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 .
How a manager, Ann, in Boston approaches getting an agreement to a proposal is very different from how a manager in Seoul, Ha-yoon, would handle the same scenario. Their cultures are very different. Every culture has its own frame of reference, or the context in which we live and work.
The Boston manager operates in a low-context culture where language is clear and direct, there is no ambiguity, and the approval process does not revolve around a cultural hierarchy. The Seoul manager, on the other hand, works in a high-context culture where language might be vague and ambiguous, people have to read between the lines of what is said, and deference to superiors is the norm.
Cultural agility is the ability to comfortably move across different cultures, understanding both behavioral norms and the reason behind them. As long as the two managers operate within their own cultural context, they do not need cultural agility. However, what if Ann must travel to Seoul to work with Ha-Yoon on a project? How can they effectively collaborate when they come from two very different frames of reference?
Development of cultural agility is a mindset: it determines how one approaches new situations and learns from those experiences. There are five basic skills that build cultural agility:
In order to understand the perspectives of another culture, whether from people in the same office or halfway around the world, understanding one's own cultural views and biases is necessary. An honest appraisal of beliefs about others establishes a platform for learning.
Ann realizes that she knows very little about Korea and Korean culture other than what she has seen in movies and on the news. She recognizes that this trip is an opportunity to experience what the country and its people are really like.
2. Understanding the frame of reference
Understanding other people's frame of reference is an important step in building cultural agility. Both managers need to take time to understand one another's culture. Sharing language helps, but developing a deeper understanding of culture is the key. Don't assume that your way is the right way.
Ann follows Ha-Yoon's lead in the meetings and does not just take any seat at the table. She needs to adjust to the environment and not assume that Boston and Seoul do things in the same way. She is directed where to sit. She notices that people sit according to their status in the company and that there is an order to who speaks first.
She realizes that the company's frame of reference is the Confucian hierarchy, which is central to Korean life. Respect for authority and maintaining harmony guide how the meeting progresses. Ann studied Korean culture before arriving so was mentally prepared to set aside her own views on meeting etiquette.
3. Finding commonalities
Cultural agility is also the ability to move back and forth between cultures without becoming distressed. Looking for cultural commonalities helps to ease the process.
In Seoul, as in Boston, everyone arrives on time. In communication, however, Ann finds that the language used in the meeting is more respectful than she would encounter in Boston and that first names are not used. However, the focus, just like in Boston, is on clarity and coming to agreement. Through recognizing these similarities, she is able to feel comfortable with the differences.
4. Be curious but not critical
Both women are curious about one another, their cultures, and their ways of doing business. Over lunches together, they also discover some similarities when they discuss what it is like to be women in business. They ask each other questions about how things are different.
Ann is curious about the deference shown to men but does not criticize it although it is alien to what happens in her office. Ha-yoon, on the other hand, wonders why Ann looks people in the eye when speaking, even the most senior person. While in her culture it may seem rude, she does not criticize Ann. She is more curious about Ann's cultural frame of reference that makes the behavior acceptable.
5. Reflecting upon interactions
After their meetings, both reflect on what they have learned about the other's culture and approach to doing business. They both realize that they learned new perspectives that will help them to bridge the cultural gap for a more effective collaboration in the future.
Both women also realize that they could apply their experiences to other cross-cultural situations they encounter. Ann is also now better able to understand the perspectives and approaches of people in her own office who are from other high context cultures, such as her co-workers from Latin America and the Middle East. In Korea, she was able to experience first-hand what it was like to operate in that type of culture.
In the global workplace, cultural agility has clear application when people have overseas assignments such as Ann. The more culturally agile people are, the better they will adapt to new environments and challenges.
However, cultural agility also has a place even when there is not a global project or assignment. The U.S. workforce is more diverse in terms of ethnicity, age, and gender than ever before. Each of these groups comes with their own cultural frame of reference and diverse perspectives and ideas.
New methods of solving problems and managing processes can be the result of promoting diverse perspectives. Successful companies in the 21st century need to take advantage of these perspectives by developing cultural agility not just among their leaders but throughout their organization by forming culturally diverse teams. The teams then need coaching in the five basic skills of cultural agility.
Cultural agility is the ability to comfortably work across different cultures. Cultures can be low-context, where language is direct and unambiguous, or high context, where implied understanding and meanings are important.
A culturally agile mindset includes five significant skills:
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Back To CourseCultural Agility for Organizations
6 chapters | 32 lessons