Great questions for team building with many nationalities

Door Arjen Uittenbogaard

This week, I had the pleasure of giving a Product Owner training with a very international company. We had 12 participants from countries as diverse as China, Philippines, Italy, US, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Denmark, India and I’m probably forgetting some. One of the participants told that in her team, every team member had a different nationality, and one even had two nationalities. Which is to say: quite a mix in the room!
Over lunch we came to discuss differences in cultures. In the Netherlands, we don’t just go visit friends: we make an appointment for that. In Italy and Bulgaria, I was told, you just go when you feel like it. We talked about eating habits and about riding bicycles in Dutch traffic. The usual conversation topics in international groups. Then we got to some interesting differences that we found to be good exercises for team building. Over this lunch we had quite some fun with it. Here goes.

  • How do you call “the middle of nowhere” in your language? This question was raised by an American who had found out that on the east coast, several different words were used (none of which I can remember) and that later he learned that on the east coast the abbreviation BFE is used (which I won’t spell out). The Italian in the group, after giving it a thought, came up with “God’s place”. I had to admit that I couldn’t come up with the Dutch version – we often use the English phrase.
  • What is the gesture you use to indicate the food is nice? In the Netherlands we wave our hand next to our cheek (which Italians use to indicate that someone is behaving weirdly). The Italians point their index finger into a cheek. Americans rub their tummy.
  • How do you tell the time? We got to this one when at twelve-twenty-five I used the clumsy translation of the Dutch: “ten to half one”. Not only is it clumsy, but also there is a time difference of one hour between the Dutch “half one” (meaning half past twelve) and the English (meaning half past one). People got curious if we also used things like “five to quarter past half” (which we don’t).
  • How does a dog bark in your language? We didn’t come to hearing the different answers, so this one is open for a next international gathering.

Maybe you are working in an international team? Have fun with these questions! Or maybe you can share some you have run into?

Arjen Uittenbogaard

Arjen is verhalenverteller. Een training van hem is een ervaring die je niet licht vergeet. Hij is ook regisseur van improvisatietoneel. Dat vindt hij een mooie metafoor voor zijn werk in het coachen van teams en individuen in organisaties die meer agile willen worden. Want dat is zijn expertise: agile werken. Daar heeft hij al twintig jaar ervaring mee en daar is hij goed in. Zijn hart gaat uit naar de menselijke kant van het werk, naar de communicatie en de samenwerking. Daarbij weet hij alles van complexe adaptieve systemen: omgevingen waarin niets is wat het lijkt, waar best practices je op het verkeerde been kunnen zetten en waar je steeds zult moeten experimenteren en leren. Ook heeft hij nog steeds lol van zijn achtergrond in object georiënteerde softwareontwikkeling: hij mag ontwikkelaars graag uitdagen op hun ontwerpen en de toepassing van design patterns daarin.

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