4 Common Disconnects on Multi-Cultural Teams


Working on multicultural teams you may have had moments of wondering what he or she just meant by that comment? Or why will he or she not make a key decision so an activity can move forward? Cultural perspectives and ways of life may be one of the reasons that could explain those incidents.

It is fun to meet people from other cultures and learn about their lives and experiences. And at first it may be interesting to learn how their cultures vary from your own, but once you work on a project together and it is remote working, including long hours and tight deadlines those differences can start to cause friction on the team. This can slow down progress and impact team morale. Being aware of the most common inter-cultural disconnects can prevent team members from blaming it on a person and instead enter into a discussion to unpack the root cause of a lack of action, lack of decision-making or the exact opposite – too many fast actions without thinking or making decisions without considering consequences.

4 Areas of misunderstanding that can impact inter-cultural teams

Some things are smart to do in order to ensure the team understands required project outcomes and approaches to use. Aspects would include clarifying the definition of done, outlining project phases and deadlines, assigning roles and responsibilities and having regular meetings to monitor and understand progress and resolve issues that are hindering progress or pose a risk.

Some aspects may need additional attention if your team consists of a few members from very different cultures.

1. Managing to deadlines

This relates to how important team members believe deadlines are. Some may see them as a guideline while others will suffer anxiety and will work longer hours to make sure the are met. In some cultures, there is a strong emphasis on being for example exactly on time for an appointment while in other cultures it may be okay to be a few minutes late for business meetings and perhaps even a few hours late for a social engagement.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Make sure all team members understand the consequences, knock-on effects and penalties which may be triggered if the team missed deadlines. Monitor progress and have follow-up conversations if team members are falling behind to ensure they understand the importance of their activities being completed on-time.
  • Ensure team members understand the priorities they should place on various aspects of the work that needs to be done by the deadline. Ensure it is also clear exactly what “done” means. Do you expect quality checks to be done too or just a first draft of the outcome to be available? Should it be print-ready or just ready for an internal review or further discussions?

2. Clear Role Expectations

There are differences in cultures around the meaning of “in charge” or the Subject Matter Expert (SME). In some cultures, it is customary to take the word of such a person as a mandate to perform a specific task or action exactly according to what he/she said. In other cultures, SMEs and leaders are considered more “accessible”, and dialogue is welcomed when one does not agree with a requirement or task assigned by the one “in charge.” This difference can cause confusion on teams including many different cultures. To what degree can and should instructions be discussed and challenged vs accepted? Are those in expert roles or roles with authority prepared to deal with challenging discussions and comments – if the project team will operate in a culture of open discussions?

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Have a role discussion at the start of the project and include what would be great questions to ask each role and how interaction is expected to take place on the project to maximize positive team outcomes.
  • Be sure to have further discussions highlighting best-practices during the project and as new team members join, who may have missed the original discussions around the different project roles and how to best interact with them.

3. Conflict resolution

Conflict shows up differently in each person – some people speak up and go to the “max ” to be heard and understood while others take their thoughts, feelings and especially resentment underground and do not speak out. This means that conflict can be hard to resolve and to feel comfortable that all thoughts and concerns are on the table and discussed before decisions are made. Some cultures are more likely to speak up and make sure their opinions are voiced while others might patiently and politely wait to be asked for an opinion and speaking out of turn (from their perspective) may be seen as impolite or disrespectful. In some cultures open disagreements are best avoided to maintain a cordial/good relationship with others on the project.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Use more than one channel to check in with team members and get feedback – ask in meetings, but also check in with individual team members between meetings to understand if there is any part of the path forward chosen which concerns them.
  • If any team members are especially aggressive in voicing opinions, perhaps a quiet word might help that person to still voice opinions, but possibly in a less forceful way to avoid antagonizing anyone from a culture where a forceful (overly enthusiastic ) communication style might cause discomfort.
  • Provide training in non-violent communication and voicing messages with a healthy balance between listening and advocating. Help team members to constantly improve in understanding each other’s styles to help communication and collaboration efforts on the project.
  • When a conflict does occur, address it in a culturally-sensitive way if the disconnect could be related to a cultural difference in perspective. The objective should be to solve and address project issues in a helpful way without causing negative impacts to collaboration on the project.

