Cross-Cultural Outlook From a Virtual Team Member in Israel

Volume 16 • Issue 3

WELCOME to our e-Newsletter on our Cross-Cultural Perspective From a Virtual Team Member in Israel!

Internationally known, New York City based virtual teams expert and author of ‘A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams,’ Yael Zofi, recently traveled to Israel to investigate the business climate and see how virtual teams were being run in the Middle East. When asked her about her impressions and experience, she discovered that the cross-cultural adventure and working as a virtual team member had its challenges.

In This Issue

Cross-Cultural Changes

Q1 Interviewer: “What kind of changes have you noticed in Israel since you were last there?”

Yael Zofi (YZ): “It was quite obvious to me, from the moment I landed and ensconced myself and family members in a rented apartment outside of Tel Aviv, that Israel has accomplished a lot that was visible to any traveler, and also within the overall global business environment. A nation coming into existence in 1948, sitting in a desert, obviously has transformed itself into a country with a huge worldwide presence having modern cities alongside farmland. There is much gentrification in the cities themselves and the suburbs.

Oftentimes, while traveling up and down the country, I felt I was back in the States. Seeing similar buildings, cities and suburbs and crowded centers of population with contemporary malls and glass structures reminded me of modern urban metropolitan locations around the world. Even the neighborhood around the farm I grew up on is almost unrecognizable.

Israel now is seen as a center of technology and innovation. I was reminded of that every day when I was driving the roads using the Israeli developed Smartphone app – ‘Waze’. Now Waze is used around the globe helping drivers navigate around traffic problems, road hazards and even the police – thankfully.

For such a young country they have made so many advancements, despite their challenges.

There used to be a water shortage, but they have created a conversion system. There is a special way to water the plants- now used all over the world, long tubes with holes, a slow watering mechanism. As a child, I remember we weren’t allowed to water plants in the summer. And now they’ve figured out how to change salt water into sweet water.

If there’s a problem, they create a solution. That’s what’s kind of cool about the country often called ‘The Startup Nation’. A small nation surrounded by enemies, Israel has learned how to survive and thrive despite their challenges.

It’s very energizing to see such a mindset of innovation in such a concentrated space. Israel doesn’t get the credit it deserves – how advanced, how loving, positive and inviting, what curious learners they are, how much they like to travel, innovative. A democratic country in the Middle East – an amazing phenomenon…”

Unique Aspects of Business Culture

Q2. Interviewer: “What are some uniquely Israeli ways of doing business that you feel all cultures could benefit from and why? And how would you compare it to the way business is conducted in the USA?”

YZ: “I think, what I really like about Israeli business culture is its directness in conversation. It’s typical to ask personal questions, about upbringing, about where you went in the military, where your family is from, etc. Just about everyone I met- we shared something personal. There was a real cross-cultural connection at the relationship level. Interestingly, as someone who lived there until I was 10 years old, I found that the Israeli’s business English terms are similar, so I found it easy to converse in Hebrew. I think the unique thing was the way that one would say something and another would jump in – we often jumped into one another’s sentences.

In the US we seem to be more “polite” and “reserved” when conversing about potential business deals. Israelis are more open and direct – even at times coming across “brusk”. For example, In Israel, people are not afraid to ask how much it costs, how much you charge. These are not conversations you have in the US. In my experience, Professional Services Fees are always a difficult conversation to have with any US client. It’s sort of a guessing game. But in Israel, those conversations were easier, and even expected.

Overall I found that these types of sensitive topics are considered normal and straight to the point in Israel. I think it creates a kind of ‘Instant Trust’ that it is quite refreshing.”

Your Virtual Team Member Experience

Q3 – Interviewer: “How was your experience of being a virtual team member for an extended amount of time?”

YZ: “Technology did indeed provide some communication challenges. When I was remote, especially when my phone died four times, I had only intermittent connection with my home based team. I was often unable to make a phone call back to the States. I was therefore not able to check on most things being done directly.

I had to count on my virtual team members and their email communications in order to follow up by seeing their beginning and end of day reports. I also struggled a lot with the time zones. It was difficult to have a double schedule – where I had daytime meetings, and then at 9 pm and even 11pm I had to participate on conference calls back in the States, which was 7 hours earlier.

As a virtual team member I didn’t want to be on a call at 11 pm every night, so that was frustrating. I can relate – you are the furthest one away. At one point I had a virtual coaching call lasting a few hours, I was extremely tired, maybe still jet lagged. So, what I did in order to stay alert and not sound sleepy, was to make sure I sat upright, so my voice would sound more awake and confident.

