Culture impacts our behavior and biases without us noticing
Hi, my name is Carsten.
In the past decade I went from a university student living in and being obsessed with Japan and cultural differences across the world, to assisting multinational acquisitions with a combined strikeprice between $500 – $600 million USD.
Throughout my journey, I have been working with companies ranging from 50 to 15000 employees, each boasting distinct corporate cultures, decision-making processes, and multinational teams. My experience spans established corporations with decades of market presence to burgeoning startups in their growth and exit phases.
Over time, I have witnessed the myriad challenges that can arise within teams and organizations of any size. The recurring issues plaguing these teams and acquisitions often stemed from a combination of ill-fitting corporate culture and poor communication, leaving individuals bearing the brunt of turmoil. They found themselves disheartened, demotivated, and eventually compelled to seek better opportunities elsewhere if the situation persisted.
On the contrary, I have also witnessed the remarkable potential of teams working in harmony — attentive to one another, embracing diverse cultural backgrounds, and leaning on each other for important decisions, discussions, and valued relationships.
A sobering realization emerges: we have drifted away from genuine human connections in the workplace, molding even our social interactions to fit corporate processes. My mission is to take a step back and rekindle the significance of human connections. By addressing this fundamental need for security and community in the workplace, harmony, success, and productivity will return.
Studying & working in Japan
From 2011 to 2016, I pursued “Asian Studies” at the University of Bonn, Germany, with a keen focus on Japan. My academic journey encompassed courses in Japanese language, culture, history, economics, and intercultural communication. During my time as a full-time student, I seized the opportunity to gain valuable insights into the corporate world through internships at various companies, both in Germany and abroad.
Over those five years, I had the privilege of spending two years studying and living in Japan. Initially, I embarked on a life-changing study abroad experience at Shizuoka University in Shizuoka city, where I not only gained academic knowledge but also forged lifelong friendships and embraced life in a different country.
After completing my bachelor’s degree, I returned to Japan, this time as a professional working in Tokyo. These two years granted me a profound understanding of Japanese family dynamics, community values, and work ethic. (I later expanded on this topic in my talk at the 2019 Open Source Summit in Japan).
My experiences in Japan, along with extensive language learning, provided a solid foundation in cultural awareness and tolerance towards cultural differences, while also giving me several blueprints cultures have used to adapt work and work-life balance. Armed with this knowledge, I ventured into the IT industry, driven to shape and improve modern-day collaboration into a true win-win scenario for everyone involved.
Becoming a systemic coach
In 2020, with four years of full-time work experience under my belt and regular interactions with multicultural teams across the globe (including individuals from India, USA, Japan, and Germany), I have been able to identify significant inefficiencies and conflicts arising from egocentric communication and cultural misunderstandings.
I believed there must be a better way to work together, as these issues appeared less pronounced in single-nationality/regional teams. However, the prevailing “us-vs-them” mentality often resulted in team members belittling one another and only accepting decisions under duress from higher-ups.
My attempts to explain cultural differences proved challenging, as individuals often defaulted to their culturally ingrained perspectives, rejecting methods or decisions originating from different cultural backgrounds. Recognizing the need for a fresh approach to cater to individual understandings, I decided to pursue systemic coaching.
In 2021, I obtained my systemic coaching certification at INeKO – Institut a. d. Universität zu Köln. The comprehensive 250+ hours of certification propelled me into a position where I better understood team struggles and could provide individualized support to team members. Upon completion, I immediately applied my coaching skills in my workplace, and I have also been offering coaching services online as part of the volunteer initiative – Initiative Fortis.
Acquisitions and working in a booming tech environment
In 2016, I joined a local bootstrapped German IT company, which specialized in Open Source Software and hired developers directly upstream from the software communities and contributors worldwide. Working in a small team of approximately 80 people globally, I was regularly in touch with Open Source communities and team members from India and the US. As an executive assistant, I gained insights into various aspects of the IT world, spanning from full-stack development to community management, ISO policies, partner relations, HR & finance activities, agile project management, business development, and strategic meetings on c-level, among others.