4. Navigating with many languages

We all know of situations where people from the same country with the same language find it hard to communicate successfully with understanding and openness. When a team consists of many different cultures, this can be so much more confusing and frustrating.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Agree from the start of the project to follow a few guidelines such as: For the chosen project language, native speakers are to slow down and use simple ways to bring their points across. And native speakers of the main project language will be patient with non-native speakers trying to get their thoughts across. If there is a large language ability gap between the native-speakers and other team members consider some language classes to bridge the gap.
  • Consider asking presenters/speakers at planned meetings to send out specific agenda items and a summary paragraph of the issues to be raised and discussed at least a day before the meeting. That would help non-native speakers to prepare ensuring they understand the issues and are able to fully participate in the conversation at the meeting.
  • When there are significant differences in levels of language abilities on the team, meetings may take longer, and collaboration may also be a little harder especially in a virtual/remote environment. Be sure to take this into account when planning project timelines and deadlines.

Plan ahead to succeed

Knowing you may be starting up a project with a multi-cultural team, schedule team-building activities for team members early on. This will help them get to know each other as humans/people. Establishing trust early on, can avoid frustration turning into conflict and delays in reaching project team deadlines.

Create team opportunities to get to know more about each other’s cultures. This could bridge the gap in understanding each other’s perspectives and avoid labeling, misunderstandings, and internal team misalignments..

Set continuous learning as one of the core values of the team and live it, encourage it and keep bringing the team back to what can be learned from successes and failure as the project progresses. Having a curious and learning mindset is a great way to avoid major disconnects between team members as they will engage in inquiry and advocacy vs judgment and labelling as a default behavior.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop


(For Interviewers and Managers)

Need to provide a training workshop for managers on how to conduct job interviews? The slides I am sharing today can help you with that. You can turn it into an interactive online event or you can use it to create a face-to-face workshop. You could even turn it into a standalone training video if you provide your own voice-over to explain the various points further.

Remember, it is not a good idea to start with the slides and then just blindly using them for a workshop or other learning solutions without first considering the needs of your own intended training participants, interview process, etc.

Here are the slides:

The structure

After an initial explanation of what behavioral interviewing is and how it works, the slides focus on 5 steps that can help explain how to implement this approach as an interviewer.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop, use these steps as a guide:

  1. Define the group of people who are the intended participants in your training workshop – what do they know, what do they need to know, (if they have done interviews already) what goes wrong, what goes right when they have done interviews in the past? What does all of that mean for what you need to accomplish with this workshop?
  2. Define an overview of what you intend them to know and be able to do after the workshop. (You can only do so much during a workshop so be realistic on what the outcomes might be).
  3. Define what will be included in further detail and exercises during the workshop (bullet points should help you further) in order to meet the goal(s) you have set in point 2 for the group you have defined in point 1.
  4. Set a date when the workshop will be made available so you can remain focused on deadlines that help to meet that date.
  5. Start working on the next level of detail – Consider that you may want to do a combination of training solutions like assigning some online training before they come to the workshop to cover some knowledge you want them all to have at the start of the workshop. Also, work out your bullet points into a “storyline” that logically structures the sequence of topics to be covered and exercises you will use to help build competency in using specific tools or approaches.
  6. Use the slides I have attached for download (above). Using your answers to the points above – maybe you need ideas about how information can be sequenced? See if any of the sections in the slide deck help you fill in some of your planned learning areas. Maybe some of the exercises could be useful for your workshop?

A friend of mine always says (in Dutch) – you can better creatively borrow ideas from others than come up with something yourself, which is lesser. So use this slide deck, and borrow ideas from it to get your budding Interview Training Workshop to the next level!

3 Templates to start your employee development program


Upgrading skills in specific employee groups could be achieved by introducing a new development program. Goals for the program could range from cross-training in key functional knowledge areas to accelerating development of specific groups. Development programs often run over several weeks or months and are attached to pre-defined outcomes to address specific identified learning needs.

Structuring your employee development plan, you will need to pay attention to at least 3 important aspects:

  1. Setting up the curriculum
  2. Preparing managers to be supportive
  3. Preparing attendees to succeed

The overall program

Setting up the curriculum over the development period means you decide how the various learning solutions are scheduled and planned to strengthen and support key messages throughout the time period that your program runs. Each aspect strengthens what had already been covered while adding additional knowledge. Including various learning methodologies (blended learning) enhances the learning experience and keeps it interesting.

