“Heaven is where the police are English, the mechanics are German, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, and the whole place is run by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the mechanics are French, the cooks are English, the lovers are Swiss, and the whole place is run by the Italians.”

One of this joke’s aspects is that it compliments as well as insults each nationality. What it really does is identify preferences. It says that the English prefer civility to creativity, the French prefer creativity to efficiency, and the Germans prefer efficiency to civility. None of these qualities is inherently bad, though an over-reliance on one at the expense of others can be a disaster.


When I had the honor of running the inaugural workshop for BIC University in 1998, we played the Strategic version of Income/Outcome with six teams of four people each. The teams were structured to be deliberately diverse: each had someone from France, someone from elsewhere in Europe, someone from North America, someone from Latin America. Each had someone from Sales, someone from Production, someone from Finance, someone from another department such as Legal or HR. Each had someone from Lighters, someone from Pens, someone from Shavers, someone from a smaller product line.

And where, out of all these differences, was the biggest cultural divide? Not between people from different continents. By far the biggest difference is between people from different corporate departments. And the polar opposites are Finance and Sales.

So here’s my teasing comments on diversity: imagine people from different departments as they would drive a car.

  • Finance knows exactly where they have been and where they are going and what road will get them there. They’re driving with a map wide open, right across the windshield. So they’re steering by looking in the rearview mirror. And they trust that the curve in the road ahead is the same as in the road behind…
  • Sales doesn’t have a map. They’re hunched over the steering wheel, foot down hard on the gas, desperately swerving to avoid the potholes and chickens and little old ladies in the road. They don’t know where they’re going, but they’re going to get there as fast as possible…
  • HR keeps pulling over to the side to make sure everyone’s wearing a seatbelt and to stop the kids fighting in the back.
  • And R&D has the car up on the hoist. When they’ve got it fixed it’s going to be incredible… but you can’t have it yet…

And nobody’s wrong! You need the map reader, and the focused driver, and the safety, and the improvements, if you want a successful business. The problem is that the different strengths are incompatible with each other, and aren’t all going to be found within a single person – including you!

That’s why we have teams. That’s the only way that you get the benefit of all the diverse skills – you get it from the diversity of the personalities. The trick then is to build a team that is strong enough to withstand the conflicts inherent in having people with very different outlooks working together. It’s an issue that has been with people since we lived in caves. You’d be surprised how many folk stories and fairytales from around the world tell of success only coming to the hero when the strengths of several strange individuals are built into a team.

When we run workshops, especially 2-day and 3-day ones, we’re confident in predicting winning teams and losing teams early on, not from the strategies they’re following or from their early results, but simply on how well they work together as a team. The best results come from teams that divide up tasks, share information, respect each other’s opinions, and make decisions after inclusive discussions. This mirrors the real world. It’s a key part of business acumen.

For the past year we have been working with the consulting group Transform People International, blending our financial acumen training with their DISC profile and team-building expertise to create a 5-day workshop – and we’ve had spectacular results. We have always had people modeled on our gameboard, along with the financial line items. But now we are increasingly blending the hard skills of finance with the soft skills of teams and diversity.

Because both are necessary for success.

2 thoughts on “Business Acumen – Teams and diversity jokes

  1. Great post, Robin. Having been in both sales and HR, I love the car analogy. And you’re right – it takes a team. That’s why we believe business relationships are so important. And we are delighted to be partnering with you to deliver the whole package!!!

  2. Great article. I can tell you from my experience teaching Income-Outcome that the accountants think far differently than the sales folks. One of the point of IO is to get each group thinking a bit more like the other.