Chapter 4


I talk to twenty industry leaders for their views on teamwork in China, exploring current trends, challenges they face, and methods used. Copious notes and transcription highlights later, patterns and themes emerge.
The lack of previous research and a collation of stories and experiences from practitioners is what drove me on this journey. While this field guide serves both team leaders and members, in the short three months of research time, my interviews focused on leaders for three reasons:

  1. Leadership is a key ingredient in the production of organizational cultures (Diamon, 1991).
  2. In a high power distance culture like China (discussed in Chapter 3"Culture"), team leaders tend to be even more powerful agents in shaping how teams work together.
  3. This research is interested in specific methods, which tend to come from leaders.

The 20 industry leaders interviewed here are selected for their diversity in age, background, and experience for a holistic understanding. The majority are chosen from my personal network since first coming in touch with the creative industry in China in 2007.
industry interviews
At a Glance

Siyu Cao | (former) Project Manager, JOYN:VISCOM
Stephen Chan Wen Feng | Group Creative Director, BlueFocus Digital
Robert Fuchs | Director, Publicis Beijing
Shan Hu | (former) Project Director, JOYN:VISCOM
Lancy Jia | Content Creator, Anomaly Shanghai
Wolfgang Kaller | Strategy Director, BlueFocus Digital
Lulu Li | Partner & Creative Director, Moujiti
Elisa Ma | Vice President, Ogilvy Public Relations
Carl Nyman | Design Director, Anomaly Shanghai
Alex Phung | Vice President & Chief Content Director, BlueFocus Digital
Alex Shapiro | (former) Director of Strategy, DMG
Angelito Tan | CEO, RTG Consulting
Eileen Wu | Design Researcher, IDEO Shanghai
Jiayin Wu | Founder & Design Director, KUO SPACE
Roomy Xiao | Account Group Director, BlueFocus`Digital
Cindy Ye | (former) Deputy General Manager of Marketing, Shanghai Xintiandi
Shaway Yeh | Group Style Editorial Director, Modern Media Group
Forest Young | General Manager & Executive Creative Director, Tian Yu Kong Creative
* Shiwen Huang | Founder, Beida Experimental Kindergaten
* Liang Ma | Associate Professor, Mobile Media Arts Lab, Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts

* Two additional interviews were conducted with an university design educator and experimental kindergarten teacher for context, but not included in the data.
55.5% female
44.5% male
27.5% local
28% local returnee
44.5% foreign
50% post-80s
39% post-70s
11% post-60s

- 18 team leaders in the creative industry, the majority in advertising, brand & strategy, and design
- Representing 14 organizations

Type of companies
- 5 multinational firms (Anomaly Shanghai, IDEO Shanghai, Ogilvy Public Relations, and Publicis)
- 2 large independent firms (BlueFocus Digital & Shanghai Xintiandi)
- 4 medium independent firms (DMG, Modern Media, RTG Consulting, Tian Yu Kong Creative)
- 3 small independent firms (JOYN:VISCOM, MOUJITI, KUO SPACE)

Cultural background of teams
- 11 are mostly local
- 7 are somewhat international

Interviews took place in the span of two months, from December, 2015 until February, 2016. With an exception of one, all interviews took place in person, mostly on site at respective organizations. Participants were told about the project and agreed to an in-depth and in person interview. All have signed an interview consent, stating that the interview will be recorded, but data will be anonymized, and they have the opportunity to withdraw from the research. Interviews were conducted with prepared questions but framed as an open conversation. Many of the interviews were preceded by a tour of respective organizations, which offered insight into company cultures. In-person interviews allowed for active listening, non-verbal communication, and building of rapport. Recording allowed for minimal notes taken during each interview section in order to keep the interview interactive. Interview questions were structured in three parts:

This sets the context to find out what the industry leader's background and what the organization culture might be like. Prior research is completed before each interview toward organization culture and history. A question to distinguish the official culture, and what the "actual culture feels like" is asked. Besides the interviewee, observation of artifacts —space, design, visible slogans, and activities in the organization are taken into account.

Interviewees were asked to describe the complete process of a specific task or project requiring teamwork. The questions are framed chronologically so details can be revealed. In the advertising, brand & strategy, design sectors, actions such as "briefing," "brainstorming," "pitch," and "review" are used to prompt the interviewee. This part focuses on the task work or Structure & Design of a team project as well as other conditions the process might elicit.