Snapshot of a learning program for graduates

Note:

  1. Always start by understanding what you are trying to address before you start designing your development program. What is the learning need? What is the business value of employees having this knowledge and experience?
  2. When does the business need employees with these new skills, understanding and experiences? Is it short-term (within the next year), medium-term (between 1 and 2 years) or is it longer term (more than 2 years)? Knowing the timeframe also helps you decide what to develop internally vs outsourcing the entire program or parts of it.
  3. Who needs to learn these new skills/behaviors? Be very clear who is your target population for this development program (How many years of experience do they have right now? What kind of experience do they already have – functional, geographic etc.).

Preparing managers to support learners

Employees are more motivated and do better when their managers are onboard with their participation in the development program. Be sure to engage with managers before participants are told about the program. Managers need to understand the business context of the development program, why someone on his/her team is included in the program (if they were not nominated by the manager) and how to support the employee throughout the program. Some manages may need training or coaching in this regard.

Snapshot of a manager checklist

Employees participating in these kinds of development programs are often still working in their current roles. Supportive managers not only expect good results in their departments or projects, but also hold employees accountable for completing program assignments. This gives employees the best chance of completing the program successfully.

Preparing attendees to succeed

Development program attendees need to understand more than just the program contents and overview of dates. An orientation session for intended program attendees could help with that. The session gives them an opportunity to understand the business context and benefits to their own careers plus they can ask clarifying questions before committing to invest the time and effort needed to successfully complete the program.

Snapshot of Program Attendee checklist

And orientation session with development program attendees should include at least these topics:

  • A welcome message from an executive, usually the sponsoring executive, explaining the business value of the development program and also career benefits for attendees.
  • A message from Talent Development explaining program expectations, the blended learning approach, deadlines, the team assignment and any other relevant details of the program that attendees should know about at the start.
  • If the program existed before and there was a redesign or some changes were applied, explain how the current programs differs from previous versions some attendees may have heard about in the past.
  • Provide the opportunity for some Q&A

Keeping learners motivated when a development program runs over many months can be a challenge. Helping to keep attendees focused on assignments and deadlines can be easier when you build in challenges which generate leader boards (friendly competition) or where individuals can earn points or badges by completing specific tasks. Adding recognition by the manager/group/department can also be helpful. Recognition can include anything from a small token offered to attendees after completing a specific portion of the program to being mentioned in the company newsletter.

Hopefully these three templates (see download links above) are useful as you review your own planned development program. Do download the 3 files above if you need to see the templates in detail.

Learning Book


A learning book is a great tool to use for learners who are keen to capture the key points of learning moments. It is also useful for coaches or trainers who may want to make them available to coachees or class participants to help them along on their learning journey. A pdf version of a learning book is available for free download below – letter size, A4 size an A5 size.

To really learn something new, one must chew on it – write it down, read what you wrote and then consider how it changes your perspective or increases your awareness or understanding. The learning book helps learners to capture ideas and thoughts. It gives them a chance to go back and review what they had written before to remind learners of what they had thought at the time and planned to do about their own continued learning.

“Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.”

– George Iles –

There are many ways that someone can learn something. Classroom sessions are not the only option. See the list of opportunities to learn below: (and this list is not exhaustive)

The learning book is a place to capture all new thoughts, ideas, and areas that a learner wants to learn more about in one place.

Feel free to add additional pages that would help guide the learner along a developmental path.

The book is broken down into 3 parts: Prepare to learn, Learning, and Follow-up. In the preparation to learn section, there is space to capture the topics that the learner would like to know more about.

Prepare to learn

Learning

The learning section has a few pages to prompt learners about aspects that may be important for them to remember later. It covers aspects such as areas to research further after the learning event. Or maybe they want to capture the highlights of their learning journey a particular week. Maybe there were a few statements of quotes that they really want to remember – the learning book has a page for that. There is also a page to capture any favorite speakers or writers that they came across and want to know more about.

Follow up

After a learning event or conference, we often have great plans for new initiatives to implement or people to contact – topics to research. And unfortunately, many of those great ideas dissipate when our normal lives resume. The Follow-up section is about capturing the actions you plan to take and it gives you a section to capture dates or months when you plan to work on it.

It’s a great way to help you check back on how you are doing with follow-up activities.

Reviewing your own learning notes from the last few months can help you pick-up again on an interesting point you still wanted to follow up on. Perhaps you had planned to call someone or to do an internet search, but somehow you forgot about it. Having it written down in your learning book and being able to review it, you can pick up on those points and ensure that you do complete the task that you had planned to do.

