Today's businesses are globally connected 24/7 all year round. The global context of work lets energy flow, broadens a good reputation and secures growth. However, real-life internationalisation processes hardly ever run smoothly. Instead, they often trigger unexpected phenomena.

Therefore, businesses should openly discuss how global business units ought to be controlled and integrated and what internationalisation actually means for the company's identity and internal structures. It takes a new dimension of organisational learning to collaborate globally while responding to local requirements.

Our research covers several aspects of this complex context, each of which are strongly interlinked with one another. The questions we ask are:

Organisational design:

  • What does it take to design the complex interactions within the organisation effectively in a global context?
  • How does a unique identity evolve, which can exist successfully in a global context in the long term?

Communication:

  • How is it possible to ensure an agile interaction and a sustainable collaboration across diverse units distributed around the globe?
  • What does it take to design a dialog that spans diverging interests, meanings and the common objective of the organisation?

Leadership:

  • Which new understanding of itself and of its role does the management need to give the organisation a sense of direction against the global backdrop?
  • What are the shapes and structures in decision-making processes that foster the organisation's agility?

Taking these fundamental question areas as the starting point we have focused on four key topics in our work.

Reading recommendations on organisational design in a global context

Ruth Seliger and Doris Wietfeldt: Führung in interkulturellen Kontexten (German).
How does leadership change if it acts in global and cross-cultural contexts?

Sabine Zhang: Catching Chinese Fish.
An interview with headhunter Wang Pei about the market of talents in China.

Global Productivity

The global economy no longer impacts on only large multinationals but also a growing number of medium-sized enterprises. Companies entertain a global presence, operate on markets worldwide and have distributed their value chain across several locations in different countries. In many cases, however, the synergies of international collaboration are lost in the frictions and conflicts caused by the complexity involved with working together.

How is it possible to design international forms of collaboration effectively? What does it take to identify and leverage the potential and opportunities of an international organisation?

Global Leadership Development

A globally designed leadership which is aligned with a shared mission statement strengthens the organisational culture in the long run. If local necessities and needs are ignored in the process, any such attempts will soon fail, because they will be considered a centralist demonstration of power of the head office.

What matters most in the planning and implementation stages of international leadership processes?

Global Learning

Knowledge is one of the most precious resources of an organisation. While many organisations act internationally, their knowledge and know-how often is held locally. The cross-border transfer of know-how or even global knowledge management is more an exception than the rule.

How can globally active companies make sure that valuable information and know-how will be exchanged between subsidiaries so that they can be leveraged globally?

Post-Merger Integration

If mergers fail, the most frequent cause is that the cultural integration of the organisations was not sufficiently considered and facilitated.

How is it possible to successfully merge different cultural worlds, each with its own unique logic and specific system of values, into a new hybrid culture?

What ensures that the organisation remains balanced and agile in such a highly dynamic situation?

The cornerstones of our global approach

Systemic-constructivist concept of organisations

We perceive organisations based on Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory and we regard organisations as living and learning systems in their own sense and meaning. Organisations and individuals decide on the basis of their specific assumptions (“inner map”), selective perceptions and interpretations, into which new experiences are continually being integrated. Under these assumptions, neither individuals nor organisations can be steered directly, since they act in line with their own subjective logic, which can never be fully understood or changed from the outside. This poses new requirements on leadership and the design of organisations. At the same time, contemplating organisations in such a manner facilitates coming to terms with complexity and therefore dealing with it, since it is not a given under the assumption of absolute predictability.

Positive Sciences

Based on the development of positive psychology (Martin Seligman), a broad-scale cross-disciplinary movement has formed in many scientific fields over recent years, which can be summarised as positive sciences. In addition to positive psychology, important contributions stem from the fields of brain research (Gerald Hüther et al.), economy (Richard Layard) and various areas of organisational research, for instance positive organisation scholarship and positive leadership (e.g. Kim Cameron), strengths-based management (e.g. Marcus Buckingham) and flow research (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). What these approaches have in common is a focus on strengths and potentials, a concept of individuals characterised by trust and appreciation and a radical orientation towards finding solutions.

Organisational Design

Organisational design is an approach to change and design organisations in a fundamental manner (e.g. Naomi Stanford or Oliver Schrader/Lothar Wenzel). The core concept behind organisational design states that the objective of every change in an organisation must in the end lead to a change in the behaviour of the people who work in the organisation, but behaviour cannot be steered directly. People behave according to their own logic, which they align with external conditions. Any change, therefore, must address precisely these conditions: from organisational structures, processes, instruments and communication structures all the way to policies and architectural aspects, such as the design of production facilities, offices or meeting rooms. These conditions are called “forms” in organisational design. Organisational design means to align all the forms within an organisation with a few central guiding principles. These principles should describe the individuals' desired behaviour. The idea is: if all the forms are geared towards principles that foster a certain kind of behaviour, individuals will chose a behaviour, without the necessity of strict rules being imposed, that seems to be meaningful in light of these forms and therefore corresponds to the principles.

In a global context, the main question is whether organisational design chiefly inclines towards local connectivity, global standardisation or an emphasis on global differences.

Constructivist approach to cross-cultural communication
Milton Bennet is viewed as the pioneer of a constructivist approach of cross-cultural communication. He is best known for his Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). Bennet's fundamental hypothesis states that the main issue in cross-cultural collaboration is not culture but communication. Culture is only the context. Cross-cultural communication is a kind of meta-communication about how to match meanings and actions.

There is no evidence for the convergence hypothesis (according to which globalisation would reduce or even eliminate differences) to be true. So far, all studies have proven the opposite. Although convergence occurs in the world of fashion, this does not apply to philosophies. This is the context in which Bennet's six stage model of sensitivity to cultural difference ought to be understood. As individuals climb from stage to stage they learn how to learn (as formulated by Bateson) and how to deal with differences and translate that into behaviour. If culture-specific knowledge is learned too early (the usual dos and don’ts), the curiosity needed to learn gets lost. However, a progress through the stages is no moral evolution, it does not make an individual a better person. It only facilitates better cross-cultural communication.

Johannes Köpl

Johannes Köpl

Systemic consultant for change management, leadership and organisational design; expert in organisational culture and international management, many years' research and management experience in several Latin American countries; consultancy work for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC; specialises in consultancy to organisations on international projects in Europe, Latin America and the USA

Anita Lung

Anita Lung

Consultant specialised in assisting individuals and organisations during all stages of transitions; consultancy expertise with an emphasis on CEE countries; focus on the analysis of theoretical backgrounds and on organisational analyses

Doris Wietfeldt

Doris Wietfeldt

Consultant specialised in cross-cultural challenges to globally active organisations; assistance to executives, teams and individuals in situations of escalated conflicts in her capacity as licensed BM® facilitator and trainer; turns opposites and contradictions into joy about new experiences; expert in innovative concepts for social change processes as regards migration and involuntary relocation; incorporates the latest methods in design research into her consultancy and training work

Sabine Zhang

Sabine Zhang

Systemic consultant and sinologist with an in-depth background in economics; many years' experience as efficiency consultant with an affinity for industrial enterprises; focus on principle-driven organisational design types for increased efficiency of leadership in a global context; currently involved in research on Chinese direct investments in Europe

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