The last section focus specifically on the methods utilized and challenges faced by team leaders in order to draw key insights. Questions are drawn from conditions of effective teamwork such as Communication & Trust ("how do you establish trust?" "does the team give each other feedback?") as well as seeking broad ranging advice from interviewees.

While there are a plenty of studies on effective teamwork, a good number on cross-cultural teamwork, and yet many more for both topics in non-academic publications, there's simply less on this topic in either the academic or popular realm in the context of China, and/or in Chinese. A search for "effective teamwork in China" drew up mostly conflict-resolution management articles in academic database. The same search in Chinese on Baidu, mainland China's most popular search engine, yielded primarily wiki-based entires, postings from discussion boards, and articles from non-reputable publishers. While books on business and management are hugely popular in China as evident from airport bookstore selections, the subgenres tend to focus on leadership and entrepreneurship. This drove me to want to talk directly with practitioners to gain insights.
The final data yields to 20 recordings, a total of 19 hours (1154 minutes) of recording, averaging 58 minutes per interview. Notes are immediately organized and expanded upon after each interview, with key insights highlighted. Transcriptions of key quotes are translated (if needed) then pulled to each interview summary. Key statements are then clustered in "quote boards" to observe trends and tensions visually, then finally distilled to insights. Insights are then tracked on a master excel sheet to finalize findings.

20 recordings —> notes —> key quotes —> clusters —> insights

Many of the interviews were preceded by a tour of respective organizations, which offered insight into company cultures. Left: Ogilvy Beijing; Top right: BlueFocus Beijing; Bottom right: Anomaly Shanghai

Industry Interviews
Our interview findings build on insights from Chapter 2 Teamwork, and Chapter 3 Culture. In "Teamwork," we surveyed the conditions for effective teamwork, and observed that Structure & Design and Communication & Trust, with eight tallies each, contribute most to success. In "Culture" we deduced the following:

  1. High power distance culture hinders innovation.
  2. While China is a high power distance culture, there is a clear shift in the individualism-collectivism spectrum toward the individualism, especially the younger generation.
  3. While there are impulses toward disrupting high power distance and moving toward a constructive culture in successful organizations, leaders tend to implement values from a top down level and don't necessarily explain the why when they empower employees.

I've organized findings based on conditions for effective teamwork discussed in Chapter 2 "Teamwork." Bold quotes are from my interviews. Additional insights are organized through pull-down text for more supporting quotes.
Constructive cultures can be learned through mini-cultural experiences
Our interview demography reflects the diversity in leadership in China's creative industry. A near 1:1 ratio split in gender, 3:3:4 of local, local returnees vs. foreign, and a 5:4:1 split of different generations, each represents vastly different views. This is an industry ripe with cultural, generational, and values gap. Unlike international cities like New York or London, where national values of low power distance and individualism is a given, often leading to assimilation, China is still in a stage of experimentation. The workforce is diverse, with dynamic values in collision.

There are firms adhering to strict Confucian, meritocratic values, but also firms looking toward western, egalitarian values. Different values and cultural behaviors often co-exist in one organization, and many agencies are loosely structured enough that high-level and mid-level managers have the freedom to create their own cultures in teams. "It's hard to say there's one culture because there are so many departments. The culture is different depending on the leader."

Because of a need to better educate and empower younger employees, there is a desire for the western model especially from the younger generation."The post-nineties generation are not at all like the post-seventies and eighties. They are not staying here for the money at all. They care about personal growth." "The culture says people first, but it's possible that employees will say it's money first. But I believe culture comes from every person in the company. In my team we're culture-first. We focus on individual feelings - be a kind person, be proactive, have integrity and respect, be appreciative, give feedback. It's also open and fun."

However, many feel they do not have the theory, the methods, organization backing, or support groups to help them. "My partner doesn't really care about this kind of management, and people don't share enough in this city." "I come in and people tend to have their head down working on their own tasks, and I'd be like, 'come on, work together,' and they'd say, 'oh' and it would end there."