The download file links below contain *.pdf versions of a learning book for 3 different printed sizes: letter size, A4 size and A5 size (which is half the size of an A4).

Competence – getting to the top level


According to competence development, there are four levels that a learner goes through on their journey to being consciously competent at a skill they wish to be good at. Knowing which level you are at for the new skill or competency that you are trying to learn is important, but it is also true that until someone gains awareness almost nobody knows when they are at level 1.

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Level 4 is the goal that any learner wants to achieve, and it is that state of skillfulness that does not require effort to execute. Think for example of how you tie your shoelaces or drive your car. If you have been doing it for a few years you can probably have many other thoughts in your head and while you are doing it. This is possible because you have reached Level 4 in the skills required to tie your shoelaces or drive your car.

Going from Level 1 to Level 4

Level 1 means you are not skilled at something specific, but you do not know it. Until someone provides you with feedback in this area or until you are somehow confronted with the fact that you have no or limited skills in a specific area. We do not even think about that area as something we need to work on and we are often blissfully unaware of the potential development need in an area. The main way to move out of level 1 is to ask for feedback and to look for ways to understand how your behavior, actions, communications and way of working impact others.

From Level 1 to Level 2 – Get input. When was the last time you asked a friend, a co-worker or a family member “Tell me one thing that I would have to get better at if I would be a better friend/co-worker/member of this family or better at my job?”

Going from Level 2 to Level 3 – Learn and practice using new ways of doing or thinking. This is where the heavy-lifting comes into play. To make this transition of learning a new skill takes focus, dedicating time in your busy schedule to actively acquire a new skill. This requires a lot of discipline and you will not only need to schedule the time for this, but you will need to practice what you are learning on a regular basis and keep track of your own progress. It is important also in this stage to get input from others so that you can gauge the progress you are making towards acquiring and demonstrating skilfulness in new areas.

Going from Level 3 to Level 4 – It just happens. There comes a day when someone mentions that you have been demonstrating your skills in a new area without you being aware of making the effort. At that time, you will have acquired an unconsciously skilled state whereby you no longer need to focus or concentrate very hard in order to demonstrate your skill in a particular area.

What is the value of using this model?

If you are a trainer, it is important to know at which stage your training participants are because it would drive the kinds of information you make available, the kinds of practice sessions you build into your training class and the kinds of tests you provide for them to measure their progress. A pre-test or exercise can often help determine the level of awareness and knowledge that training participants have in the skills area(s) that you will be focusing on during the class. For example, a trainer may use more assessments to increase awareness if the class is at level 1 or the trainer may use more practical exercises and instructional sessions if the person is at level 2 or 3.

As a mentor, it is important to understand not only the goals and development needs that a mentee would like to work on but also what his or her current level of competence is in that particular area. This knowledge helps you to provide helpful guidance to help him or her reach the next level of competence.

As a leader of a department or a function, you will likely have people within your group or team that are at different levels of competence. Situational Leadership will be required from you as you assign tasks, delegate or provide feedback to each person focusing on the level of competence that he or she is at for that particular skill set that is needed.

Having a framework and process for moving from unconscious incompetence to being consciously competent helps mentors and learners. It is easier to select the right developmental tool or resource for development when it is clear which level of being skilled the learner is at. And the starting point is most often the results from 360 reports for leaders or communication and collaboration style feedback tools and exercises.


Note 1:
In February 1969, management trainer Martin M. Broadwell called the model “the four levels of teaching”. Paul R. Curtiss and Phillip W. Warren mentioned this model in their 1973 book The Dynamics of Life Skills Coaching. In the late 1970s, this model was used at Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch. He called it the “four stages for learning any new skill”. Later the model was frequently (but incorrectly) attributed to Abraham Maslow, although the model does not appear in his major works.

Structured Knowledge Sharing


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Very few companies are planning ahead when it comes to knowledgeable people leaving the company and retiring. The knowledge that is lost to the company when Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) leave can have direct impacts to the top and bottom-line and yet, there appears to be room for improvement in this process.

The need for implementing a structured process for knowledge transfer or sharing can naturally come from any of the following process and review discussions involving HR representatives and Managers:

  • Succession Planning
  • Workforce planning
  • Recognition and Reward reviews
  • Training needs assessment
  • Organizational capability discussions (now and future)

The question is: how are you ensuring that those with recognized expertise in a specific area contribute to the learning of others?

