Teamwork and Social Support
"In the United States, we think about teams as supportive networks of people who are there to help each other. Asian teams are not necessarily warm and fuzzy. Teamwork is a cultural obligation; it's the way the culture operates."
In an interview for Gallup Management Journal, Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UCLA notes the cultural disparities in teamwork and support between European Americans and Asians. European Americans believe that building team spirit, pulling together, and being personally supportive are keys to strong teamwork and collaboration. Supporting this perspective on teamwork is work by Edward J. Lawler, Ph.D., Dean of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. His work focuses on how people come together into a group, develop an emotional attachment, and act in a collective, rather than individual, fashion. He notes a key piece to teamwork is that the positive feelings of success are attributed to the team.
Taylor's research suggests that teamwork for Asians has a different cultural norm. While a group may work together to improve the overall performance, it tends to be intensely competitive, with the focus being, ultimately, on individual success. The team is a vehicle for generating the individual success, and a cultural expectation rather than a source of social support.
When the actions of a team are observed through our own cultural norms, how often are we confused by what we see? Leaders of multinationals in Asia often note the lack of teamwork. Perhaps the perspective of what constitutes a team in Asia needs to changes.