Cultural differences can be a beautiful thing. Or maybe not… it depends on your perspective. I was chatting with one of my customers today who mentioned that she just got back from visiting a major supplier in Finland. That supplier had a large factory, perhaps 500 people. I’m going to paraphrase her description of an interaction between her and the plant manager:
Visiting customer (VC): "Beautiful conference room. I really like glass walls."
Finland plant manager (FPM): "Yes, we believe in openness."
VC: "Why are all those people walking past us carrying duffle bags?"
FPM: "I can’t show you now, but I’ll show you after lunch."
After lunch he takes her down the hall and into what looks like a locker room with showers directly opposite the lockers. There are no curtains or doors on the showers.
VC: "Nice locker room. Is this the men’s or women’s?"
VC: "OK…. so what do they use the lockers and showers for?"
The plant manager then walks the visitors through another door, and behold! There’s a hot tub that could hold about 30 folks.
VC: "Very nice! I always thought a hot tub would be a nice employee perk!"
FPM: "Our employees really like it, which is why it was too crowded to show you earlier."
VC: "So who decides when the men get to use the hot tub, and when the women do?"
FPM: "We all use it together."
VC: "So where does everyone change if there’s only one locker room?"
VC: "Into swimsuits."
By this point I was alternating between being enthralled with our cultural differences and rather unpleasant visuals of imagining my coworkers in a hot tub in their birthday suits. Maybe Finland is different, but over here factory folks are usually not exactly pinup material. Then I got to thinking about a couple of recent petty employee issues along the lines of "so and so looked at me wrong." Isn’t babysitting employees a blast? But at least they weren’t sharing a soak together. Or maybe such "openness" creates more acceptance, resulting in fewer petty HR issues?
Looking around at my coworkers, I think that’s one management idea I won’t try. Smart and creative will only get you so far. Although a few months ago I did threaten to lock two quarreling managers together in a dark closet in their Speedos until they resolved their differences. Close enough.