In many cases such a recognized SME needs to be assigned to mentor a more junior employee delivering promising results early in his/her career with the company. However, the time commitment associated with mentoring one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions meet content coverage expectations can soon become a concern.  So how do you optimize the knowledge transfer or sharing process, while not taking up too much of the SMEs time doing so?

The solution is to structure the knowledge transfer or knowledge sharing process and to include multiple participants. Ideally participants with an SME should range between 3 and a maximum of 8 people. Structuring sessions where those present interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.

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Preparing the managers

It is helpful to ensure managers (of those attending knowledge-transfer sessions) are prepared and understand the process. When they know the topics that would be covered, they can plan post-session assignments for employees to benefit from the new knowledge and help them retain what they have learned. New knowledge is much easier remembered when it can be applied on-the-job soon after the learning session. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.

Measuring learning

  • Adding a pre- and post- survey with questions related to the topic can help you measure the increase in employee knowledge from sessions.
  • You can also use a 360 feedback survey and get feedback from those working with, for and managing the employees before they start attending sessions. It would give you a snapshot of their current strengths and improvement points. Structure the 360 feedback survey to include competencies in the areas that will be covered by the series of sessions to come.

Preparing the Subject Matter Expert

Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME. They often do not realize how much they know about various topics.

The first task would be to unpack the area of knowledge the person has – look at processes, clients, products, technology, developments outside your company, projects that the SMEs are particularly proud of. You can also survey the intended participants to find out what they would like to learn more about. That is the first task – focusing on the highest priority topics over a 6 months trajectory of sessions. As a starting point that would give you a good start and the opportunity to do a process check 6-months later to see what can be better.

Once you have the topics settled for each session, the SME would need some helpful structure to disseminate his or her knowledge in a helpful way as opposed to telling several war stories from the past which leaves session participants confused.

The questions below can be used by the SME to prepare for each session and it could be helpful for him or her to even present the information to the group in this structured way.

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Capturing knowledge in a database would be one approach to knowledge sharing, but helping adults learn and know how to apply new knowledge requires that you build in room for questions and discussions in the process. This can be accomplished using face-to-face meetings, video conferencing, and webinars.

The best way to ensure that knowledge is retained and expanding within the company is to apply discipline and structure to knowledge sharing and transfer. This is especially important to do when you consider those who plan to retire in the next two to three years. Involving recognized experts (SMEs) within your company to share their knowledge with others is important for the sustainability of your competitive advantage in the market place. Its is about the things you know about your marketplace, the things you know how to do better and faster than your competition etc. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time.

Team Exercise or Ice Breaker – This Picture Shows…


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This exercise is very popular with those who prefer working with images and pictures to express and represent their thoughts and feelings. Using images often opens up new ways of communicating, which could bring a creative element to your event and everyone typically enjoys participating in this exercise.

The set-up is simple and the exercise does not take up a lot of time. It is also very versatile in the sense that you can use it in quite a number of different ways to get feedback and input from those you are working with in your event (training, meeting, workshop etc.)  I am sharing some specific options for you as facilitator to consider, but once you start getting creative with it, I am sure you will find many more applications for this exercise.

The information you need for this group or team activity/exercise is shown below:

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Tip:

When it comes to selecting pictures get creative or brainstorm with a creative coworker or friend to create or find pictures that may “speak” to your participants given the context of the event or session(s) where this exercise is to be used. If you often facilitate sessions you will probably build up a good set of images to use for an exercise such as this one. More  “out of the box” (unusual) images could potentially lead to richer feedback from individuals to start group/team discussions. This could lead to vastly increased understanding of issues by participants.

Tips for new Facilitators


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Being asked to facilitate a group of people to accomplish structured outcomes to a meeting or all-day session can be daunting if it is your first time.. This is especially true when there are strong opposing views within the group. I used to facilitate many sessions for a large global company and worked with a few colleagues who did similar work in other regions. The resource I am sharing contains tips received from my colleagues when I got started as a facilitator years ago. In turn, I have made it available to other new facilitators that I have encountered over the years. Now you can also benefit from this. (see inserts below)

Some assumptions made for these tips to be relevant:

  • As facilitator your workshop/session is part of a process. The session includes exercises designed to produce outcomes that would benefit the team. There is at least one (could be more) manager who have a vested interest in a successful outcome and who will also attend your session. These same managers are aware of the team and session process and have provided input to you in terms of their vision and needs from the process. Note: there may be more than one manager if you are facilitating a group process involving members of a client organization too and which may also be attended by the manager from the client organization.
  • Your role is to facilitate the agreed process and to re-agree next steps should the process somehow not be able to continue as planned or new information/changes trigger you to recognize that a change in timing/agenda should be considered.

