Tapas De Culture - A short introduction to working with International Teams
Working with people whose values and beliefs are different from your own, can often lead to costly misunderstandings and even business failures. However, when successfully managed, differences in culture can lead to innovative business practices and faster and better learning within the organisation. People will get on better with their colleagues from other countries once they have learned more about cultural differences. They will learn that their own views are not the only ones, and that the variety of views coming from the different cultures can actually lead to better business solutions that are good for the benefit of everyone.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Aim of Introduction to Cultural Awareness
3. What is Culture?
4. The value of cultural awareness
5. National Characteristics
6. Leadership Styles and Behaviours of Different Cultures
7. Examples from a real global project-and why you should follow these
8. List of Recommendations: Do’s and Don’ts
10. Suggested Reading List
Many companies already operate in a number of foreign countries. More are following each year. The concept of 'global working' has become an accepted modus operandi for more and more companies both in the United Kingdom and other countries. As a result, people at all levels within their organizations have opportunities to work with people from other countries. This is not an easy task and brings with it some cultural difficulties. These need to be managed carefully and with due consideration to everyone involved. According to Davison and Ward (1999) the world is becoming increasingly interconnected: the technology has allowed us to travel and talk to each other across distances; there are more of us with higher expectations; and industrialized nations have saturated their own markets. We have to work increasingly with people from other nations to solve complex international problems and to take advantage of opportunities often far away from home.
Working with people whose values and beliefs are different from your own, can often lead to costly misunderstandings and even business failures. However, when successfully managed, differences in culture can lead to innovative business practices and faster and better learning within the organization. People will get on better with their colleagues from other countries once they have learned more about cultural differences. They will learn that their own views are not the only ones, and that the variety of views coming from the different cultures can actually lead to better business solutions that are good for the benefit of everyone.
We are at an age where 'information space' is used increasingly for doing business. An adequate communications structure needs to be in place to make it work well. The physical location is of less concern than time zones (Davison and Ward, 1999).
It is imperative to understand the many ways in which cultural differences can influence the interactions within global working or interacting. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) suggest that the culture within this environment can be visible:
Or not visible:
But consider: not every individual within any given culture will always behave exactly as the observed or perceived behaviours associated with that culture. Not everyone is the same. And some people have had exposure to working in international environments, so it is likely that they have changed their behaviour because of local influences. Be careful not to stereotype people such as 'The Italians are not good at planning and organizing but are good at being creative'.
2. Aim of Introduction to Cultural Awareness
This short and practical introduction has been put together to give you some basic understanding of what culture is. It will make you more aware of the cultural differences that exist within different cultures and what You can do to make it work better for you and those you are working or going to work with.
The introduction is also meant to be a refresher for those of you who have been working in multi-cultural environments for some time. It is valuable to take a step back and be reminded of the cultural differences that exist within the new divisions.
The aim of this short introduction is to make you more aware of your own culture and those of others you are working with. It is a stepping stone on the longer road to become or be good at working and interacting with people from many countries.
This short introduction is only meant to be an appetizer. Many cultural awareness courses are available, lasting between one and two days. These go further into the finer details of cultural differences, combined with appropriate exercises to improve your understanding of the subject matter. There are also many books published now. A suggested reading list is shown at the end of this document.
Cultural differences vary from country to country. There is no right or wrong culture. They are just different. But let's now take a closer look at what culture actually is.
3. What is Culture?
Here are some interpretations, taken from current publications, of what culture is:
- How we do things around here (Lewis, 1999)
- How people understand their world and make sense of it (Trompenaars and Hamden-Turner, 1997)
- Values and beliefs people hold (Davison and Ward, 1999)
- The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another (Hofstede, 1980)
Do not think of cultural differences as an obstacle or hindrance. View it as an opportunity to improve existing business practices, to make your working relationships with people from other cultures better and to aid further learning. By learning about the cultures of other people (how they do things around here), it is possible to see that your own solutions may not be the only, best or most appropriate for the task in hand.
You need to understand the 'logic' of another culture, e.g. why it is that people do things the way they do. For example, if you arrange a meeting for 10am with Spanish colleagues, do not feel offended if they are not punctual. Perhaps arrange meetings with them in such as way that there is some extra time available. It is just part of their culture. That’s all.
Find points of connection and some common ground. Look at why people do things the way they do. Understanding this means that you can come up with a solution.
Values, beliefs, language and customs are all social behaviours associated with culture (Lewis, 1999). They are embedded in a particular context and are connected to other deeply held values and beliefs. We need to attend to what different things mean to different people (cultures). For example, urgent means 'immediate' to UK people but means 'as soon as possible' to an Italian. This is important for you to understand and to apply this knowledge, particularly when you manage a project team with Italy taking the lead role.
The essence of culture is the shared ways groups of people understand and interpret the world (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997). There is a need to maintain one's own culture within a multi-cultural environment such as our truly global working environment. Ask yourself the question: how do others actually think? Then build on from here. It is this understanding of how others think that is so important to improving your cultural awareness.
The following diagram, developed by the author, illustrates how you can improve your cultural learning:
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
The important point here is that people will not only learn from each other but they will also learn something new.
4. Why do you think that cultural awareness is so valuable?
When you work with people from different cultures, you will observe many behaviours that are often fundamentally different from your own. Being aware of these behaviours, and that they are different from your own, is the first step towards becoming culturally aware. You are taking in what goes on around you as far as people are concerned. This is a good thing. Without people nothing goes.
In order to move things forward such as a project deadline or reach agreements on tasks (it is the ‘who does what, how and by when’), you need to apply your new cultural awareness and understanding in the most appropriate way. For example, if you need to agree a plan of works and you know that Italians do not like planning too much, find another way of managing this. Involve Italian colleagues in your thinking outside of meetings, ask them for their creative inputs to find solutions to problems and then engage them to take ownership of some of the major activities.
This will appeal to Italian people. You will have them on your side. This is also good for you because you have found creative solutions to your problems, and you have a lead country to manage this for you. This worked well for me in a recent project I managed where we worked with seven Operating Companies simultaneously to find a technical solution. It was because of the creative strengths of the Italians involved that we found the most viable solution in a short period of time.
In this way you engage the various cultures in your team by using their cultural strengths and combine these with your own strengths (in this case perhaps planning and organizing) to reach your desired goals. Build on the positive strengths and ignore the negative weaknesses. Use this cultural diversity to build a strong team where everyone accepts everyone else for what they are, irrespective of where they come from.
5. National Characteristics
The following table adapted from Lewis (1999), summarizes some of the main national characteristics associated with nationals from different countries. This list is not exhaustive. Get books from your local library as suggested in the reading list at the end of this document, and read up on other cultures, depending on where your work or meetings may take you.