Finally, leaders in firms who have achieved more constructive cultures underscore that really understanding culture takes time, and creating "mini-cultural experience… or micro-moments of interactions that are powerful and can change people's minds. Otherwise people will always do things the ways they've always done them."
Breakdown of culture values
Toward flatter hierarchy…
- Of the 18 industry leaders we interviewed,
- two felt they worked in a place with relatively lower power distance teams or constructive cultures.
- An additional ten more desires a flatter, more democratic workplace.

But a lack of methods….

- Of the ten, three have clear and active methods toward achieving this within their team. All three work within high power distance organizations, and admit to conflict.
- The rest of the six feel they lack the methods, and assigns fault to the national culture of high power distance, or a "talent gap" that stops them from relinquishing power.

The young and expats…
- 10 out of the 11 leaders who work within or espouses lower power distance are either expats or locals of the post-eighties generation, many of the locals had overseas experience.

Older and stricter…
Of the 18 industry leaders we interviewed, six espouse relatively high power distance, attributing merit and experience as important factors. These teams tend to have a clear rewards system. This group consists of post-seventies and early post-eighties generation.

- Younger team leaders tend to desire lower power distance cultures.
- Locals team leaders with overseas experience tend to desire lower power distance cultures.
- Expat team leaders tend to desire lower power distance cultures.
- Majority of team leaders do not know how to create a lower power distance culture against a national or organizational culture.
Additoinal trends
Dragons & Worms: Perception of team and industry culture is in flux
"One Chinese person makes a dragon, three Chinese people make a worm."

"For someone within the working environment, there's three levels for personal growth and improvement. One is technical skills, the second is people, the third is system. We often as individuals focus on technical skills, we learn this software and that coding language, but at some point you realize that you have to understand human resources because you're working with others. No matter how good you are individually, technically, it's not enough. Everything is about people and unlocking their potential. Finally, you create a system that streamline the behaviors."

"After all these projects, what I think about the most is not whether they were successful or difficult, but if the team helped anyone grow, and if everyone felt their contributions and learned the value of teamwork. I'm a little ashamed thinking about it."

"The creative environment is not healthy in China."

"The CEOs visited creative offices abroad, and decided that the space has to change. Right now the space is completely functional, but not "nice." The point is they are willing to change and experiment."

"We want to do better than the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies). We want to create a place with international standards of creativity but with better localization."
Pink vs. Blue: Conflict within organization culture is common, especially concerning Chinese vs. Western cultural difference
"It's hard to say there's one culture because there are so many departments. The culture is different depending on the leader. There's the old school culture where everyone is trying to please the boss. If the boss is talking everyone is saying 'yes yes yes.' If the boss is saying this wall is pink, then everyone says 'yes it's pink' even though it might be blue. Then there are places where there is really modern, western culture where basically the intern has the same voice as the director and it's a modern way of collaboration, but I would say this is not happening often."

"The company has a philosophy of a garment factory, but I do things my way, and I also get the results, and that's what matters."

"The culture says people first, but it's possible that employees will say it's money first. But I believe culture comes from every person in the company, it's an organization, and like a country it is defined by the people. So for me, whatever the culture of my team might be, that is the organization culture. In my team we're culture-first. We focus on individual feelings - be a kind person, be proactive, have integrity and respect, be appreciative, give feedback. It's also open and fun. The only thing is will I have enough energy to keep going this way in the long run?"

The culture is "Chinese management style" or "paternalistic-style." There is a lot of hierarchy. The policies change frequently on the boss' whim. It is driven by one person's emotion. They don't seek out help from management consulting companies on the internal management structure and there's no long-term vision.

"I've talked to the higher management about respect and appreciation, that's missing, because honestly, who really cares how much money the company makes? People are here for personal growth and doing something impactful and good."
There is a desire for flatter hierarchy, openness and transparency
"Everyone on my team basically knows how much we each make. Openness and fairness is really important on a team."

"I would love to make the finances and budget and salary public information. Otherwise people seem to always assume they are not making enough. I think once people have enough experience and maturity, I'd like to do this. But right now there is still a gap and maybe once they are experienced enough they will leave."

"I hope (the agency) is like an active, creative organism, and everyone is a dynamic cell set free within it. It should be democratic and equal."

"We don't give gifts and don't accept gifts."

