Saturday, June 12, 2010

Improve your multi cultural soft skills

With the growing globalisation we see that teams are usually built up of people with many different cultural backgrounds. I counted the other day at least 10 different cultures within my direct team.

Communication is important within any team and for IT this is not much different. One of the best things our HR team ever did was to organise a Multi Cultural Awareness training. It was really good to see how people from different cultures have different expectations from their manager and how they communicate differently.

The training was facilitated by Joost Thissen from the “cultureresourcecentre”. I was a bit surprised with Joost’s strong Dutch accent (I hope mine is not that bad). Aren’t we supposed to be so incredible multi-lingual? But Joost has an enormous energy and can also be very funny. The accent just contributed to the whole experience.

Attending the course was for me a great enjoyment and you won’t lose your attention during the training. I received the same responses from many colleagues and within our organisation we reached an incredible high attendance rate.

Now this post is not a sales pitch for the cultureresourcecenter, however given the cultural context that we all live in these days globally, a training such as this is basically a must. You can’t get it much better.

Ideally this type of education is already included of the curriculum of primary and high schools globally. But as long as we don’t have one large homogenous global culture, I strongly suggest to consider this type of education for yourself and for your team.

A typical mistake that managers tend to make according to Joost, is that managers think a training like this is not required for themselves but more for their staff. On their website, she explains however that misalignment in expectations of staff and managers around “management” is one of the key problems. If managers are not attending the course and are not willing to take different cultural backgrounds into consideration into their management style, you will continue having the same problems as before. (See: “I did it my way” )

I found that some aspects are very recognisable, but I obtained also some great new insights. The most interesting thing was about Brazilians who have a mix of western and eastern culture but also some very specific own styles. Having worked for a manager with Brazilian background for years while myself being Dutch in all respects, I finally could see how the pieces fit together.

Another aspect came to mind and for which we did not have sufficient time to work out in the course was about people grown up in Australia but having a different cultural background. While on the outside they behave and communicate like Anglo-Australians, they still carry much of their other heritage within themselves. This can potentially be confusing for themselves and for others.

If you feel that it is important to work well together and get the most out of your team, understanding cultural differences will improve work atmosphere and your team’s effectiveness.

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