Lecturer in Mediation and Communication at University of Applied Sciences Wildau, Germany
In a contribution to the book, Global Citizenship. Perspectives of a World Community, Dirk Messner writes: “Research on cooperation has shown the basic mechanisms to help develop and stabilise cooperative relations: reciprocity, trust, dense networks of communication, reputation, fairness, instruments to support rule-abiding behaviours or to sanction free-rider strategies, we-identities and shared narratives.” There are a lot of ideas here, and I have been reflecting on these in relation to my own experience of international and crosscultural teamwork in the ECMT+ project and other contexts.
Firstly, the context: global citizenship is about international networking and cooperation, but not merely for economic gain. It is rather that if we see ourselves as global citizens, then because we are taking some (ideal or practical) responsibility for the state of the world and of people around the world. This is an ethical and political mindset that is on the rise. It involves cooperation for the sake of improving lives, not just for own gain. I believe that cooperation between universities around the world does contain this element too; we are creating networks that should promote understanding, acceptance of difference, and enrichment of lives. And this not just to make money. ECMT+ has a focus on entrepreneurship, which is of course also about business and financial success. But not only: we have focused many times on social entrepreneurship and responsible business. And we are also gaining lots of insight into each others’ work and worlds, and learning about and from each other. This is what international cooperation means for myself, above all other matters. Can ECMT+ be reframed a little as a project within the larger context of global citizenship, or at least European citizenship? I think yes. Definitely yes.
Returning to the recipe for cooperation. Reciprocity and trust must be givens, of course, as also dense communication networks. In our ECMT+ project we have managed much of this, but not without bumps and challenges along the way. Particularly, I think that our communication networks at times were not always reliable and dense enough – and I have heard members of our international team from different countries ask themselves why responses to their input have been low at times. It is a learning process, and we are learning. For us, this international project is work over and above our other jobs, which are busy enough. But not getting answers can demotivate too.
And sanctioning non-compliance with performance, agreements or deadlines? Well … on the one hand participation here is voluntary, so who should dare to warn and sanction? On the other, given that the project is EU funded, I think we probably should do more of that too. But I will leave that one there.
Shared narratives and we-identities. Yes, for sure. These are absolutely essential. We are working on it. But I would also take issue with this idea in just one respect: that our need for a shared narrative should not muscle out our differences. Any shared narrative needs to include respect for different ways of working and thinking, which in this project have truly surprised me, and I would like to share a few ideas on why.
I have had some experience of international project work in the past and present, including a former European consortium, and also work across continents, with team members from many different countries and continents from the USA to India, China to Australia. In these projects there have been shared goals and narratives, and we have got results. The differences in ways of working have sometimes been immense, and particularly noticeable in communication behaviours and strategies. Using email and online platforms is the norm, but their actual usage rates vary wildly and sometimes frustratingly. Levels of precision and detail in communication, project management and outputs also widely diverge. In these non-European teams I have learned to be patient, to accept and wait, to politely ask and reframe requests, and not to worry about surprises, silences, and twists in the tail. We have always got there in the end.
What has really surprised me this time has been the need for precisely the same kind of acceptance of difference within a purely European consortium. I never questioned my expectations before we began, but I am doing so now – I probably expected the teamwork and project work here to be so much easier and “efficient.” After all: we are all Europeans, aren’t we? Looking back, it has not been that different from working with partners outside Europe. For this reason I would add to Dirk Messner’s recipe for successful cooperation: patience! I am working on it.