Chinese team building: Teams that don’t report to you

Read time: 3 minutes
Chinese team building, just like any other team building, is a lot easier when you have the sole discretion making decisions about rewarding, penalizing and terminating the team members.
When you are the head of a company or a division, employees are clear about your ability to determine their future in the organization and that alone has a great impact on their interaction with you and the amount of effort they will invest following your instructions.
In China, respect for authority and age is rooted deep in the culture and therefore being introduced as someone with authority usually gets you a grace period. During this period, people who report to you will follow your instructions and will support you.



When Chinese teams were made of people who were born in the ‘70s, a very authoritative and top-down management style was (a) very popular and (b) quite effective. Generation X’ers accepted this management style as it was in line with their upbringing.



In the end of 1978, the one-child policy came into effect and a new generation of only children was born. They were born into a new era of a China that was ready to trade with the world. The general macro economy was such that more and more of Generation Ys parents, who grew up in a tough environment (Great leap forward, cultural revolution, etc.) were now able to give their only Child what their parents couldn’t give them and their few brothers and sisters.
Generation Y entered the workforce during the last decade bringing with them a sense of more financial security and the self-confidence their Childhood created. In addition, rapid increasing salaries and an empowering new labor law increased their financial goals and their expectations from their working environment.
Gen X managers couldn’t afford managing Gen Y employees the same way they were managed by their supervisors. They had (and still have) to take a more inclusive approach. They have to involve their team members in the decision-making process and explain the reason behind their actions. Motivation became a much more difficult challenge.



About a year ago I decided to go into the services business. Before doing that I was managing big and small teams in various companies. Most people in my teams were working for the companies I was managing and usually, they were reporting to me or to people that reported to me.
In order to carry out the services I sell, I often work with teams employed by my customer’s suppliers.
Together with the teams I do root cause analysis and offer ways to lower cost, open bottlenecks, solve quality issues, and change policies that create low production capacity and low yield.
Many times the challenges I face moving forward with executing the solutions, relate to how motivated the teams in the factory to work with me. Not only I have no impact on their employment terms and salary, working on my projects requires them to work overtime on projects that are not a part of their core responsibility.
In other times the projects I am involved in are not key projects for the factories. People in the factories help me deal with tasks their managers see as not important and that keeps them away from the spotlights.
Many times in order to support me, they need to ask for help from people in the organization with whom they rarely speak due to politics in the organization. That, of course, puts them in an uncomfortable position and demotivates them from working with me.
There are a few things that can be done to motivate the people in situations as described above and even create a team feeling to some extent.
The first step is to get them to lower their shields. Teamwork is first of all about team communication. If the team is not sure about how you are going to manage the working relationship and how much additional work is required from them, they might not be open to listening.
So the first thing is to try to learn about the team members job and range of responsibilities and try to get a sense of how much of their time you can expect them to dedicate to your project.
It always helps to send relaxed vibes and the message that you are there to work together with them.
It is difficult to know for sure, but when you feel they lowered their guard, it is time to start taking some simple steps that will increase their motivation to work with you.
I will talk about these steps in my next post.
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If you have any questions or like to share with us your experience working with teams in China, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to talk to you about your projects in China.

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