TIPS for Facilitators:

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How to stimulate participation by session participants?

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Do a poll – where by raising hands people have to vote for one idea vs one or more other ideas
  • Count to 10 or more before you speak, let them bridge the silence with participation
  • When there is a question to you or a comment, defer it to the group – how does the group feel about this topic/question/statement?
  • Ask direct questions to specific participants whom you know (be sure) have experience in an area or on specific subject matters.
  • Summarize the points raised and ask the group to respond – agree or disagree? Correct or ..?
  • Divide them into pairs for a short discussion on a topic that pertains to what you just covered. (Gets them active after a period of perhaps monologue or exclusive dialogue.)
  • When the group seems lethargic consider an unscheduled short break
  • Do an impromptu energizing exercise (always have two or three of these in your back-pocket to employ when you see the need.
  • Expect some sluggishness in the period right after lunch for about an hour or so. Ensure your session design contains activities for this period – small groups etc.
  • Call it – sometimes a group is unresponsive, because everyone is thinking about an elephant in the room – some topic which should be discussed or settled which may not be on the agenda., but it is occupying the minds of everyone. If you know what it is, ask “Is ….. something we should discuss at this time?” if you do not know ask “Is there another issue that we should be covering at this time which may not be a scheduled topic?” [You would need to check in with the manager to ensure he wants to do it right away or later -schedule a specific date and time when he will deal with it. So call a short break if they tell you that something needs to be settled. To determine the”how” with the manager involved.)

These examples are not exhaustive, but they did help me out during those early years of facilitating sessions with groups and teams. I do trust they will do the same for you!

Cultural Differences Could Impact your Session

From a cultural perspective it is important to take note of cultural differences which may impact team and group dynamics during a facilitated session.

Some tips:

These examples could be tricky situations to navigate successfully, if you are not prepared to structure the process, the introduction and plan for the day in a way to ensure all participants see value in the time spent together. In some cases the answer may not be to have a facilitated session, but instead to have a series of meetings involving specific people from the participant groups. .

  • Some cultures expect the person in the front of the room to be an expert and if the facilitator asked questions of the group, his/her credibility may be at stake – in the mind of such a participant.
  • Valuing the goals that a sub-group brought to to the session, some cultures would expect that these goals may be more important than the goals set out for the session at the start.
  • Some cultures prefer to talk about practical examples during the session while others may prefer to talk about concepts. This could especially be apparent if a culture respects the resolution of disagreements privately instead of in a group context.
  • Physical activity or high-energy participant exercises may be seen as disrespectful or unsuitable behavior for senior level personnel in some cultures.
  • Asking questions or exploring concepts are not common across all cultures. Some participants from other cultures may find that approach alien and uncomfortable. They would expect the facilitator to simply give them the answers instead of asking the group to come up with the answer.

Use THIS LINK to read more about how to understand some cultural dimensions to consider as you plan to facilitate a meeting where there might be participants from multiple cultures.

Here is an example of how people from a Low Power Distance culture may differ from those coming from a High Power Distance culture in a facilitated or training sessions:

Cross-Cultural Communication Exercise


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Cross cultural awareness and skills in the workplace are vital to companies striving to enter new geographical areas or aiming to build successful operations at international locations. Ineffective cross-cultural collaboration and communication in international teams have caused many global projects to under-perform and fail to reach desired outcomes. Luckily there are quite a number of tools and team interventions available by now to improve results in these areas. Today I am sharing an exercise with materials, which you can use to conduct a cross-cultural exercise with teams or groups of people.

This particular team exercise was developed in such a way that it could be used in many different ways and configurations. For example: you can use a simplified version of this as an ice-breaker during a team-building program or you can use it as a 2 hour-exercise in a full day training program on related topics.

In essence the objectives of using this exercise with teams or groups of people are:

  • To increase cross cultural understanding and awareness by providing experiences and discussions for team exercise participants
  • To prepare someone to enter or engage with another culture – such as those who will start to work with another culture, whereas the person/team previously worked mainly with homogeneous teams (you could make up a small group of people who are selected to receive cross cultural awareness training).
  • To help multi-cultural teams pay more attention to cultural differences which could make it hard to communicate and collaborate effectively.
  • To help team members understand where and how cross cultural communications could possibly end up with unintended outcomes.

