Making culture work for global organizations – Part 2

In Part 1 of this Series, we looked at the significance of understanding the cultural factors in global teams. In this part, we will look at practical measures on how to untap the potential of such cultural diversity.

1.     Assess

We start by looking at the ways people from different cultures behave and learn from one another’s social cues in professional settings. Identifying typical behavior in a group is sometimes necessary in business rather than focusing on the personal traits of an individual. As much as we are conditioned to view others from our cultural perspective, we must identify what is typical in their culture and be willing to learn and share.

2.     Decode

Once identified, analyze the reasons for the behavior. Decoding the identified behaviors on certain scales, is critical as many of these foundational skills, like how we communicate, evaluate, persuade, lead, make decisions, trust, and even disagree, are influenced by cultural norms. Erin Meyer’s Culture Map is a powerful tool that decodes these differences on 8 scales-

o  Communicating: explicit vs. implicit

o  Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback

o  Persuading: deductive vs. inductive

o  Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical

o  Deciding: consensual vs. top down

o  Trusting: task vs. relationship

o  Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoid confrontation

o  Scheduling: structured vs. flexible

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3.     Create Awareness

“Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages, remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.” ~  Hélder Câmara.

As part of the strategy for cross cultural management, ensure that the learnings of cultural differences identified and decoded are shared within the team to impact team effectiveness. Emphasis on the strengths, and not just the gaps, resulting from this diversity must be highlighted. The best teams leverage the strengths in these differences to reap maximum benefits. For example: Having people on the team coming from cultures with relatively strict linear time preferences will turn out beneficial in the case of projects working against strict timelines. Similarly, people on the team coming from cultures with flexible scheduling styles would find it easier to cater to rapidly changing project requirements and changes in plans. If capitalized well, cultural diversity can work for the team, than against.

4.     Adapt

Working in a team of diverse and globally dispersed members, it is important to learn the local styles and what works best for each of those dimensions locally. Couple that understanding with the flexibility to work across these dimensions. We would need to explain our style at times and tweak or adapt our own style at other times, to better sync with colleagues. The key is to widen our comfort zone to be able to move more fluidly back and forth along the eight scales. Learn to adapt- practice humility, assume best intent and goodwill. One of the most practical strategies for cross cultural management is simply communicating proactively of your style or intention, thereby defusing any scope for misunderstanding.

5.     Set team culture

It is impractical and inefficient to adapt to every member of a global team. Setting a strong team culture to supersede the cultural norms of individual team members helps bring everyone on the same page. The best teams must have a solid grasp of these subtle cultural biases. As we continually adapt and adjust, it is imperative to discuss, decide and communicate what the team’s behaviors and culture will be. Setting such a framework upfront will help avoid a lot of misunderstanding.

Conclusion

Each of us has a cultural identity. And our culture has a say in the way we communicate and collaborate. In a multicultural team, not all attributions to such differences can be made to national tendencies, given there are individual differences even within a culture. Some are personal, some are cultural. But “If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly” ~Erin Meyer

Invest to understand and respect such cultural factors. Obtain an awareness of your cultural instincts along with an understanding of other cultural perspectives. Discuss the differences to not just reduce gaps but heighten positive aspects. Continually adapt and adjust towards a team or organizational culture that’ll enable the best of all worlds.

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