Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Report 4 from TMI/TACK World Congress OPERATING SUCCESSFLLY ACROSS CULTURES – The Software of the mind

"We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race."

-- Kofi Annan Ghanian Diplomat, 7th UN Secretary-General

As more and more businesses enter into markets across the world, the importance of operating successfully across cultures becomes a key skill set. But what exactly is culture?

Emma Steward who specialises in programmes in cultural awareness gave her audience a taster session on Operating Successfully Across Cultures.

Clifford Geertz defines culture as
“ A historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols…by means of which men can communicate , perpetuate and develop knowledge about attitudes towards life”
Perhaps more succinctly Geert Hofstede definition is

“ The software of the mind”

Like computer software users quickly become so used to ways of their software e.g. Linux, Apple Macs or Microsoft , they find having to operate a different software system than what they are used to can be “ a little strange” “ less intuitive” " clunky".

If you have ever worked in firms who have been merged or acquired where one firm operated Oracle and the other has operated SAP - the switching to the other system or even trying to integrate them cause people much heartache.

So in human cultures what seems natural to us are learned behaviours for example
• Eating is natural; eating with a knife and fork, chopsticks or our hands is cultural.
• Belching is also natural ; regarding it as impolite and surpassing it, is cultural.

Whatever is cultural is taken for granted within a given culture.
Emma clarified that there is a Bell Curve of norms and values.
Cultural stereotypes, Emma explained to the group at the TMI /TACK Congress at Vilnius 2011 are to be found at the 5% end tails.
(Emma Steward working with the TMI /TACK audience)

In business we may not be able to learn every do or don’t but some understand of dimension of culture will help us committed too many faux pas with clients ‘ abroad’.
Based on work undertaken by Hofstede Emma gave us five dimension of culture with some key questions.
1. POWER DISTANCE: How equal/ unequal are people within a society?
2. INDIVIDULISM /COLLECTIVISM: Do people see themselves as individuals or part of a group?
3. MASCULINITY/FEMINITY: Does a culture value assertiveness or caring?
4. UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE: How tolerant are people towards ambiguity?
5. LONG TERM/ SHORT TERM ORENTATION: Are people oriented towards the past and present or towards the future?

For further study Emma recommends and the book “ Culture and Organisations”.
Business people can learn a lot from a Cultural specialist like Emma. We need to develop an understanding of cross cultural interactions. Someone equipped with the tools Emma leaches will work more successfully across cultures through better communication skils ad will learn how to turn cultural differences into assets.

All this area of cultural training becomes increasingly important of course in improving cross cultural and virtual team working both within TMI/TACK as well as with their extensive international client list.

How competent are you and I as a cross cultural manager?
Here is a list by no mean complete but will help you to evaluate your cross cultural sensitivities.
Rate yourself 1-5 on the following areas. 5= you almost always demonstrate this quality 1= you almost never demonstrate this quality.
a) __ flexible
b) __ sense of humour
c) __physical stamina
d) __ able to deal with ambiguity
e) __ establish and maintain relationships well
f) __ set realistic expectations
g) __tolerant of values different to your own
h) __ patient

i) __take initiative and display leadership
j) __manage stress effectively
k) __clearly motivated
l) __deal effectively with conflict
m) __ask for help
n) __Ability to listen carefully
o) __ manage several things simultaneously
p) __ confidence in self and abilities
q) __ facility with foreign language(s)
r) __creative
s) __decisive
t) __clear communicator
Plus any others you may wish to add

It might also be worth asking a colleague to look and your scores and see if they agree.

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