Seattle and Mumbai were involved in the development of the new software. Each team was specialized in its task.
The problem was that the different communication cultures – the more adventurous of the Germans, the pragmatic of the Americans, and the reserved of the Indians – led to obstacles in the exchange of information, in addition to a different self-image. An essay in the Harvard Business Review shows that this is not unusual in intercultural cooperation.
It describes the four main barriers to collaboration between teams from different countries of origin: Direct versus indirect communication, problems with accents and language skills, different attitudes to hierarchy and authority, and conflicting norms for decision-making.
In the case of the Online Metals team, for example, this meant The IT experts in Mumbai are top-class specialists in their field – just the right people to help make Onlinemetals.com more performant. However, before the teams from Essen, Mumbai and Seattle met, this top-class IT know-how often remained hidden for the reasons mentioned above. This is just one of the aspects that quickly changed due to closer cooperation.
With her many years of experience at international level, Bernadette Beck, Head of Digital Commerce Solutions at thyssenkrupp, made it her task to bring the various teams together, give them the same understanding of customer needs and make the potential of all those involved visible.
How intercultural competence has advanced online metals
Through a lively exchange of ideas and personal meetings, the teams quickly gained confidence in each other and recognised the individual strengths of the others. “The Indian colleagues, for example, brought a special ability and a new perspective to the project: they were able to allow several solution paths to exist side by side within the framework of the complex problems, while the other participants initially wanted to commit themselves to a solution as quickly as possible. In this way, however, more efficient options can be overlooked. The teamwork with our Indian colleagues taught us to simply endure the existence of several possible solutions,” says Bernadette Beck.
The German colleagues, on the other hand, had brought a particularly precise way of working into the international team. “We recorded processes and documented every step in the process, so that success was measurable – also for future projects. This analytical and precise way of working is exactly what international colleagues appreciate about us Germans, making us aware once again that this is a positive quality.
International exchange makes our own strengths visible
We all know it: In our daily work we often overlook our own strengths and instead remember for a long time projects that went worse than others. Bernadette Beck sees another central advantage of collaboration between international teams: “Our strengths become particularly apparent when working with colleagues who tick completely differently than we do. If we are aware of our strengths and use them skilfully, they have the potential to bring extraordinary results to light. And in the end, the business also benefits.
Together to the goal: The successful transfer of the E-commerce platform Onlinemetals.com to SAPHybris has brought the international team closer together.
What does better communication mean for the success of Onlinemetals.com?
Thanks to better communication between the teams, the quality of the e-commerce site has improved significantly: For users, it means that they can navigate much more easily through the product catalogue as well as the purchase and payment process. Concrete examples of this are, for example, the implementation of several stages in the check-out process. Customers can now make address changes and specify additional payment methods much more easily.
The analysis of customer needs and the subsequent implementation on the website was only possible because the teams from Germany and the USA contributed their extensive knowledge of the target group to the project and the Indian colleagues from Mumbai their IT skills.
Using globalization effectively also means getting to know other cultures
Working in an international team is first and foremost also an opportunity for each individual team member to grow as a person and refine his or her intercultural competence. Bernadette Beck remembers, for example, how much more self-confidence the Indian team gained through face-to-face communication and how all teams were able to overcome reservations.
“Virtual collaboration is now the most common way of working together across borders and works well in many areas. But direct communication is particularly essential to reduce fear of contact and build trust,” reports Bernadette Beck.
A large number of projects are global nowadays. That’s why they can’t develop without communication with people from other regions. So, it’s not just the online metals project that shows that soft skills like intercultural competence are just as much a part of thyssenkrupp as technological innovations.