Olga Rosa and Rafael Navajo in our Ypsomed offices.
Olga: What experiences have shown you, what you need to adjust to be successful in international collaboration?
Rafael: In different positions, I led several teams around the world. Since the beginning of my career, I have worked in multicultural environments – it’s a good way to work. Working remotely, for me, is also something that has always been possible. The pandemic has added a new dimension to this: I had to travel a lot for my job, but when the pandemic hit, it stopped immediately. However, people kept working and everything continued – we need to change our perception and finally realize that productivity should not be negatively impacted when working remotely.
Olga: For me, it has always been important to be able to build relationships. Building a relationship while working remotely may not be as easy as if you were working in the same country or workplace. So I needed to understand how my counterpart builds a relationship with me and try to adapt. Nowadays we have many possibilities and tools to get in touch with each other – we just have to use them. Early in my career, I traveled a lot because it seemed like the only way to build relationships with colleagues. During the pandemic, we have learned that you can start even a new business like our new offices in Barcelona having hardly ever been there once. When it comes to topics like welcoming new employees or teambuilding, personal interaction is key because it shows respect and esteem. I look forward to expanding our manufacturing site in China as I will learn how to take international collaboration further – as traveling during the pandemic will be more difficult, if not impossible. So, to conclude, relationship building is essential for working internationally as it opens many doors.
Rafael: I totally agree with that, the pandemic has changed the way teams can work, also in a multicultural environment. In my opinion, it’s a question of trust: you have to be more precise in defining objectives when working remotely, you don’t have the possibility of feeling emotions – but you have to gain trust by working remotely with our colleagues. We need to build a relationship and make sure people can trust you and you can trust them. By doing this, we create a friendship, which is the key to a successful collaborative moment.
Olga: Another very important topic for me is communication. Working internationally often means speaking in a foreign language and with colleagues or partners with a different cultural background. Some time ago, working with a German colleague, I had the impression that we were using the same word but what she was saying did not correspond to my understanding of a particular word. I suggested we stop our conversation and revisit the topic the next day. Fortunately, the next day, I had the idea to share with her my understanding of this “critical word”. I will never forget his expression. At first she had very large eyes, then she smiled. His definition of that particular word was very different. I was so grateful for this experience. Today, if I feel like a conversation isn’t going well, I try to take stock and try to figure out if we’re having a misunderstanding because we’re not talking about the same thing.
Rafael: The cultural factor is very important. For example, if you are having an early afternoon meeting in Spain, you need to understand that people have different lunch times. Or if you are planning a meeting in February in Switzerland, you can be sure that someone is not available to attend because they have gone skiing. Kidding aside, we need to make sure people understand the different ways of doing things, we’re different but also similar, so we need to combine the best. Diversity is at the origin of the profession: for example in Barcelona, we have 31 people of 13 different nationalities. I really like multicultural environments, more important than nationalities are human skills and together we get the best out of each other.
Olga: The cultural aspect is indeed very important. Always make sure the other person is aware of what you want to say, and if not, repeat what you mean. It was a key part of my experiences, we are also different in the way we argue and discuss.
Rafael: Exactly, it creates empathy between us, we can make an intro for a certain subject. It’s super important, otherwise we need to understand each other to move forward serenely. When we are face to face it is easier, but in this environment it has to be managed.
Olga: What do you think is more successful: local or international collaboration?
Rafael: We have to admit that unfortunately we cannot survive in isolation. The reality is that if we want to be successful, we have to work internationally. There is no other way to be competitive in the market, we have to accept it.
Olga: I agree, we work for a global company, so we have to take advantage of this to use global skills. At first it takes a little more energy and investment, we need to understand each other, people speak other languages and they have another culture. Once we understand this, the collaboration can be more fruitful and the result can be richer. Different ways of thinking can lead to better solutions.
Rafael: It is definitely our responsibility as leaders to communicate these benefits. It’s not about replacing or moving, it’s about enriching, only in this configuration we can be competitive tomorrow. No fights, no substitutions, team collaboration – we do our best to be competitive.