A few weeks ago, I wrote the first blog in this three part series, The Role of Nuance in Understanding Culture. In brief, it summarized the eight dimensions of culture. These eight dimensions are part of the CultureWizard Intercultural model that RW3 uses to teach cross-cultural understanding and intercultural competency.
Now, let’s explore how self-assessment tools like the RW3 Culture Calculator can enable cultural understanding so people successfully work across cultures. Specifically, we’ll look at a real world scenario to show how the Culture Calculator can help you:
- Discover your own cultural preferences,
- Compare yourself to the cultural preferences of other colleagues and countries, and
- Use those cultural insights to create better and more collaborative teams, lead more effectively, and work across cultures with ease.
Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings Can (Almost) Derail Global Teams
A couple of years ago, one of our clients in the mining and petroleum industry asked us to help unravel a challenge they were facing between their US and UK teams. In brief, cooperation between these two teams had severely broken down and trust diminished to a level where they weren’t even reading each other’s reports.
The Americans felt that their British counterparts were negative all the time; they felt they shot down ideas, rejected new approaches, and prepared excuses in advance for why new explorations would fail. To the Americans, brainstorming sessions felt torturous and depressing. In fact, no US ideas passed an opening suggestion. Meanwhile, the US team found the British team’s ideas small and too timid to explore.
On the other hand, the British team thought the Americans were reckless and immature. Whenever the British presented plans with detailed descriptions of potential risks, the Americans saw it as a lack of confidence that the proposal would succeed. Instead of examining and discussing the UK team’s plans, the US team said if the British weren’t fully supportive of their own ideas, there was no way they would invest in them either. The Americans would then refuse to support the UK team’s plans.
The company management knew that the problem was cultural and the stakes were high.
Redirecting the Path to Success With Intercultural Competency Skills
Fortunately, several members of the executive committee had a global mindset and recognized the cultural underpinnings of the challenge. They realized that Americans, in general, are very risk-tolerant (part of the Change Dimension on the CultureWizard Cultural Dimensions Scale), and assume that projects may require mid-course corrections when unanticipated obstacles arise. They also understood that the British are generally less risk-tolerant and feel it’s their obligation to articulate risk and possible downsides before exploring the positive potential.
The globally astute executive team encouraged the British and American colleagues to use the CultureWizard Culture Calculator to complete their Personal Cultural Profiles. After, they were able to discuss the cultural impact of risk on their business communications. It immediately became apparent that the UK team began every business proposal with a discussion of risk. They believed this was the responsible way of viewing an opportunity. At the same time, the Americans discovered how their proposals began with a detailed description of the opportunity in order to build enthusiasm for their projects. Only towards the end of their proposal did they dedicate a section to risk factors.
Cross-Cultural Understanding Helps Global Teams Work Together Effectively
This story has a happy ending. While each team remained culturally consistent—the British remained concerned about mitigating the risk and the US team colleagues pushed to exploit the possibilities—they were able to see where they were different. They discussed their cultural differences and were able to begin to work together in a more productive and collaborative way, instead of having differences render the team unable to work together.
This is just one case in which intercultural miscommunication made it challenging for cross-cultural teams to work together. By developing an understanding of the change cultural dimension, each team was able to eliminate the problem, allowing them to be much more effective.
If you study the other cultural dimensions: Hierarchy/Egalitarianism, Group/Individualistic, Relationship/Transactional, Direct/Indirect Communication, Formal/Informal and Status/Balance Motivation, you can see where many of intercultural conflicts can occur, simply because people misunderstand the other’s cultural perspective and preference.
Using the Culture Calculator can help shed light on these differences in a constructive way, helping your colleagues and team members understand each other, thereby enhance all of your business communications and interactions.