We were recently interviewed for an article on the importance of cultural agility training for an offshore online platform, and asked to address “What makes a cross-cultural program effective?”
I am sure they didn’t expect such a long answer, but the truth is there is no simple answer when dealing with cultural differences in the 21st century.
Crossing borders is easy, crossing cultures less so. If in the past it was acceptable to sensitize individuals: “All Germans are time conscious” or all “Americans are organized and process-oriented,” today, it would be quite inaccurate to stereotype people by their national culture. The world has become smaller, people relocate, move overseas, work in global organizations, and are influenced by social media and technology which enables us to connect to everyone anywhere, anytime.
That said, an effective training process addresses the subtle differences between people of different cultures, and as invisible or subtle they may be, not paying attention to behavior and communication nuances is not a nice-to-have skill, but a business necessity.
We address issues such as how trust is built in different cultures, for example in cultures such as Japan, UAE, and many South American countries, one cannot jump straight into talking business without first developing a relationship, one that is based on trust. In other cultures, such as in the U.S., priority is given to proven skills, achievements, and decision-making power as opposed to building a personal relationship.
Communicating across cultures, without proper training, can also have devastating effects on building a sustainable business relationship. Miscommunication can, minimally, cause embarrassment, but on a more serious level, can also blow a business deal. We all communicate from our own cultural perspective, and sometimes, what seems clear to us, does not always transcend into another culture.
Furthermore, we interact with people from a different culture with our own “cultural lenses.” We judge people’s behavior based on our values, what we perceive as common sense, but may not be so in other cultures.
Organizations that don’t provide cultural training, their teams will be unable to evaluate a situation from multiple perspectives. An effective training program teaches how to change one’s mindset of right and wrong and adopt a mindset of understanding, as there is no right and wrong when we speak about cultures, there is only different.
In summary, to be culturally agile you must flex out of your comfort zone, understand your bias, and embrace the differences. With good training, you can become an excellent global leader, leading teams to high performance and guiding organizations toward success.