Why “Teamwork” is Different in Asia
In the West, great emphasis is placed on the word “teamwork.” Beginning in school and into one’s career, individuals are expected to be effective team players and are rewarded for operating effectively within the team dynamic. It’s the subject of courses, studies, and countless articles.
While the tenets of the Western concept of teamwork are admirable, they differ considerably to the approach of Asian workplace principles. Teamwork, as Western culture understands it, is an alien concept in Vietnam and throughout much of Asia. In fact, it is something many multinationals struggle with when they try to import Western business practices to the region.
One of the biggest mistakes Western companies make when they come to Vietnam is to try instilling a sense of “teamwork.” They will almost certainly fail. A sense of unity in purpose is appreciated and desired; however, how that unity in purpose is accomplished differs from Western methodologies.
One of the reasons the Vietnamese find the concept of teamwork particularly difficult can be attributed to a culture built on self-reliance. History has taught Vietnam not to put too much trust and reliance in other people, or else you will end up being subjugated by them. It’s this self-reliance that is reflected in our work ethic and represented in THP’s fifth core value, “Owning your Work.” This core value is about taking responsibility and understanding that success or failure is due to personal effort.
As mentioned above, it is important to be one in purpose. However, while individuals behave as a collective in Asian culture, it wouldn’t be described as teamwork. Instead, there is a shared sense of ownership—each person has a stake in the outcome of a goal or initiative. This causes individuals to take great pride in being able to showcase their work to their colleagues and the organization as a whole.
Another contributing factor to an Eastern departure from Western business practices stems from matters related to face and respect. Asians are renowned for not wanting to lose face and for their attachment to hierarchy. Everyone needs to understand what someone else’s status is. This can even be seen within family dynamics. No one ever says “sister” or “brother.” It must be “elder sister,” “younger sister,” “elder brother” or “younger brother.”
In the corporate world, this manifests itself as a desire to respect those at a more senior level and receive respect from those at a lower one. In the corporate world, this manifests itself as a desire to respect those at a more senior level and receive respect from those at a lower one. This attitude is prevalent in Vietnam, though it is not as strongly rooted in the culture as it is in Japan, Korea, and to a lesser extent, China.
The notion of “teamwork” is a commendable principle, one that seeks to foster a sense of belonging and accountability amongst colleagues. As a culture, however, Asian organizations have thrived on a great sense of individual responsibility and a respect of hierarchy that has proven to be effective. As globalization continues to introduce and integrate different cultural practices, it is important that we seek to understand those differences and acknowledge what can be learned from them.
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