Global Workplace: The Need For Intercultural Training
It has become commonplace to hear people talk of a “global village” and a “shrinking world”. Does this mean we can connect better with people from any country or culture? Certainly physically, given the modes and frequency of travel, we can cross continents, mountains and oceans in days, even hours. But has our ability to communicate and understand each other also become as quick and simple? Or are there gaps - linguistic, cultural and personal - which we struggle to bridge even when we speak a common language? Today, intercultural training programs are regarded as an integral part of employee development in many global organizations.
What Is Culture?
To understand how culture impacts on working lives we first need to understand what we mean by the term culture. Professor Geert Hofstede, one of the leading names in intercultural research and studies, describes it as, “A collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the member of one human group from another.” Gary Ferraro, the author of Cultural Anthropology, says culture is “Everything that people have, think, and do as members of their society. “ My own favorite is John Mole’s simple description of culture: “How we do things around here.” Sums it up pretty precisely right?
Intercultural Training For The Workplace
So whether we’re communicating across countries and companies, or within the same multi-national organization, we need to improve our understanding of one another to be more productive and creative. Why? Well if we’re confused as to each other’s motives, work ethics, processes and influences we’ll never be on the same working wavelength! Simply put, cultural understanding ensures successful professional and social integration and collaboration between companies, managers, staff and also among the staff themselves.
By no fault of their own, simply due to variations in common professional conduct, employers are often faced with a number of intercultural issues; a more diverse workplace leads to a more diverse set of challenges. Facing increased workplace discrimination risks, minimizing internal communications issues (jargon or slang in emails may easily lead to misunderstanding) - even knowing and preparing for small aspects such as how different individuals perceive and value time, are just some of the typical intercultural problems which modern employers may have to deal with.
But as a diverse workplace brings advantages; such as alternative perspectives, new ideas and opinions, broader access and understanding of international markets and clients, the benefits of intercultural understanding are substantial.
Adopting intercultural training in the workplace can also lead to increased profitability as employees will be better equipped to close potentially lucrative business deals with foreign companies if they understand cultural nuances.
Managing an intercultural, international workforce.
Once organizations understand their workforces (and understand why they need to understand their workforces), their next challenge is effective management. No matter how well we understand each other and our working roles, if business is spread globally, intercultural workers are likely to be internationally located, meaning detachment and alienation are common and dangerous workplace threats.
Effective management, regular meetings and contact, and exercises to build corporate cohesion on a large scale are vital to maintain a successful workplace. But physically visiting all international offices to manage workers is impractical and is not time or cost effective. However, using tools such as videoconferencing, effective and regular communication with international teams across all channels can be achieved. Prioritizing worker motivation to ensure individuals are well inter-culturally adjusted and motivated - via training if necessary - is a vital part of the foundations of international, intercultural business. So be sure to invest in time away from pure business matters to ensure intercultural employee contentment.
What successful intercultural understanding means
For a healthy, stress-free and productive interaction, we need to understand and empathize: the differing values and mind-set, social etiquette, business protocol, management style and working practices.
Intercultural training enables employees to step away from their everyday work and reflect on their own working style, if and how they should adapt to an international context and what skills they need to develop to become more globally competent.
Alastair is a freelance writer and business blogger who has provided this article on behalf of Communicaid a cultural and business communication skills consultancy based in the UK.