"In China the unspoken rules often win over the written rules, but I'm a firm believer in upholding the rules for a fair place so I can have the capacity to lead others."
Really understanding culture is hard, especially in China
"I wouldn't say we've had any really serious or obvious issues with local staff versus un-local staff, but the bigger problem for the company is hiring people who are local Chinese who have a natural affinity to this type of work and actually be able to do it. So having all the soft skills in place, being a good collaborator, these are things you can't teach right away. Some of them are innate qualities that people tend to have that may have been destroyed by the educational system. So it's hard to find enough people who are a good cultural fit who are also local Chinese, or local with international experience. "

"I think it's important to point out that methods are one thing. There are a lot of people who are reading these articles about collaboration, teamwork and innovation and design thinking. They think if you employee a few more methods somehow they will be better, they will be able to innovate, or have happier staff. You have to understand that you have to fundamentally change the culture of your entire working environment, your whole company, and it's not as easy as employing various methods. At the end of the day, if you create a truly collaborative environment, it doesn't matter what methods you use. Everything else will fall into place."

"It's not that methods are not necessary but it's important to show people very clearly the different types of interactions that could be created by setting up a particular process for a particular activity or a particular set of rules and actually letting them experience it. So if you run a short design thinking workshop, and people found it extremely powerful, especially our local Chinese clients. All you have to do is structure them in a certain way and let them do what they want to do and then they see, ok they've gotten to a really interesting place by the end of this. You create this mini-cultural experience and then you sell them on that. They decide they want to expand this kind of working interaction in a bigger way across their company. Micro-moments of interactions that are powerful and can change people's minds. Otherwise people will always do things the ways they've always done them."

Cogs & Machines: The education gap is frequently brought up as the cause of inefficiencies
"We're (the agency) doing what higher education should have taught."

"We have to teach people the process, because higher education here isn't."

"The talent is simply not quite there."

"I just need my team to execute. They are machines to me."

"I'm the leader and my role is to support, inspire and educate, because there is still a huge gap in education."

"They (the rest of the team) are not my equal."

"The process is evolving. Partly because of an education gap."
...With some strong dissent
"If you treat people like dumb cogs, don't expect them to think outside the box. Don't expect them to care about your needs if you don't care about their needs."

"Look there is obviously an education gap, but I fiercely believe in the saying "there's no one else out there except you." What we see as problems are usually a reflection of our own problems. Of course junior team members will be lower level. Of course they are not going to be able to write a perfect strategy right away. That's why there's teamwork. That's why there's training. People tend to focus on being a superman, but if you are so much better, then what are you doing if not making a superteam?

"The top notch are the top 5-10% here, as in any market pool. I've found the broad mass in America or England or Germany or Austria, it's pretty much mediocre everywhere. I didn't find China to be different. If you are willing to pay a good salary you will get talent. The problem is bad hiring process and contracts."
The Post Post Posts: The generation gap in values creates different expectations...
"It's impossible to change the minds of the older people, who've always done it the top-down, high-pressure way."

"The post-nineties generation are not at all like the post-seventies and eighties. They are not staying here for the money at all. They care about personal growth."

"The post-nineties employees are completely different and more self-assertive. They would ask for feedback and I'm not sure what to say."

"No one cares if you're successful, especially for the post-nineties generation. Don't think that because you are in a high status job or you got a lot of funding for this business development that you're a successful person. Success is if others can share their happiness and experience with you. The era of wielding your title as power over people is over. Maybe in state agencies it still exists, but amongst people who are proactive, who know what they want, no way."

"The post-nineties? Wow I love them. Sure they are headstrong. They are free-thinkers. They are independent. But I also feel that they are very responsible, and have their own point of view, and they know the rules of the game."

"Definitely (the younger people are more self-aware and assertive)..., but the younger people are not leaders yet. In the more traditional advertising companies, the young people have to play with the rules of the older people. The younger people are hard to manage in this environment (more hierarchical) because they don't accept the rules.

"The younger generation are really independent and self-aware, but don't know how to collaborate together. They just complete their own task at hand, and feel that it's a bother to tend to others."
ABCs, One Two Three: The cross-cultural gap from diversity in team create different values
"It's not easy (to create an open culture), because you have the Chinese who have experience abroad for one or two or three years. You have Chinese who have never been abroad. You have the ABCs who might be Chinese but lived the majority of their life abroad. My team have all three of these types, and they are living in very different worlds."