As the company gained traction, I was mainly involved in sales and business development activities, but my role expanded to assist with due diligence discussions and other related activities. The successful merger led to close collaboration with the acquiring company ensuring smooth communication and employee satisfaction during the transition. Additionally, I provided support in finance for an impending IPO, which was eventually dropped before going live.
Afterward, I transitioned to marketing, where I managed sponsorships, events, social media channels, blog posts, and brand recognition. The company grew to approximately 300 employees worldwide, rapidly expanding with each funding round and attracting the attention of potential acquirers. Naturally it wasn’t long before we were tied up again in due diligence with the next acquisition on the doorstep.
Once again, I was part of the acquisition team, providing consultation to the acquiring company and contributing to a successful transition. Notably, I observed that making purposeful adjustments in a smaller company was more straightforward than within a massive corporation with over 10,000 employees.
Reflecting on my experiences, I recognized the pivotal role of leadership during mergers or transitions. It should be of utmost importance that Leaders seek early assistance to mitigate negative developments and unrest throughout this taxing process. Drawing from these valuable lessons, I embarked on my journey to support corporations and help others learn from my past experiences and avoid common pitfalls.
Interested in how this leads into my approach to coaching?
I firmly believe that genuine learning and achievement occur outside of our comfort zones. For those unfamiliar with this concept, seeking coaching or reaching out is already the first step in the right direction. Embracing discomfort need not be unpleasant; often, the fear of stepping outside our comfort zone prevents us from taking action. Yet, confronting and challenging our perceptions can yield a profound sense of accomplishment and personal growth.
My years of work and study in Japan provided invaluable insights into cultural disparities and behaviors. Many of these differences operate on a subconscious level, and in many cases, these variations are wrongly attributed to the individual rather than their cultural background. This often results in significant misunderstandings of intentions.
I recognize the paramount importance of surfacing these underlying cultural phenomena, as it’s the first step toward comprehending intercultural communication and constructing more effective teams and workplace environments.
Work experience & CV
- 2011 – 2015 | Undergraduate studies at the University of Bonn (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
- 2013 – 2014 | Study abroad at the Shizuoka University in Japan
- 2015 – 2016 | Working holiday in Japan
- January 2021 – July 2021 | Systemic Coaching & Change Management at INeKO (Institut a. d. Universität zu Köln für die Entwicklung personaler und interpers. Kompetenzen)
- September 2021 – December 2021 | Positive Intelligence® intensive workshop lead and developed by Shirzad Chamine for his groundbreaking research of consistency and performance enhancing coaching methods
- 2016 – 2021 | Executive Assistant @ credativ GmbH, Mönchengladbach, Germany
I gained essential insights into the Open Source and corporate world, provided strategic management support and served as a trusted advisor to the leadership team. I further facilitated seamless coordination among international partners and spearheaded business development in the East Asia region. Managed account relationships, handled international sales and procurement, occasionally spoke on conferences and executed global event sponsorships and marketing initiatives. Successfully managed partner relations and actively contributed to company-wide strategic discussions. Additionally, provided proficient translation services. Played a key role in navigating the acquisition of credativ by Instaclustr in March 2021.
- 2021 – 2022 | Marketing and operations specialist @ Instaclustr, Mönchengladbach, Germany
Following the acquisition of credativ by Instaclustr in March 2021, I transitioned to the marketing team while ensuring a seamless integration between the two companies. As an operations specialist, I successfully managed the transition of several key processes and our workforce in Europe to foster a harmonious corporate culture. As marketing specialist I supported the European Sales Team, developed compelling content and collateral, executed social media marketing campaigns, and managed event sponsorships.
- 2022 – 2023 | Marketing and operations specialist @ Netapp, Mönchengladbach, Germany
I played a pivotal role in the successful merger of Instaclustr with Netapp in March 2022, building on previous experience.
I collaborated closely with the Netapp acquisitions team to ensure a smooth integration. Simultaneously, working on marketing initiatives for the open source division in Netapp Germany, driving impactful campaigns and strategies.