Back To CourseCultural Agility for Organizations
6 chapters | 32 lessons
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Mary has worked around the world for over 30 years in international business, advertising, and market research. She has a Master's degree in International Management and has taught University undergraduate and graduate level courses .
Business today involves interactions across cultures. Cultural differences pose challenges for communication, interactions among employees, and business practices. Failure to work across cultures can even result in legal challenges! To manage these challenges and make the most of opportunities, companies need to leverage the opportunities that come with cultural diversity. Cross-cultural training is the front-line tool for making this happen.
So, what is culture? It's a surprisingly complex term, but for our purposes here, culture means those shared patterns of behavior in a group, the norms for interacting with one another, and shared understandings about what is and is not important or appropriate. Culture often includes ethnicity, such as Latin American, African, European, or Asian. Culture also includes language, religion, and views on age and gender roles.
Think about your workplace. People tend to work more easily with people who are ''like me.'' This is because it is easier to understand people within our own culture. However, we have to be able to collaborate and work with everyone. This is where cross-cultural training comes in.
Whether for employees who will work in international assignments or for a home country office where the workforce is culturally diverse, effective cross-cultural programs share certain characteristics.
1. They reflect knowledge of cross-cultural readiness.
Cross-cultural readiness is the ability of people to adapt how they behave in their own culture to different cultural contexts. The degree to which people are ''ready'' influences the nature and timing of any training program. Is someone interested in and willing to explore different cultures, or resistant? Many tools exist to help assess the readiness of participants, such as the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory.
2. There is a global mindset.
A global mindset encompasses views of other cultures that are non-judgmental, acknowledging differences and looking for commonalities. This should be a common thread throughout the program. A female manager in the U.S. may question why an employee from Shanghai does not speak up in meetings. Is it language or a reflection of a culture where Confucian values include showing deference to superiors?
3. Program goals are clear.
The program addresses the needs and the norms of participants. One style will not fit all. Is the program preparing people about to go on an international assignment? Or, is it for domestic employees with the goal of building better teams?
4. The audience is a key factor.
Some training methods like role-playing may be culturally challenging. Discussing scenarios or lunch and learn sessions may create higher levels of comfort and facilitate open discussion. If the group contains people with different language backgrounds, it is a good idea to offer support, such as printed copies of content, to ensure that everyone comes away with the same information.
5. The program is not ethnocentric.
Ethnocentric means delivered from the perspective of a single ethnicity and, by extension, cultural perspective. For example, while role-playing is a common technique in Western cultures, it may create excessive discomfort among people from cultures where exposing oneself as an individual isn't necessarily the norm. Taking into consideration the cultural diversity of the group helps create a more effective and respectful environment.
Effective programs progress in stages, building toward the end goal, whether it's preparing someone to work overseas or at home as part of a multicultural team.
Stage 1: Cultural Competency Assessment
Cultural competency is the ability to interact effectively with people from other cultures. This is different from readiness. Competency is about self-awareness. Often people aren't even aware of how their own views about other cultures shape their behaviors and responses. An effective starting point is a self-assessment about how a person feels about cultural differences and their own understandings of culture.
Stage 2: Cultural Exploration
Cultural exploration is actually learning about cultures. How this occurs depends on the purpose of the program.
For someone moving to an overseas assignment it will be culture specific. The exploration needs to focus on two types of culture. Surface culture, including language, behaviors, and food and clothing, is important to begin to navigate through a culture. The exploration also must examine deep culture, which encompasses values and expectations about things like power and time. The goal is to prepare someone to live and work in another culture.
A program focused on a group of diverse employees in a company who must work together also needs to address surface and deep culture. The focus, however, may be more on seeking commonalities and appreciating differences to encourage more effective collaboration.
Stage 3: Practice
For cross-cultural training to take root, employees need to practice their insights and new knowledge. A key component of the practice is to put people into simulated culturally uncomfortable situations. This helps employees to develop cultural dexterity, which is a ''soft skill'' that brings together emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication skills, and cultural knowledge.
The timing and delivery of a program depends on several factors:
Training can occur in a wide variety of formats, leveraging available technologies. Webcasts, small groups, large groups, and self-guided instruction are all popular delivery methods.
Timing is dependent on the need. Is it a long-term organizational goal? Does a problem need an immediate solution? Is a person preparing for an upcoming assignment?
The duration of the program also depends on the program goals. However, program plans need to consider that learning is more effective when broken up into shorter sessions of no more than an hour at a time. Participants need time to absorb knowledge.
Let's review the important concepts we've covered in this lesson on cross-cultural training programs, since there were quite a few of them and they bear repeating:
Cross-cultural training creates understandings about culture so people can function in different cultural contexts. Culture, for our purposes, means those shared patterns of behavior in a group, the norms for interacting with one another, and shared understandings about what is and is not important or appropriate. Effective programs reflect the readiness of participants to adapt to cultural contexts, have a global mindset by being non-judgmental, have clear goals, appreciate the cultures of the audience, and are not ethnocentric, focusing on only one cultural perspective, to determine how culture functions.
The three core components of training programs are the following: cultural competency, which is the ability to interact effectively with people form other cultures; cultural exploration, which is simply learning about other cultures and can be broken down into surface culture, which includes language, behaviors, and food and clothing, and deep culture, which encompasses values and expectations about things like power and time; and finally, simple practice, which helps develop cultural dexterity, which combines emotional intelligence, communication skills, and cultural knowledge. Finally worth mentioning, timing and delivery methodology depends on the geographic scope of the program, the urgency of the training, and the nature of the audience.
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Back To CourseCultural Agility for Organizations
6 chapters | 32 lessons