"On the surface you think they are similar but they are not at all. For the local Chinese, I think it's part of the education, they don't ask the boss for any details because they have such huge respect for you. They feel they shouldn't bother you. They should always show their perfect side. They should do what's being told. The opposite end is they expect you know everything. It's a long process of encouraging them to speak up, and show the human side of the leader, and become friends with them. You have to do it one to one. There's a long way of mistakes and embarrassment.

With ABCs when you give them support and trust you really empower them to lead. That's when they really blossom and go crazy. Because they have this western thinking but probably also tiger moms. ABCs are talented and super smart but they tend to lack of confidence, but if you give them that sense of trust they will be great." - Wolfgang
Structure & Design
Structure is the foundation of creativity
The speed of changes in a developing China, coupled with many "unspoken" rules in society, prompts an observation from one industry leader that: "Because there is a lack of structure culturally you have to put structure into place." For teams to run effectively, a clear process creates a system of trust against otherwise possible inconsistent overall environment. Here some leaders run into what they feel is an education gap, where higher education in China hasn't taught the right creative process, and they spend enormous time coaching their staff. "The beauty of repetition. Repetition is everything. It creates a structure. You need a wall. If you don't bump up against the walls it's a problem. That's why people love Facebook and hate Facebook. It has a wall, WeChat too. Then you try to get creativity within the walls but you're constantly moving within the structure. Repetition is the essence of good management as it is the essence of good branding."

Whether it's structure, the walls, a box, or the rules of the game, having clear structure actually increases creative output. A fitting analogy might be in the west parties tend to be spontaneous and driven by conversation, but in China there is a cultural tendency of group gatherings to involve an activity, whether it's karaoke or popular group games like Mafia or Who's the Spy to mediate interactions.

Additoinal trends
Red, Four, & Trains: First have structure
"First you have to have structure, then you can be creative."

"Structure is important. If I have a meeting, I will tell everyone the purpose of it, how long it's going to be, what everyone's role is. I will then go around and ask everyone "what do you think, what do you think."

"Last month I did a training session for our working methodology. When we get a brief, we first ask why. Then figure out the concept. This process is important."

"Because there is a lack of structure culturally you have to put structure into place. People have to understand they have to follow the structure."

"We have to make decisions and ensure we follow them or we won't get any depth or clarity to our work. That's why we make a box and we sit every morning and say. Don't forget team, we're focusing on the color red, and we're focusing the number four, and we're focusing on trains. We need a train, this color, this number, done. Keep them focused."

"The beauty of repetition. Repetition is everything. It creates a structure. You need a wall. If you don't bump up against the walls it's a problem. That's why people love Facebook and hate Facebook. It has a wall, WeChat too. Then you try to get creativity within the walls but you're constantly moving within the structure. Repetition is the essence of good management as it is the essence of good branding."
Leaders need to be coaches
Leadership is a two-part job. On the one hand, industry leaders talk about establishing respect in a high power distance culture, and a need to "act like a boss." Engagement and more active participation remains an issue, so the purpose of respect is to gain trust, and a process of shrinking the power distance afterwards through "being nice," not to take"yourself too seriously," to thinking of staff of "colleagues" is a co-existing sentiment. Reconciling the forces at play is the biggest challenge for China's leaders, and successful leaders tend to act likes coaches — authoritative figures who spend a lot of time guiding the team and team members through professional and personal development. This trend aligns with a shift in organizational behavior and teamwork literature toward "devolution of power," (Kellerman, 2012) where leaders should become "guiders of process" (Rothmans, 2016).
Additoinal trends
Super boss coach: Finding respect

"Act like a boss."

"You can't have trust without respect in China. You have to gain respect first, then trust."

"The most important thing is don't take yourself too seriously."

"I'm a nice person. It's important to be nice."

"There's a lot of egos here. There's a lot of egos in Japan, China, India. It's important to not be the "foreigner" who knows all. It is important to be a colleague, not a boss. "I went to Japan because I loved the culture and was fascinated by the country, that is the outlook I have, and I think it helps."

"When leaders talk to team members in China, they are usually inviting you to 'drink tea'. It usually means something wrong. I want to smash this perception."

"Respect is much more important within the Chinese context, with a 20-something in China. They need to feel a sense of connection, they need to feel safety, and this comes from respect. When people are feeling scared, they don't communicate, so how do you get someone to open up so they can do their job? You make them feel safe. You make them feel empowered. Then you're going to get great ideas out of that person."
Engagement is a challenge
"The biggest challenge to team effectiveness is that some people are not working hard enough. It's a competitive market that they can go anywhere. Once in a while I have to give inspirational talks to inspire productivity."

