Updated: Aug 17
You have been hired by a well-known international company and are now a member of a multicultural team. You worked hard to improve your communicative English skills and it has paid-off. However, your learning has just begun. Effective intercultural communication requires much more than the ability to speak the same language as your colleagues. Likewise, recognizing and understanding differences in values, thought patterns, expectations and motivations is just the first step toward becoming an effective member of your team.
Can you find that information in the New Employee Handbook?
Maybe some of it. You can learn a lot about the values and expectations of the company from its vision and mission statements. You can also get to know your colleagues and yourself much more deeply from tools that compare cultures. Ideally, your company subscribes to a service like The Team Mapping Tool from Erin Meyer, which determines your personal cultural characteristics as well as those of your teammates, across several cultural scales. You could use this tool to discover where you and each of your colleagues are similar and where there are gaps that separate you. JK Intercultural uses this tool to great effect in our Multicultural Teams training. Unfortunately, not many companies know about this service.
There is a website that allows you to compare cultures at the national level, for free. On Hofstede Insights you can compare several national cultures simultaneously along six dimensions to determine where similarities and gaps exist. The site provides descriptions of the characteristics of cultures on the extreme ends of each dimension and gives helpful tips on adjusting to them. This tool is free and is a favorite of business trainers that don’t specialize in cross-cultural or intercultural training. Hofstede Insights also offers a self-survey driven tool that determines personal characteristics of individuals for comparison with various national cultures and other individuals. Companies should request that training be based on this type of personalized data.
5 Helpful Tips
There are many other steps you can take to become an effective multicultural team member. Here are a few:
Increase your level of intercultural sensitivity. Recognize that your view of the world is just one of many acceptable views and that there are many ways to achieve a goal.
Seek generalizations but avoid stereotypes. Try to think of and describe members of other cultures in terms of most, in general and usually not all, and always.
Consider if someone’s behavior is personality or culture driven. Is someone behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable because they are a bad person or because they are acting according to the cultural programming they acquired in childhood?
Read books about cultural adjustment. These books can help you develop a strong grounding in intercultural theory and prepare you well for working with your intercultural teammates:
Riding the Waves of Culture-Frons Trompenaars & Charles Hampden-Turner
The Culture Map-Erin Meyer
Exploring Culture-Gert Jan Hofstede, Paul B. Pedersen and Geert Hofstede
Cultural Intelligence-Brooks Peterson
Figuring Foreigners Out-Craig Storti
5. Watch video clips about cultural adjustment. These video clips will start you thinking about culture, behavior and adjusting:
Good luck in your international career!
Working alongside colleagues from around the world can lead to a very fulfilling lifestyle, if you are able to attain an intercultural mindset, acquire appropriate knowledge and develop relevant skills.
John Knipfing is the Managing Director of JK Intercultural Co., Ltd., a HCMC based firm specializing in helping organizations and their personnel successfully adapt to different cultures and turning diversity from adversity to advantage.