Conflict In Teams Case Study

A Thai company wants to expand by putting a material sourcing office in Italy.

The Thai CEO, Chow, sets up such an office,

with three Thai nationals and one Italian assistant.

The sourcing office allows the Thai company to be

close to high quality raw materials and design aesthetic,

critical to the manufacture of the high end ceramic wear market.

The Thai company wants to enter in the United States.

The Italian assistant is in her 20s and female.

The Thai team consists of a manager, male 38 years old, procurement staff,

female 28 years old, and design staff, male 50 years old.

The manager asks the assistant to arrange a one hour open house,

to invite key partners in Italy to come to and socialize.

The manager calls together the whole team and gives a directive to the team,

to put together invitation materials that were brought from Thailand,

that have specific Thai imagery and design.

The assistant interrupts him politely, and says that the idea is not a good one.

And also, it does not appeal to the local pride in the art and craft of the country.

If you answered any one of the answers, you're right.

However, you could have done a little better.

Actually all four of the answers are correct in totality.

The first answer being, gender and role hierarchy played a role in the conflict.

The choice of materials played a role in the conflict.

The age gap played a role in the conflict.

And finally the high and low context cultures played a role.

So once again, all four were correct.

Now, let's go to a little more descriptive.

There is conflict at all levels in this example.

Number one, we have a cultural conflict,

in the form of the choice of materials.

The Thai leader of the office wanted to use materials from his own country,

In Thai culture, it is more than likely that a male leader

would want more deference than the Italian assistant, who from a European

culture will be very comfortable sharing her opinion very openly.

There would be conflict between the Thai leader's perception of what

that aggressive communication would mean.

The Italian assistant would perceive that she'd normally interact

with her colleagues.

The Thai leader has the possibility of perceiving that that was insolence.

So we have a possible gender conflict, in how the communication occurred.

In this case a Thai leader, who's older,

may expect some respect and someone to follow along a little more gracefully.

And therefore in this case did not get that particular deference and

would be upset.

And so in that conflict, that possible conflict the Italian

assistant would do well to understand that possibility when communicating.

Finally option four, there are questions of high and low context cultures.

In the Asian culture it tends to be a high context culture,

therefore you wouldn't address things so directly in words.

You would more so make indirect illusions to your opinion,

and hope that the person listening, the listener would have

the responsibility to pick up that nuance and react to it.

In a European culture there is more tendency to be direct.

There is also a question of physical location,

which is outside of the responses.

But if we consider a physical location, if we're a Thai company,

having an Italian office, it would be up to the Thai leader to really

understand that there are Italian tradespeople, and the Thai leader would

want them to focus on delivering a product to the United States.

So, the Thai leader would want every opportunity for the Italian tradespeople

to really focus on United States, and not be distracted by the Thai culture,

either through communication or the materials that were delivered to them,

in this case the invitations, to bring them to the office.

So if we now change our perspective in reviewing this situation,

we would see from the Thai leaders perspective, he could have taken more time

to understand the culture within which he was operating.

Would have understood gender and role in that culture.

And in having the meeting would have expected when everyone was in the room,

and he was creating a conversation around how we would approach this invitation.

He would already have understood the possibility of the communication style he

would have received, from a gender, context and age perspective.

From the Italian assistant's perspective, in choosing to work at a company that

had Thai nationals working at it, she could have chosen to also understand

those same concepts prior to entering into a business conversation.

Ultimately, in this case, there is only one particular business issue.

The business issue that arose was the question using Thai or

more local materials to create the invitation.

The rest of the conflict that could have been created, was literally cultural.

And in this case, you got a chance to really fully immerse yourself in various

levels of cultural conflict,

based on the expectations everyone had entering the situation.

Hope you had fun reviewing this situation, and we'll go on to the next now.


Xerox Corporation has always relied on innovation to drive growth. A few years ago, the company was working on a breakthrough product that combined two very different technologies: a new solid-ink system and existing copier technology. The project got a year behind schedule in part because of conflict between key teams representing the two.

About that time, the key VP went through a Belbin Workshop, and realised that using Belbin would help break the log jam. All members of two key teams also went through workshops and learned collaboration skills.  One key insight was that both teams were imbalanced in their Team Roles, both having an overabundance of some roles and gaps in other roles (they were imbalanced in different ways).  Because of these imbalances, neither team could be very productive on its own, and the differences in working styles practically guaranteed conflict between the groups.

Yet the two groups realised that if they combined their strengths, together they could create a well-balanced team. The groups worked through their differences, developed a better understanding of the each other’s dynamics, and develop ground rules that would help them communicate in ways that would avoid future problems.

Xerox credits this work with speeding up the release-to-market of their new ColorQube printer.  The improved collaboration also resulted in significantly fewer post-launch problems compared to other product launches.

Thanks to our North America Distributors, 3Circle Partners, for this case study.


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