Once you have reviewed how the exercise works, I am sure you will be able to come up with additional ways to use it with the teams/groups that you work with.

The exercise can be run with groups as small as 12 and you can also do this with groups of 30 people – should you have enough additional facilitators to support the coordination, support and debriefing portions of the exercise.

How it works

Click on the video below to see a short video on how this exercise works

The materials needed include:

  • Culture-preparation sheets for different cultures – named after random colors (see below). These sheets are used by “foreigners” to this culture to prepare for interaction. This mimics information that one can typically find online or in books about another culture and which can be studied to prepare oneself before engaging with another culture for the first time.

The way the cultures look or seem to outsiders

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Own culture descriptions for each group

  • Only people who have been chosen to be a part of this group will see these more comprehensive information sheets and only the sheet that pertains to the group that they are a part of. (Not to members of the team they are about to meet with)
  • More comprehensive cultural sheets to help group members of a particular culture (as set up in this exercise) to understand their own culture. This means they are better able to act according to their own culture when they encounter another culture in this exercise. This material goes a bit deeper than surface-level behaviors to explain to some degree WHY this culture would do certain things and how their past beliefs and experiences have shaped them into the culture they present today.

GREEN CULTURE:

green-group-culture-exercise

RED CULTURE:

red-group-culture-exercise

BLUE CULTURE:

blue-group-culture-exercise

YELLOW CULTURE:

yellow-group-culture-exercise

Assignments

  • Assignment to indicate to each cultural group what they are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming interaction/negotiation meeting with some members of another culture.
culture-exercise-instructions-1
culture-exercise-instructions-2

How to set this up:

Size and dividing into sub-groups

With groups of less than 20 people I tend to just pick two cultures and not all 4. You may of course go with more than cultures – just remember to add more time to debriefing and discussion sessions after the exercise. Make sure that each cultural group has at least 6 members so that it is easy to divide into 2 cultural delegations of no less than 3 members. For example: If you have a group of 20. Split them into two cultural groups of 10 members each.

Space

Make sure each cultural group can meet uninterrupted in a dedicated space to discuss and prepare for their assignments. When the sub-groups meet there should be enough space for them to be able to talk and see each other while doing so.

Planning the session

Imagine you pick the Red and the Blue cultures only for your exercise. And imagine you have 20 people at your event so 10 of them will be from the Red culture and 10 would be from the Blue culture. Out of the 10 members of the Red culture, 5 will (after preparation) meet with 5 members (which is half of the members of the Blue culture) to work on their assignment. And the other 5 members of the Red culture will meet with the remaining 5 members of the Blue culture. So this means: you will have two intercultural meetings taking place between Red and Blue delegations with two different assignments.

assignment-culture-exercise-example

The Color name called out in the assignment information above refer to the traveling delegation. So in the case of Red and Blue – the delegation from the Red Culture traveling to meet at the Blue culture location will work on the assignment called “Red” and the delegation from the Blue culture that will travel to meet with the Red culture will prepare for the “Blue” assignment. Those remaining at the location to host the traveling delegation will prepare for the discussion that the other cultural team will want to have. (see graphic below for further illustration).

Before starting the exercise I typically share some slides and have an overview discussion on the topic of how cultural differences can be viewed. There are quite a few models and slides posted online to help you with this part. (see two links below)

Cultural Differences links:

Trompenaar

Cultural Model

Use a basic framework of looking at cultures to set up the exercise portion, which comes next.

Share with the group: We will divide you into different cultures and we will provide materials to help you understand your own culture as well as other cultures that you may need to interact with. Each culture will gather in a different place to prepare for the assignments. When the preparation is done, each cultural group will divide into two parties. One party will “travel to” meet with a delegation from the other culture at their location while a delegation from their culture will “travel to” meet with the remainder of your cultural group at your own location. You will decide in your group who will go to the other location and who will host the visiting delegation at your own location.

