How Work Effectively Across Cultures

Sep 26, 2011
5 Min Read

Over at Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo has a fantastic post on how to collaborate with people from different cultures – a skill that is now necessary for all managers.  Gallo interviewed Mansour Javidan, the Director of the Global Mindset Institute at Thunderbird School of Global Management and author of  “Making It Overseas,” and Andy Molinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at the Brandeis University International Business School and author of “Switching Cultural Codes.”  Here are some of their top recommendations:

Prepare for Some Discomfort

Working across cultures is likely to push you out of your comfort zone, and out of the cultural lens you’ve maintained since you were a child.  Don't beat yourself up for feeling awkward. Accept that it is part of the process.

Be Aware of Your Actions

When you have to deal with someone who has a different cultural background, you need to learn to manually manage your cultural lens. You must be cognizant of your actions and ask yourself questions you haven't had to before: What is the right thing to say? What is the right way to say it? What is my body language saying? This awareness allows you to adjust your behaviors so they are better received and understood.

Acknowledge Differences

Rather than skirting around disparities, both sides of a cross-cultural collaboration should explain how they typically work. But once those dissimilarities are on the table, don't harp on them. Instead, focus on what you are trying to accomplish together. This shared goal serves as the basis of your work and your relationship.

Beware of Stereotypes

Once you've done the advanced research about the work practices of the culture you are going to work with, be careful with what you've learned. Stereotyping can be offensive and ineffective. Understand what the typical response or approach is, but also remember that all individuals are different.

Build Trust and be Curious

Fostering confidence is done differently across cultures. People tend to be more guarded in task-oriented situations so use a social setting to establish a personal relationship. Invite your counterpart out to a meal or coffee. During these interactions, be curious. Learn how to say a few words in the other person's language. Ask what it means to be a successful leader in their country.

Create a Hybrid Culture

The goal is not to adapt to one culture or another but to decide on a way that you are both comfortable working. Managers of global teams often end up building a hybrid culture. The key is to be flexible. Through discussion, you can find an integrative solution that works for both parties.

I've worked with international colleagues several times over the last few years, and I've found it to be an incredible learning experience.  How about you?  Do you regularly interact with colleagues around the globe, and what are your top strategies for success?

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