Team Performance Facilitates Cross-Cultural Teaming at W. L. Gore

by Thomas Sibbet June 02, 2016

This article was co-written by The Grove and Gyung Hee Han, a longtime HR business partner at W. L. Gore. Based in Korea, Gyung Hee is the Team Performance lead for Gore’s Asia-Pacific region. The article is the fruit of a conversation in which she shared stories and insights from her extensive experience working with Asia-Pacific and global teams.


As W. L. Gore has grown, its teams have become bigger and the teaming dynamics are more challenging. The team environment in the Asia-Pacific region is especially complex. Many teams function virtually. People work from dispersed locations, navigating Gore’s culture and wide-ranging local cultures while communicating in a language that may not be their first language. Team composition, roles and responsibilities may be in flux. Working in cross-functional teams adds even more complexity. Gore has found the Team Performance System to be especially useful in situations like these where the teaming environment is complex, diverse and global.

The Most Common Teaming Challenges at Gore

Gore HR partners have noticed that most team challenges occur in the “creating stages” stages of the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® (“the Model”), the first four stages (1). Many teams must deal with significant change, with shifts in team composition as well as evolving strategies and processes. Sometimes team members don’t understand each other. Lack of trust may arise from changes in team membership. Some members may not be fully engaged in the process. Sometimes the decision-making process is not clear, or people may be confused about people’s roles within the team.

Leaders tend to underestimate the importance of working out these earlier stages of teaming. As a result, teams may jump to goal-setting and implementation too quickly. HR partners explain the Team Performance Model using stories that show the importance of working out the earlier stages of teaming first to provide the foundation for successful teamwork over time.

Simple Questions That Spark a Team Conversation

After the stages of teaming are explained, team members are asked, “What stage of the model do you identify with as an individual team member at this time?” The answers vary greatly. New members may be at Stage 1 (Orientation), while other people may be at Stage 2 (Trust-Building) until they have a chance to get comfortable with the new members.

It is helpful for the team to be aware of other members’ perceptions, and it’s vital for the leader to know. Often the leader is a few steps ahead of the rest of the team and moving to implementation too soon. This conversation gives team members a way to reveal what needs to be dealt with before the team can move on to the later stages.

Working with Interdependencies

Any team is part of a larger context, an interconnected system stretching across regions and business functions. Much clarity comes when three questions are engaged: “What do I do?,” “What do we do?,” and “How do we do what we do?” These questions spark a conversation that reveals relevant interdependencies, clarifies expectations, and builds trust.

After taking The Grove’s Team Performance Survey™, one cross-functional team used an interdependencies continuum to fill the gaps in its understanding of each other’s independent and interdependent functions. At first when people placed each item of their functional tasks in the continuum, they saw themselves as independent. Then they had open dialogue, sharing thoughts and clarifying expectations. This exercise brought insight and a better understanding of the activities that they needed to work on together. They made agreements on the spot about how to collaborate, and going forward they were a more effective cross-functional team.

Appreciating Different Work-Styles and Cultural Norms

Gore’s Asia-Pacific associates often find it challenging to work in or with global teams due to language barriers, communication styles, different working time zones, and cultural differences. For example, it is a strong cultural norm for Asians not to interrupt when in conversation. Instead, we wait for the person to finish before speaking. When people exchange ideas or opinions at a rapid pace during online business conversations, it may be difficult for the Asia-Pacific person to enter the conversation comfortably.

When associates from Europe, the United States, and Asia-Pacific did the Work-Style Continuum exercise, they were asked, “What are the implications from this activity? Knowing what you now know, what will you do differently in your work with this team?” These questions sparked a conversation that brought a better understanding of how to respect each other’s personal and cultural styles and preferred work styles.

Ground Rules That Make Room for All to Participate

In a meeting with an Asia-Pacific team, a work-styles conversation was impactful using a shifted focus. Team members were asked: “If you are feeling outside the conversation when Western associates are dominating it, how can you influence the process to go a different way?” A proposed rule for the beginning of meetings was voiced: remind Western associates of Asia-Pacific team members’ participation challenges, and ask people to be mindful about making room for all to take part. A facilitator might ask, “What will make participating easy and comfortable for you?”

Some people feel put on the spot when they are asked to say something, while others wait until they are asked to speak. Some associates prefer that someone ask them directly, “What are your thoughts?” Others prefer to take turns speaking on the call. Still others prefer to use web-conferencing features to “raise their hand” or send a message through a chat function.

An Organization-Wide Perspective

The HR business partners have been delighted to hear from Gore business leaders and team members about the usefulness of the Team Performance Model and tools. Gail Townsend, Gore’s Team Performance champion, reports: “Because our teaming model is integrated with the organizational-structure model, it reinforces and supports the effectiveness of Gore’s teaming processes in achieving business goals.” Craig Theorin, a global business leader, says, “The Model provides a lot of structure to what our HR business partners have been trying to do already. It defines specific ingredients that are necessary for success and puts a helpful structure and language around the elements that make a team effective.”

Gore’s HR business associates are now partnering with business and functional leaders to help their cross-functional teams get results that align with their business strategies. Leaders have become aware that when their teams undergo a significant change, they need to step back and re-focus on the creating stages of the Model. When people click on Gore’s strategy model on the intranet, they can select High Performing Teams, which takes them to the Team Tools website. Connecting the Team Performance Model with Gore tools, processes and best practices has helped to internalize it. A global Community of Practice shares experiences and learnings virtually to build practitioners’ skills in using the Team Performance System.

This has been an organization-change process at Gore, and buy-in has occurred. Having this common teaming language for all of our teams is invaluable, and integrating Team Performance into our organizational strategy has greatly enhanced Gore’s effectiveness as a teams-oriented organization.

Thomas Sibbet
Thomas Sibbet


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