Working Successfully with Spanish Teams

Dear Louise,

Working in teams isn’t always easy, and when you have to work with culturally diverse teams, it can become even more complicated. That’s because the probability of misunderstandings, which exist between people of the same culture as well, multiplies. And, while there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, experience definitely makes the process easier. In the case of Spanish teams, like most teams, there are several things you should keep in mind.

Note: I haven’t worked with a ton of Spanish teams, but I feel like I have been able to find balance with Spaniards I have worked with.

Be open to the fact that there might have been a miscommunication:

This is my number one tip if you have any sort of a relationship (work or otherwise) with anyone! That is because oftentimes we take comments to heart that can be the result of a miscommunication—cultural or not—but that can also be the result of a bad day, a difficult time in someone’s life, etc. By being open to the idea that the comment was not intentionally meant to frustrate you, I truly believe that it is easier to work towards understanding.

What can you do if you are afraid there might have been a miscommunication? Ask for clarification! Now, clarification comes in many different forms, but try to be polite (if not down-right nice) when you are looking for answers—you don’t want the other person to feel attacked by your questions. With more cultural experience, you will learn how to ask more neutral questions, but as a starter tip I would recommend formulating your ideas as if you were talking to someone you love.

Pro-tip: My mother always told me that if I have a bad customer/colleague/etc. experience, I should remember that I know very little about what is going on in the life of the other person. You probably don’t know why they are doing this specific job or the things that have gone wrong in their day/week/month/etc.

Be aware how your own cultural expectations impact your understanding of situations:

Pocket watch. Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

That’s right—the misunderstanding might not have been their fault. When we talked about cultural competences, we mentioned that awareness of one’s own culture is extremely important. This is because until you realize that what is ‘normal’ for you might not be ‘normal’ for other people, it is difficult to accept that they are not doing it on purpose to try and frustrate you.

Cultural expectations can be clearly seen impacting things like communication style. Some cultures work on project by giving constant updates and going through reviews every couple of weeks. However, this can be frustrating and feel like micromanaging to people who are used only checking in when there are problems or the project is finished. If you don’t understand what your own expectations are for the situation (and, ideally, what your colleagues perceptions are), you will always feel like they are not coming through on their end and/or that they don’t trust you.

Pro-tip: One time I was talking to an acquaintance about time management in Spain and she told me it was very disrespectful for them to show up late. However, she was only looking at the situation through her own cultural expectations as this is not the meaning of tardiness in Spain and I am sure that in 99% of cases people would feel terrible if they knew this is how you felt about it.

Make sure your communication is clear for them:

The previous point makes it clear that you should understand your own expectations, but if you are going to be working with a Spanish team frequently you should try to get to know them and what they want from you too. Study how they communicate among each other and pick up little tips for how you can adapt yourself to the different situations. While you might say that everyone should make an effort to make it work, only people who are aware of the situation conflicts and where they are coming from can begin to make changes.

Pro-tip: I am pretty blunt and happily give constructive criticism, something that might not go over so well in many Spanish teams. Therefore, it is important to understand how the team works and adapt my feedback techniques so I don’t unintentionally offend someone.

Team bumping fists. Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels

Try to create bonds outside of just “the work:”

Work boundaries are incredibly cultural and Spain is not necessarily the most open country to creating friendships from your work colleagues. Therefore, you may find yourself without the ability to create bonds by going for a casual beer after hours. At the same time, Spanish people are incredibly social and depending on who you ask, you might be able to find a way to have lunch or go for a coffee together. Creating deeper relationships will be beneficial because you will begin to see how your colleagues are outside of work and understand what they are going through on a daily basis. This means that both of you will increase your empathy for the other and improve general, overall communication.

Pro-tip: It is easy to forget we are not just work-robots, so put yourself out there every once in awhile to see if you manage to inspire the team.

Accept that not all teams will flow:

Just like not all teams will flow for you back home, not all teams in Spain will be a match made in heaven. In fact, despite working really hard to understand the cultural and personal differences, you might find that you cannot stick with it. And this is okay. We tend to think that if we work hard, we will be successful but sometimes that just isn’t feasible. This might come in different forms. For example, even if you really like the individuals, you may find that the group work drives you crazy—it might be cultural but it might not.

Keep in mind that it is important for you to be comfortable in your work environment in order to get the most out of it (both for you and your colleagues). If you are not okay where you are, consider changing something. This might be anything from talking to your colleagues about your point of view to searching for something different to do. I am not saying that quitting is the answer, but I want to highlight that no matter how hard you try, not every situation will be perfect.


What are your top tips for working successfully with a Spanish team? Let us know in the comments!

Sincerely,
Spain