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Collaboration in Thailand

Submitted by on Monday, 8 August 20112 Comments

One question we are asked with surprising regularity is why collaboration in Thailand and among Thai teams is seemingly so difficult when the Thai people have a group culture.

Collaboration in ThailandCollaboration of course is critical – not only in Thailand but in any organisation that requires sustainable, long-term performance. And with the increase of complexity as the rate of change among industries accelerates, and the demands at work become ever larger, collaborating in teams is only going to become more important and more valuable for organisations going forward.

A Group is not a Team

The first, critical concept we would like to share with you – and one that trips up so many potential teams in Asia – is that a group is not a team.

Yet, being born and raised in a group or ‘collective’ culture, many Thais will find it harder to differentiate between what is a ‘group’ and what is a ‘team’. Accustomed to doing things together and collectively, many will assume that this is indeed ‘team’ behaviour.

And expats, many coming from more individualistic cultures (like America, Britain and many other countries in Europe), will also see this type of bonding as being very different to the individualistic behaviours they are accustomed to, and may also assume that this is evidence of team behaviour.

Within these two perceptions lie the seeds of team underperformance in Thailand (and, we would venture, in other collective cultures too.)

Define ‘Team’…

Most professionals would probably agree with Katzenberg and Smith’s definition that

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”

Here’s where the difficulty lies in collective cultures. While many find it easy doing things together they may fall into to the following traps (especially in Thailand):

1. There is no structured process of discovery of what ‘complementary skills’ each team member may have. In reality, survival in a collective culture means that complementary personalities are more important.

2. ‘Commitment to a common purpose’ – This is the crux of the dilemma in collective cultures. The ‘common purpose’ is the group. This perhaps explains why Japan has spent so long (two decades now) in recession. It could never sort out its root problems because doing so would have upset various ‘groups’. The pain of loss has, in other words, been preferable to the pain of challenging these groups.

3. ‘Performance goals’ – Now we’re really in deep! What performance goals matter more in groups than popularity and ‘fitting in’? Yet, among teams, we know that there are always goals that transcend these – if we care to search, and dare to dream!

4. ‘Mutually accountable’. Wait a minute – groups are by their nature accountable, aren’t they? But to what, exactly? To answer this question we need to understand…

How not to fall out with The Group

…Remember Mr Bean?

He’s the one we all found funny because of his wild and whacky behaviours. But why are these behaviours so funny? It’s because of how we, as humans, have evolved and  survived since the time of Cro-Magnon man.

So if you don’t want to be like Mr Bean and you do want to survive in ‘the group’, you simply need to learn how to do three things:

  1. Don’t break the ‘rules’ of behaviour.
  2. Don’t be or appear to be incompetent or clumsy.
  3. Don’t be or appear to be unattractive.

In these three factors we have the real ‘purpose’ of groups. However, this ‘purpose’ isn’t going to get your company very far, or deliver your company’s purpose of profits, sales, or market share.

To do so in Asia your people need to learn that…

To become a Team we need to sacrifice the Group


Don’t stare up the steps, step up the stairs!

You see that list above, of the three things we need to do to survive in a group?

These are deep, unconscious drivers that are at the very root of our evolutionary survival of which most of us are unaware. These drivers are extremely powerful.

However, as the saying goes what got us here won’t necessarily get us there.

Becoming aware of these factors are the first step for the group to becoming a team.

What are the other steps?

Well, following his research, Patrick Lencioni in his bestselling booking Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team identified them as:

  1. Being able to gain and maintain Trust (a massive factor)
  2. Being able to manage Conflict (note that Groups tend to avoid conflict)
  3. Being able to gain and maintain Commitment to a shared vision.
  4. Being able to embrace Accountability (note that Groups, in order to maintain ‘harmony’ will tend to escape accountability to avoid conflict).
  5. Being able to define and manage Results (note that Groups won’t do this, because it again threatens the ‘harmony’ central to their existence).

The above are the five simple steps individuals need to take and reinforce to go from a ‘Group’ to a ‘Team’. (You can see a graphic of the model here).

But why not just stay as a Group???

Confronted with anything that looks like ‘hard work’ or ‘change’, many people will ask a very logical question. Why not just stay as we are? Why not just stay as a Group?

And it seems so easy to do so.

That is the choice that needs to be made. But the ‘easy’ choice is, longer term, usually the more painful one. This is because:

Groups survive, but Teams strive and thrive.


So if surviving is your thing, stay as a group. Repeat all the mistakes that groups make. Live in the pain of conflict avoidance and below-the-surface tensions. And enjoy the politics.

But if striving and thriving is your thing, then begin on the path to forming and growing a team. Because on this path lies personal fulfilment, enjoyment, excitement and real, meaningful achievement.

How to build a Team in your organisation

If you are bored of all the team problems and would like to collaborate more effectively in your organisation, then why not run the world’s most recognised team development programme Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of Teams?

The programme can be run in Thai and English and gives your colleagues the tools to step up the stairs, rather than staring up the steps.

You can see the programme details here or why not request full details by simply filling out our ‘Contact Us’ form here.


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