My formula for successfully managing a diverse team? It’s similar to a marriage; it’s all about communication.
While the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region is diverse, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has maybe even a bit more to offer: It consists of 15 different countries, features 25 languages with three different alphabets, and spans from Poland to Macedonia.
Managing a marketing team in such a diverse area is a multilayered challenge. It requires knowledge of different customer preferences, employee behavior, and workplace culture, as well as local habits and traditions. There is, and has always been, a learning curve in my job. Over time, I have developed kind of an own metric for each country that helps me in my daily job.
Stereotyping Doesn’t Help, but There are Some Patterns
I am originally from Slovakia. According to traditional stereotypes, a typical Slovak likes hospitality, and is friendly and welcoming—most likely the best personal traits when it comes to managing people in culturally diverse countries. But even though stereotyping doesn’t help, I find certain patterns in how we communicate and discuss critical business topics: People in the southern countries of my region have a different temperament than in the north. They get excited about things quickly, but I also find they are more emotional and passionate in discussing, for example, their performance.
Awareness of this cultural difference helps prevent us from taking things personally. I have learned that a lively and emotional discussion does not challenge my authority as a manager. Rather, it reflects a special culture of expression, which is fine with me.
Managing a Diverse Team
Workplace culture and individual preferences vary between different parts of the CEE region, and even between single countries. My team in the Czech Republic rarely meet for coffee, but they set up meetings frequently in the business context, and the longer the meeting, the better it is.
In contrast, my colleagues in the Adriatic region, such as in Croatia, appreciate informal breaks for socializing and exchange. For them, a half-hour break–optimally outside of SAP–solves issues much more effectively than a meeting.
To succeed in day-to-day team management, I need to know and internalize these differences. But to make the team work, I must also create awareness among the entire team. That’s why I use employee gatherings like team meetings or off-sites as a platform for team members to learn about each other. We try to think out of the box by doing elevator pitches about our countries, local traditions, or even celebrities from our home countries. It helps us embrace our differences and discover commonalities.
Managing Diverse Customer Preferences
Because often there is only one marketing representative per country to cover all local activities, collaboration is essential to create synergies. The CEE team runs campaigns in 9 different languages and hosts SAP Forums in 13 various locations. But even for SAP’s globally renowned event format, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for CEE. Even in neighboring countries, completely different approaches add to a successful regional forum.
For example, in Romania, the most productive SAP Forum would be located in a five-star hotel. It would take just a few hours, featuring a speaker from abroad offering high-level content in the English language. Most attendees in this area prefer to just show up and leave after a while. In Hungary, however, customers would love to attend even a four-day event in the local language, with in-depth content from A to Z, including vibrant business and entertainment programs.
Speaking the language of the customer is no less important than speaking the language of the team. True success comes when you can speak at least some words in local languages—it shows respect for my conversation partner and opens doors. Over the years, I have learned to speak nine languages—some better than others—but all well enough to say a friendly “hello.”
Juraj Polerecky is head of Marketing for Central and Eastern Europe at SAP