I lived this life for years on both sides, and the disconnects can truly be painful. In all cases, however, all of the problems were solved by setting the right expectations, enforcing good communication practices, and patience.
I am glad to hear that you are optimistic about the diconnect issues.
My question, though, is that even if both sides agree on "good communication practices" as critical, what the U.S. team may regard as "good practices" may not be the same as what the China team thinks.
Then, what do you do?
While Americans are more inclined to spell out everything in their e-mail communication, for example, Chinese may want to leave the interpretation of their communication content left to their intended readers.
I would like to hear more from our readers real-world disconnect patterns they have experienced in their China-U.S. companies.
Junko, your question is a good one. Too often I watched other multinational R&D companies make the same mistake (mine is semiconductor design, but the same lesson applies to many fields). Namely, leaders failed to recognize that good policy does not necessarily equate to smooth execution.
Managers spread out throughout North America, the Middle East, and the EU would spend a prodigious amount of time crafting a set of policies to reduce the risk that communication issues, etc. would arise. These policies were made in a vacuum without really considering how the local teams in China would interpret them. Then the managers would would throw these policies over the wall, so to speak.
From the perspective of a multinational company whose HQ is located outside of China, I found that having one or more high-performing individuals relocate to China was the bare minimum for enabling a successful working relationship. The people who come to China need to be tolerant, open-minded, and willing to learn the language (if they don't know it already). And above all, the most successful cross-border relationships arose when people on both sides understood and appreciated China for what it is, both strengths and weaknesses.
To specifically address your question about differences in what constitutes 'good practice,' this is solved by having the right people physically located in both places. This means sending the right people to China (see above), either temporarily or permanently, but it also means flying key members of the Chinese site back to HQ on a regular basis. Building a good relationship is critical and can only be done face-to-face. Many companies squander huge potential by not wanting to spend a few thousand dollars on air fare and hotel for a week. That is a great pity.
I agree with Daniel. Relationship is really the key to a successful communication. Face-to-face meeting is definitely a must-have vehicle. The earlier; the better.
Language can take a year or 2 to learn. Culture will take a lot longer time to understand. Living in the country for a couple of months and engaging to the local community will help. This takes both sides to make it happen. The willingness of the local people, Chinese, to communicate and the openness of the visitors, Americans, to accept. It is an art.
15-20 years ago, a lot of companies from Europe or America are going to China via either Hong Kong or Taiwan. There were 2 reasons. China wasn't as open as of now. Another major reason is people in both places are relatively easier to understand and communicate. The reason is, for example, people in Hongkong indeed grew up in a multi-cultural environment. There wouldn't be lack of western faces in HK. They start learning English when they were 6 years old, probably 2 or 3 now. A lot of people in the managerial grade have studied or worked in foreign countries at one point in their life. Similarly, in Taiwan, there are quite a number of US-educated fellows. Learning the American ways through college is probably one of the best. These people became a key bridge for the success. Nowadays, a lot of big corporation choose to go direct. There is no doubt China has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Language barrier has been diminishing. Communication barrier still held high. Junko raises a very good question, "if both sides agree on 'good communication practices' as critical, what the U.S. team may regard as 'good practices' may not be the same as what the China team thinks. " It's a very tough question to answer. My experience taught me that constant communication between 2 dedicated person, one on each side, will accelerate project a lot faster. I held 2 meetings; 1 really early of CA time and 1 towards the end of my day will help to bridge the understanding the progress of a project. Hopefully, as time goes, the occurrence of meeting can be reduced to at minimal twice a week.
Junko, when I read your comments I have a deja vu. 20 years ago when I started to work for a Japanese company I had the same impressions. We felt that our Japanese colleagues did not take our (European) customers serious and the Japanese thought we are too demanding. Fortunately with a lot of patience and empathy we became successful together. In my opinion Japan was yesterday what China is today. The need for spending much time to understand each other is mandatory.