Towards the middle of the trip, the scheduling became a major issue. I learned how really important it is to have a really strong, clear communication schedule. At my office in New York, my schedule is a bit messy but I can quickly send my assistant a text. When I was remote, because I was dealing with multiple schedules, what started to happen was at times a complete disconnect. I had such a mix of am/pm and business and personal calendar items and on top of that, I had people texting, emailing and calling me – people wanting to visit with myself and my family, changing schedules and night time calls. I could not control the schedule.

The Israeli cross-cultural mentality is more relaxed about ‘let’s get together’ and ‘we’ll see you’ … but in the States, we have scheduling. It is less ad-hoc, less spur of the moment. So, in Israel I had to just start to handwrite everything the old fashioned way. There was one meeting that I forgot about and the person sent a text to say where he was located. The meeting wasn’t on any calendar. He said he was sitting and waiting. Luckily it was only 3 blocks away, so he never knew. This illustrated a cultural difference that of separation between work and life and work and business.”

Managing Time and Managing Yourself

Q4 – Interviewer: “ How did you manage to separate your constant demands of doing business and finding personal time?”

YZ: “I tried to maintain some boundaries. This was very difficult and probably not effective. My work station was the kitchen table. Someone always needed something. The lack of boundaries made it more challenging to work virtually.

Next time I would pre-contact and rekindle some relationships earlier, send personal notes in advance, and schedule more in-person visits. Most of the lunches were successful and I enjoyed who I met, people made great recommendations, but it was too late to plan special appearances, presentations and site visits. It occurred to me that I should have organized a larger gathering and get to see several people at once. (Then be able to focus on scheduling the work priorities as a follow-up).

Time Zone Challenges

Q5 – Interviewer: “What became a troubling issue for you? One that caused you to lose focus?”

YZ: “Being a virtual team member, I was looking forward to communications from my team in the US office. So hearing from my teammates was a nice welcome, especially when it was 5 or 6 pm in Israel when the emails would start coming in and I knew that my team were starting their day on the East Coast. That made me smile.

But at times, even seeing emails was not enough to prevent me from feeling disconnected.

We all need feedback. When I felt disconnected and frustrated, knowing I’m not going to get the work done due to other demands, it would have been nice to get something personal from the team. Looking back, it might’ve been helpful to take pictures and share events. Even if I couldn’t be there, I knew things were happening and wanted to participate from a distance. I needed more structure.

We conducted an initial Skype call, but we did not stick to the plan. The initial call for our weekly team meeting was great and we should’ve stuck to it and made sure to keep a regular scheduled communication.

It’s interesting how dependent we are on technology to stay in touch. A neighbor was telling me that some people when they travel to Israel, bring several phones and devices just to avoid any potential hiccups in communication. Next time, we could work more effectively. The limited time I had, I just wanted to focus on the most important things at the time.”

Tips for Becoming a Better Virtual Team Member

Q6 – Interviewer: “What would you do differently next time as a virtual team member?”

YZ: “Personally, to be a better virtual team member in the future, I would need to create a workspace with more privacy, a shared drive with regular updates, and a determined focus on what needs to be done at that moment. I personally need more human connection- even if only by phone, remembering Out of sight does not mean out of mind…”

Global Business and Management Consulting

Q7 – Interviewer: “How did your experience shape the direction you would like to move forward in your global leadership and virtual team consulting work?”

YZ: “My experience in Israel this time made me realize there is a lot we at AIM Strategies® can contribute, with our expertise in cross cultural communications and virtual team management. I’m even more excited about the possibilities of working more directly with Israeli business management at the strategy and business level, global companies that are located in Israel and around the world.”

About AIM Strategies

AIM Strategies® Applied Innovative Management® is a results-driven Human Capital Consulting firm specializing in the areas of: Global Leadership Development, Co-located and Virtual Team Facilitation, Cross Cultural Communications, and Change Integration Services. To request information about AIM’s experiential learning methods (5D’s™ Consulting/Proprietary Training Methodology and ACT™ Coaching Process), please email info@aim-strategies.com. In upcoming issues of this newsletter, we’ll update you on tips and techniques related to raising your innovative management IQ. We are confident that the solutions we develop fit your needs and culture. Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and visit www.aim-strategies.com  to learn more about how our services unlock the people potential of your organization!

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