Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Bridging cultures, part of Managing International Projects.
- When I was in Jakarta, I came across a restaurant that had a sign out front advertising "Subversive Filipino Cuisine." Of course, I was intrigued by the use of the word "subversive" to describe food. So I went in, looking forward to the renegade, dissonant food I was about to be served. Sometimes, cultural and language differences can be difficult to manage away from the dinner table, too. Such is an international project. Leading a team of people from different cultural backgrounds while maintaining engagement can be a challenge.
However, the solution lies in understanding how business is done in the countries where team members and stakeholders are located. Being aware of cultural leadership and differences in work styles can enable you to bridge the cultural gap. Let's look at some of the ways you can achieve this. First, ask questions. Be prepared to admit you don't know about the specific cultures where your project will be delivered. Let your team provide with you guidance to better your understanding of cultural norms and differences.
Having a conversation with team members about their culture and customs can also be a great way to build a relationship. Allow the team to establish its own team norms and create its own unique culture. Second, understand significant cultural events and holidays affecting the team. Whether it's Hanukkah, Diwali, Ramadan, or Christmas, ensure that times and events that are significant to people on your team are recognized. While you're at it, birthdays too, while understanding that these can be celebrated somewhat differently in other countries.
Next, identify and acknowledge differences. Rather than glossing over the difference between team members, face and embrace them. In some cultures, working late is seen as a sign of inefficiency rather than a sign of productivity. Try to schedule meetings so that people in some cultures can be in attendance during regular working hours and therefore, are not seen to be working late. In some cultures, an authority figure is someone who can be questioned. In other cultures, questioning is seen as disrespectful.
You may need a communication plan and multi-faceted decision-making model customized to fit the different cultures you need to accommodate. This may mean different ways of communicating to your team in one country versus another. Yes, it can be cumbersome, but is often necessary. Lastly, be ready to change when things are not working. A team culture takes time to develop. A strategy for bridging the cultural gap is unlikely to be effective immediately.
Be ready to revise your plans if things are not working. If you find that your communication model is not working well in one particular country, ask the people in that country if you have understood their cultural needs correctly. You could try a different time slot for meetings, change your mode of communication, use fewer words and more pictures to describe things, or do some research to see if there's a better medium for your communication. But always check to see how these changes will be received before implementing them.
Bridging cultures is not just about communicating enough information, but also ensuring you're communicating in a way that supports the way business is conducted within each country. With that in mind, watch your actions. That email you send out just before going to bed at 11:30 PM might seem like being efficient to you, but could leave the wrong impression with people from other countries. Bridging cultures is not just about communicating enough information, but also ensuring you're not communicating too much, as this could be just as bad.
Try to focus on this, as renegade dissonant food is, after all, much easier to deal with than renegade, dissonant team members.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track