"People aren't proactive enough. I don't know if it's possible to get a team to be proactive. I've asked around other companies too and it's a problem."

"I come in and people tend to have their head down working on their own tasks, and I'd be like, 'come on, work together,' and they'd say, 'oh' and it would end there."
Leaders have to become coaches
"Coaching is about practice practice practice, and it's never ending. Half of my time is working with my employees. Building that relationship where you care can take 6-12 months but it's worth it."

"I go through practice pitches with them many many times."

"I talk with every team member to plan their professional development."
Communication & Trust
Interpersonal team conversations are good for teamwork & productivity
In Chapter 2 Teamwork the condition of Communication & Trust include talking honestly, frequently, and at times informally. Again, there are antagonistic perceptions at play from our interviews, where communication often stop at being task-driven, with the leader giving a clear vision and structure and calls for accountability. These tend not to follow up with personal conversations for team development and trust, with some leaders noting "We are not psychiatrists here." Others, building on the enthusiasm and creativity exposed through team activities like personal sharing sessions, where individuals present everything from "'gambling in Macao,' 'British culture,' or on 'makeup tips'" and really get into it," want to explore other ways building rapport. The activities stand in contrast to creative brainstorm sessions, where leaders often have to "force people to talk." Successful brainstorms tend to involve gamification, empathy, and personalizing the subject. Social media like WeChat groups and circles are widely used to augment personal conversations and feelings, but at times are also used as replace for difficult face-to-face conversations "because it's more passive."

Methods like project reflection are task-driven or focused on self-criticism. Feedback are either formal performance reviews or in the moment conversations between leaders and team members. Team members have very few exchanges of feedback between them. Other actions such as inclusion and conflict-resolution largely depend on the leader. Communication is largely one-way from leader to team, instead of an unit. A fundamental lack of understanding that Communication & Trust exists beyond task-driven conversation or is in a vacuum of "downtime" is at fault. Leaders need to understand that purposeful, interpersonal conversations are good for teamwork and productivity.
Additoinal trends
How do you feel? Conversations about feelings and emotions can be a cultural taboo
"We are not psychiatrists here."

"It's not like we're in a romantic relationship right?"

"At work in China, everything personal is potentially a weakness."
If they happen, they are often initiated by leaders
"I have personal conversations all the time. If someone looks sad, or doesn't have make up on, I will intentionally ask what's going on. I don't have all the answers, but I try to share my own experience with them."

"So much of what we talk about is focused on the "task", but if you don't align everyone's purpose, expectations, and attitudes first, all that talk is wasted."

"The attitude you have communicating something is more important than the content of what you're try to say."

Every year during the team review period, I would ask team members "are you happy?" Because if you're not happy, it doesn't matter if you make a lot of money or making headway in your career.

"He thinks I'm going to talk about work with him, but I end up talking about soccer."

"Trust comes from expressing emotions, but I'm not sure how to foster better collaboration. Sometimes we eat food together, celebrate birthdays, go to karaoke to soften the tone."

"Here's the problem of asking someone how they feel. It's like asking someone what they want to have for dinner, and they're like I don't know, but if you give them a choice italian, there or szechuan tonight, people will usually have a better answer."
Interpersonal conversations amongst the team is rare
"Someone proposed during our sharing sessions we talk about our personal background and feelings a little more. Everyone on the team is talented but we don't know enough about each other. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea, but it's a good way to establish trust and empathy. This is something I want to try."

"I think it's hard for people to talk about their feelings, because all of this is new."

Sharing sessions with presentation on personal or informal topics are a hit
"We have a sharing hour, where each person takes initiative in sharing something personal, a project, an idea, or something they like. People tend to spend a lot of time on it."

"Our team holds a weekly sharing session. Everyone participates. it's informal. Topic is open. We had someone share 'gambling in Macao,' 'British culture,' or on 'makeup tips.' People prepare PPTs and everyone get really into it. It's our own internal Tedtalks that sometimes become a discussion. When we first started the team it was hard for everyone to connect, but after some sessions, the team grew a lot closer. It's had an amazing effect, because there's zero pressure or judgement from leaders."
WeChat is used to augment shared feelings
"We have a WeChat group and I love sending red packets. Every red packet is attached with a copy right, so I think carefully what I'm going to say."