Steps for the exercise

  1. Divide the large group into an equal number of smaller cultural groups. (choose to work with two cultures or four cultures in each case pairing two specific cultures) Each culture group should have at least 6 members as they will need to select two small delegations to meet with one other culture. A delegation should have no less than 3 members.
  2. Having separated the different cultural groups (from the exercise) into different areas/corners in the large room or into separate breakout rooms, you hand out the comprehensive cultural sheets to each individual in a particular culture. Do not share this with other cultures. Only members of the group that represent for example the “Red” culture get to read the comprehensive sheet for the Red culture. Allow about 5 minutes for them to read through it.
  3. Now hand out the Culture sheet showing all of the cultures in summary form. Each member of each cultural group gets this handout. At the same time you verbally share with each culture what their assignments are in meeting with a delegation from the other culture. (see assignments above). They know which culture will interact with them. Give each cultural group about 15 minutes to study their assignments and what is shown on the Culture preparation sheets for all cultures vs their own culture in order to prepare how to approach interactions with them.
  4. Half of the first cultural group will “travel” to have a meeting with half of the second culture. Half of the second cultural group will travel to meet with the remainder of the first culture to engage in the assignment. Allow 15 minutes for delegations to engage and execute their assignments with the other culture.
  5. After 15 minutes ask everyone to come back to the large meeting room for a discussion and debriefing session on the exercise.
  6. Cultural group members sit together (both delegations) and discuss the following questions before reporting to the big group:
    1. In what ways did we encounter unexpected behaviors?
    2. How did their way of interacting make it harder for us to succeed?
    3. What would we do differently on this same assignment now that we have experienced the two interactions with the other culture?
  7. Each of the culture groups reports back on those questions to the larger group.
  8. In large group debrief further on learnings from the exercise and how team members may approach some team aspects differently when they are interacting with someone from a different culture then their own? Do they have tips and advice for others who have to regularly communicate or collaborate with those from other cultures?
  9. Bonus debrief points – if you have the time. How did the way women were perceived make a difference in the exercise? Do you think that it mattered whether the delegates were from a different generation? How would you advise others on how to take additional aspects into consideration when it comes to cross cultural communication and collaboration?
  10. Consider an add-on exercise where each participant is asked to jot down the areas where he/she may have had the most difficulty, questions or had the most insights during this exercise. Is there an area that he/she would like to explore further to improve own understanding or skills? This should be captured in the Personal Development Plan of each participant.

Tips

  • Do remember to mention stereotyping and how that can cause hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Avoid doing this trap while facilitating the exercise.
  • Be aware of showing any “funny” videos or clips that depict how cultures misunderstand each other. They are often based on stereotypes and can easily cause upsets. Humor is not universally interpreted in the same way by those from different cultures.
  • Define that in this case (Exercise) culture refers to national cultures, but clarify that there are several subcultures, which can also make collaboration and communication tough. i.e. operations and sales.
  • I recommend that you share the iceberg model, which helps teams appreciate the vast amount of cultural data which is not visible, but which can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations with others.

Some explanations:

Workshare – means that more than one office is working on the project. There is typically one office which is in the lead while other offices collaborate on the project. They all have to follow the same project protocols in order to avoid confusion and differences in end results produced.

Renewal Exercise for an Existing Team – the journey


journey

Existing teams often go through phases of renewal, which requires that new team members and existing members come together to create a new or changed vision and way forward. This could happen when the project changes from design to implementation or from one conceptual to design. It could also happen if the leader is replaced. There are many reasons when an existing team can benefit from a renewal exercise to remind them of what they need to do, how they will do it and how they will measure success and collaborate.

Elements that can hold the new team back include existing members holding on to the past too strongly and new members not understanding why some things are done in a certain way within the team. Lacking the background and context of the past and a shared vision for the future the team could easily remain divided between the “new comers” and the “old timers” who know everything.

This exercise has two parts and helps to make the past easier to understand especially in terms of how it may have shaped the current belief system of existing team members – i.e. what they believe works and what does not work. The second part of the exercise helps new teams map out the new way forward together, which helps all team members be a part of what they plan to achieve and do going forward.

Tips/Comments:

  • This exercise does not replace any classic team chartering activities i.e. crafting a new or changed purpose statement, or reviewing/creating new roles and responsibilities going forward or agreeing on key team performance indicators. This exercise forms more of a bridge towards renewing the team and its activities and path forward. This exercise can best be followed by some more classic team chartering activities and exercises.
  • Monitor the communication process closely during the first part of the exercise: the sharing that happens has to remain constructive vs existing team members slipping into defensive behavior and/or new team members being overly critical of the lessons learned from the past.
  • This exercise has also sometimes been used as an ice-breaker to start off a one- or two-day team-building activity. It would be good to schedule this just before a natural break to allow team members to spend unstructured social time together as an aftermath of this exercise.