Project Perfect or Diverse Disorder?

 It’s predictable, it’s astonishing and it happens with alarming frequency

A comment from a colleague in relation to a diverse group of workers, a dysfunctional team who were failing to meet the performing stage.

Our experience of working amongst functional teams of engineers across the Middle East is that most international managers and professionals are hired for their technical expertise and experience, rather than their ability to relate, communicate, engage, motivate and work effectively with colleagues and customers from other cultures.  Yet, without such behavioural competencies, managers and professionals are unlikely to be effective in transferring their technical knowledge and skills in an unfamiliar international or multi-cultural context.

The sheer effort and attention that goes into feasibility studies for new ventures minimise risks and ensure strategic advantage, economic growth or benefit and the return on that investment is delivered through the effectiveness of people. Yet organisations continue to recruit “Experts” based upon functional expertise and fail to consider the interpersonal and emotional competencies required to liaise successfully with a range of stakeholders and to develop inexperienced nationals to enable succession.

In a cross cultural project cultural sensitivity and similarity is essential to develop trust, when an inexperienced trainee relies on a functional expert to develop skills and knowledge it is trust that enables the trainee to take risks, show initiative, ask questions and progress.

Unlike individualist cultures where we trust strangers until proven otherwise in collectivist cultures trust is built over a period of time. Activities aimed at building collaboration through communication are essential to building trust quickly.  Sadly rather than seek to engage in activities that build that trust we often tighten controls in an attempt to minimise risk. Increased control is a sad consequence constant misunderstanding and reduces the perception of trustworthiness in the manager and the organisation.

According to Liddell (2005) transformational leadership is not necessarily appropriate in collectivist cultures because it may damage group harmony, what is important is the ability to relate to people as individuals and understand cultural norms.

 Intercultural Effectiveness

All cultures’ are ethnocentric – they believe in their superiority of the social or cultural group that they belong to and this creates a tendency to devalue other groups, we also look out for and remember stereotypical behaviour and fail to notice non typical behaviours.

To work effectively it is essential that we are able to suspend at least some of our stereotypical thinking and reactions and be open to differences. Successful leaders use their emotional intelligence to assess situations and avoid falling back into their own cultural norms.  As follows:

  • They look for reasons to explain the situation and understand why the other culture behaves as it does
  • They determine what their role is in influencing the situation and whether they can influence or change it.
  • They identify the critical factors, norms or actions essential for success
  • They consider the rights of the individuals involved in the situation
  • They accept what cannot be changed
  • They learn from the experience and apply it to the next situation

 Differences in Cultures do not create poor performance; poor performance is a result of how those differences are managed (Brannan & Sal 2000)

If your organisation is planning to expand to the Middle East and you feel a little apprehensive about the readiness of your team for multicultural working. You may like to consider the “Working in a World of Difference” cross cultural development programme, combined with The International Profiler cultural assessment your employees will explore and receive feedback on 22 different attitude, knowledge and skill dimensions, required for international and multi-cultural working. Contact for details


One response to “Project Perfect or Diverse Disorder?

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make reader to read the while thing to the end. I would like to read more of your blogs and to share my thoughts with you.
    Thanks again for this.
    Training and Assessment

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