"I try to comment on friend circles."

"We don't express our emotions enough. I told a team member after working with her that 'I like her' as a sign of respect and affirmation, and she responded on WeChat circles with a post of how she enjoyed working together. That feedback was extremely powerful. It should happen more often."
...but also as a replacement for face-to-face, uncomfortable interactions
"Many conversations happen here, because it's more passive, so we have time to compose thoughts, and there's emoticons to convert difficult feelings. We use Wechat to feed micro-instructions because it can be stressful to do it so often in person."
Mother May I: Brainstorming can a game of cajoling from leaders
"If no one talks, then I ask, I force."

"People who won't talk might be called on."

"When you are dealing with less sophisticated employees you ave to first do some one-and-ones, you chat with them over email, you collect the answers then you have the group meeting. Because otherwise you get twenty people in a room and only three will talk."

"Brainstorm needs inspiration, often by the leader. So I tend to call on people."

"Everyone puts their idea on the board, then talk about it briefly. If they don't talk, I get angry and sometimes say 'don't come to the next session if you aren't going to share or give feedback.'"

"For the quiet ones it takes a lot of guidance and communication skills from the leader. It can be difficult."

"We get everyone together for discussions and I say, 'can you tell me what you're thinking.' You have say it in this tone of voice, to guide them toward talking." -

With some leaders learning to empower
"We vote on the ideas. It's a chance for discussion and everyone to explain why they pick a certain idea."

"We went from one keyword to reflecting on personal experiences that really revealed the psyche of post-nineties, who was our target audience for the project, that led to an idea."

"We sometimes play a game. In the team everyone gets a 'veto vote'. I tell them everyone is equally important in the team, if we all agree to move forward with something, you can't say you felt differently afterwards. You've forfeited your vote as an independent thinking human being otherwise. It's crucial to not let the team feel that it's one person making all the decisions, otherwise what's the point? I tell them this."

"We brainstorm by understand why are we here. Why are we doing this. We come to an agreement of what's we're doing and everyone understands it. It's a shared and clearly understood goal."

"For brainstorming, you have to create games. This is one of the most sophisticated gaming market in the world. You have to find ways a create game. It has to be colorful, you have to create charts, point systems, they have to be very organized in China. They have to be highly organized, silly, stupid games. Then you get people involved. You need to bring gamification into brainstorming in China especially with the lower level. It works very well."
"So when I go to meetings with my bosses, the presentations have their names on it. This is what it's about, it's about co-ownership."

"Usually we try to bring as many people as we can to the client meetings."

"We have a library where every team member has to contribute five books. These books are not related to our work."

"I try to bring them to the client meetings, I find that they are more proactive when they participate directly, because if you act as the middleman, they will always feel like they are being told to complete something."

"You bring them to the client presentations. In the beginning they are afraid to talk but when you coach them, and they do it, and they come out of a meeting having presented, and the client listened. They light up and it's like their whole life changes."
"Conflict's good. Conflict is awesome. You want to make them realize conflict is fun just like a video game. In MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) RPG games you fight with swords. Isn't that conflict? There's plenty of conflict in daily Chinese life. We want to battle. We want our best ideas to win."
"We have a yearly review sharing individual reflections. This isn't easy since not everyone is willing to share their shortcomings. We try to create an atmosphere that is open and nonjudgemental, so far no one has declined to share. The power is in the sharing."

"When we do project reviews in the end, people tend to talk a lot about their shortcomings, problems and what they can do better."
"I only give feedback during performance reviews, it's a conversation."

"You bring them on board by semantically. What is wrong with my presentation? What did I forget to talk about. What didn't the client understand? How can I make this better? Can you please help me? Please help me see more. I don't ask, do you understand?"

"I understanding Chinese culture has an aspect of "saving face," so people might often say "oh this project it's going well, really well!" I get angry when I hear this kind of feedback. I'd rather have the ugly truth than a superficial one."

Kellerman, B. (2012). The End of Leadership. New York: HarperCollins.

Rothman, J. (2016). Shut Up and Sit Down. [Online] [Accessed 02 Mar 2016)
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