In a globalized economy, expanding across borders is becoming an inevitable step for small and large businesses. As geographically dispersed teams become prevalent, managers long accustomed to “one team under one roof” are confronting new challenges as they work across continents and cultures.
Qumra Capital’s “Growing Forward” Forum brings together high growth companies, and in a recent session invited managers of global teams to discuss “Developing Cultural Intelligence” with cross-cultural consultancy firm, Globaleyes. Whether in marketing, sales, support, or R&D, once the team was spread out geographically, all managers found themselves faced with unfamiliar interactions. The base for our discussion was that in global organizations, one must be aware of cultural gaps and should strive to address them sensitively.
So, what is the key to developing cultural intelligence? To turning the differences into advantages? It starts by looking outward and inward.
On the one hand, managers need to take the time to learn and understand other cultures’ values and practices. The importance of etiquette and its protocols in the workplace environment can differ greatly among cultures. Remember that the next time you are just five minutes late to a meeting. Israelis wouldn’t give it a second thought. Other cultures might not be so forgiving.
Even the way you gesture, or a seemingly innocent comment can be perceived as rude, depending on the audience. CT Business Travel put together a list of Business Etiquette practices with some helpful starter tips to help put everyone at ease.
Professionals also should take a deep, objective look at their cultural norms and their own habits and recognize that they are not necessarily the right way to do things, but they are simply the way they have been doing things as they have been brought up and accustomed to do.
Once of the steps discussed in the forum was the need to drop the Israeli arrogance. Arrogance and confidence are not to be confused. An arrogant attitude blinds you to alternatives and closes doors. Traditionally, successful leaders draw followers to their cause with confidence, and turn people off with arrogance.
We talked about the need to listen, especially given Israelis’ penchant for talking…quite a bit! According to a research by McKinsey & Co, companies with a diverse workforce perform better financially. But it’s not enough to have a diverse workforce, you’ve got to hear what they have to say. Listening to a range of voices is not just good manners, it’s good for business.
In the age of email and teleconferencing, travel is no longer a necessity. However, online interactions are creating leeway for new misunderstandings. Make note of how you dress for video conferences, even if you take them from your home office. If an employee, colleague, or job candidate sees that you don’t respect the standard business dress code, they may question whether you respect them and their time.
Make note of capital letters and punctuation marks. Did you know that when you write in ALL CAPS with multiple “!!!!” some recipients assume you are shouting at them? They may perceive that behavior as rude. And here you thought you were just making a point.
Don’t assume that if your Asian team members don’t raise questions, they necessarily understand your point. It may be due to the fact that they were raised not to challenge authority in public. The teacher, or in this case the boss, knows best.
When recruiting for your team abroad you need to be sensitive that interviews and resumes are handled differently in other cultures. Some place an emphasis on humility in the interview and embellish achievements in the CV, and some use the CV as a concise summary and elaborate on achievements and qualifications face to face. There is no right or wrong way.
These are only a few of the takeaways from a fascinating session.
The realities of global expansion are complex. Product & market fit, laws & regulations, optimal corporate structure, international accounting, currency rates, political risks – it’s a long list to tackle. But among the top issues to consider is the importance of cultural differences and the role they play in successful communication that leads to operational efficiency and ultimately to achieving scale.
Do your research on each geography and reflect candidly on your own conduct, and how it can be experienced and interpreted in different cultures. Make cross-cultural communications a necessary skill. Such an investment will not only prevent possible misunderstandings and conflicts, but will surely enhance your personal performance and contribute to the company’s bottom line.