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Why cultural training experts and big business had an extra interest in golf’s Ryder Cup

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The US celebrated a famous victory in the end at Hazeltine, Minnesota, regaining the trophy with a convincing 17-11 win.But all the debate in the run-up to the tournament was around why Europe’s team appeared to have a better spirit.

For years this togetherness has been cited as one of the reasons behind Europe’s success, having won eight of the previous ten tournaments. So much so, that US captain Davis Love III and his team managers vowed to analyse the phenomenon ahead of this year’s matches.

It was so interesting because this year the Americans were really talking up how much they were working on teamwork. But the language used was still totally different to Europe. If you listened closely it was very task-focused rather than relationship-focused. It was all about having the right organisation and backroom staff in place rather than about relationships between people.

The reason for this is that even the very word “team” instinctively means something different to different people in different cultures.

I often ask “what does the word team mean to you” as an opening discussion point when training global teams in the business world; and the answers which come back are very different.

What we’ve found is that Americans see a team as a group of individuals working together, leveraging each other’s strengths, to achieve a goal. The word team makes them think of a well-oiled operation, good organisation and shared tasks. For Europeans the response to the word “team” is far more emotional. For them it’s often about a sense of community and camaraderie  and how that energises the team to succeed.

This might go some way to explaining why the Europeans often appear to have a better team spirit. It could also help to explain why they have been so successful – but as we saw in Hazeltine it certainly doesn’t mean the US can’t win with their own brand of teamwork. It’s about cultural difference.

For the US team, despite their success, these differences make trying to replicate Europe’s team spirit more complicated. And maybe they simply don’t need to.

You can trace these differences back a long way. In the history of the US it’s always been about being self-reliant  from the first pioneers to today’s entrepreneurs. In Europe they have been used to alliances for centuries, finding ways to work together  through necessity  to leverage the strength of neighbours

In an individual sport like golf the reliance on self is deep – and when allied to the US culture of being the best you can, you can see why teamwork means something different. Of course, this doesn’t mean the US cannot be successful in Ryder Cup matches, as they proved so convincingly this time, but it does mean they achieve it in a slightly different way.

We see this when training corporate groups. In America, relationships are something that happen outside of work. It doesn’t mean they don’t have friendships at work but they certainly don’t need to feel close to those in the office. In Europe the practice of meeting work colleagues ‘in the pub’ or as part of a social scene is far more prevalent

For Americans on the golf course, and in business too, it’s all about internal control. From a sporting perspective there’s no reason why the American way cannot be successful. They have certainly proved that! But for Europe that belief in their “togetherness” and team spirit will always be a big part of how they do things. It will be fascinating to see what happens next time in France in 2018!

Alyssa Bantle is an expert in cultural training with Crown World Mobility, a worldwide company which helps corporations manage global talent. 

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