Viking spirit

Maureen
Koh, head of HR for Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), a multinational
investment bank and the biggest high street bank in Scandinavia, explains how
Impact helped improve communications across cultural and geographical
boundaries

When
our new managing director Pers Engstrom took over responsibility for our Asia
region, covering Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, one of his main aims was to
bring together everyone who works for SEB in Asia to create a “one company”
culture.

Although
people were doing the same jobs for the same company, the fact that they were
operating in different countries meant that most had never met each other and
the procedures they were using were not standardised.

By
bringing them together, Pers wanted to give them the opportunity to get to know
one another so that this new familiarity would enable them to cross borders and
business areas. This would help them to recognise that by using their combined
knowledge and expertise, they could really make a difference for SEB in Asia.

Development

We
also thought that the event would be an ideal way to introduce Pers’s new role
within the organisation and plans for development of the SEB in Asia.

This
does not sound too complicated in theory, but in practice, it meant creating a
forum where 140 people from 10 different nationalities, from director level to
tea person, could come together. Although many were seasoned travellers, for
some it would be the first time they had ever left their native country.

It
was my job to find an organisation that could develop a suitable event to
enable all this to happen.

We
first came into contact with Impact through a senior member of staff who had
been on one of their programmes as part of his Insead MBA course. It was
clearly a well-respected company, but it also seemed to do things just a little
bit differently which was what we needed.

The
point which finally convinced me that Impact was the right company to use was
when it proposed a multi-national team from across the organisation which would
involve staff from their offices in Australasia, Japan, Thailand and Europe –
making it a real cross-cultural experience.

The
one-day event took place in the grounds of the Siam Intercontinental Hotel in
Bangkok.

No
passengers

The
morning kicked off with Impact staff dressed as Vikings transforming the room
full of people into a Viking longship, with some people becoming the oars, some
the rudder and some the figure head. The message was that there were no
passengers on this Viking longboat.

Any
reservations I might have had about how Impact’s approach would go down with
the group were unfounded. There was a standing ovation following this
introduction and the ice was well and truly broken.

The
delegates were split into 13 work teams comprising people from different
countries. The members, who had never met, but nevertheless relied on each
other, were involved in a series of progressive team tasks and facilitated
reviews.

The
key to success with Impact’s approach was the experiential nature of the event.

‘Hands
on’

Our
people loved the whole thing – any language problems seemed minor as people
focused on actually working together “hands on”. The event was much more about
doing things together with only small amounts of theory.

The
results were immediately tangible for people in terms of individual
contribution, supporting each other, working for each other and getting the job
done. It seemed that actions were literally speaking louder than words.

Many
of the projects demanded that people pulled together quickly, breaking down
some cultural taboos of personal space. The nature of the projects that Impact
designed seemed perfect for getting every single person involved.

Each
project was both sensitively and professionally reviewed by an Impact facilitator.

Views
heard

Working
in small groups allowed every single person to have their views heard and to
relate the learning specifically to the needs of the business.

Impact
has over 10 years’ experience in delivering multicultural programmes all over
the world so it fully understood many of the issues we face.

The
afternoon saw the teams re-configured into 10 groups to play a management game.
This interactive multi-tasked event culminated in business focused
presentations on how the region could work more effectively in the future.

Our
people had a great time. Not only did they get to know each other and cement
essential relationships but they also had a lot of fun and have taken away a
shared experience that will last long in the memory.

Verdict
Created energy and momentum

The
event was a huge success and everyone is still talking about it. The objectives
that Pers had set have been met with interest. Not only can people put a name
to a face, they are now much more comfortable talking to each other on the
phone and communicating by e-mail.

The
event has led to a real commitment towards the long-term success of SEB in
Asia.

It
created an energy and momentum that everyone is committed to sustaining.

It
was definitely money well spent and we are now looking at other ways that we
can use Impact’s innovative skills.

Impact
Cross-Cultural Development Programme
Delivered by Impact Development Training Group, Cragwood House, Windermere,
Cumbria LA23 1LQ, Tel: 01593 488333

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