Cross Cultural Communication Exercise


colors-cultureCross 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.

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.

manifest-culture-for-exercise

  • 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

  • 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:

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. Make sure each cultural group can meet uninterrupted in a dedicated space to discuss and prepare for their assignments. Imagine you pick the Red and the Blue cultures. 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. You will have two intercultural meetings taking place between Red and Blue delegations with two different assignments. 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).

assignment-culture-exercise-example

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.

  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.

Getting along better with others


thinking writing final

One area that often causes misunderstandings and frustrations in the workplace is when two interfacing employees have different interpersonal styles and ways of communicating. Being different from each other mostly means that they do not understand why the other party is doing and saying things in the manner that they do. Most of us do have the ability to make small changes to how we do or say things in order to improve collaboration and interfacing with others and this resource can help by creating awareness, which is the first step towards improvement.

The resource I am sharing today can be used for relationships with customers, other employees, work-related contacts and even friends or loved ones. It helps you reflect on the interpersonal style that the other person displays in his or her behaviors. Building on this awareness this resource enables you to be more mindful of the best ways to interact with that specific person to have a better relationship with him or her.

Improving relationships with others resource link here

Once you have awareness of how you can improve interpersonal relationships with specific people it may still be difficult to make changes to your own behavior for the betterment of the relationship. Should you get stuck once you have done the first part of the exercise, consider asking others for ideas on how you can best approach improvement in the key aspects you came up with. Depending on the current relationship you have with the person you focused on, you may be able to ask him or her directly. For example: “I noticed that you are very detail-oriented. Can you help me understand how I can better provide you with what you need in order for you to feel comfortable with my contribution on the projects that we are working on together?”

Uses for this resource include:

  • Own reflection and action to improve on some of your interpersonal relationships
  • Discussions with your coach on how to deal with some difficult individuals that you often work with
  • Team-building – ask each team member to rate themselves on the items shown and then share with each other as a way to get to know each other better and improve interpersonal relationships on the team. (advocating)
  • Team feedback – Depending on the time you have available and the size of the team you may also ask each team member to map out each other team member using this resource. This means each person gets feedback from the entire team on how each team member sees them. The outcome could magnify self-awareness in the team and drive interpersonal relationship improvements across the entire team.

Misunderstandings can lead to a lot of misalignments between team members and can result in rework, which is not very effective. Better interactions with others make the workday more fun and goes a long way towards employees feeling more productive and  effective at work.

Organizational Strategy Framework


framework final

Setting a strategy for an organization is not a simple process mostly because of the several dependencies from various aspects within and outside of the organization. You analyze the data you can find and then you set your target on where you want to move towards to grow the company, improve your profitability, increase effectiveness or move closer to your vision for the organization. The resource I am sharing can help you align some of the most important internal (to the organization) aspects with your strategy to improve your chances of successfully executing on the strategy.

Most organizations can navigate through the process of setting a strategy and many of them find that execution and implementation of the strategy is the hardest part. I believe this is mostly because they may not have paid enough attention to the various internal aspects that would impact how well the changes (in focus or direction) as required by the strategy, is accepted and implemented in the organization.

Organizational Strategy Framework link

The framework helps you by being a type of checklist to review how you need to engage, involve, inform and consider various internal aspects in terms of your strategy to ensure that every aspect reinforces and helps you move towards implementation of your strategy. There is a question or questions behind each of these areas that you should answer in order to know what to do, change or put in place in order to achieve alignment with the strategy.

The areas to ensure alignment are:

  1. Company values and culture
  2. Leadership (behavior and mindset)
  3. Workforce capability
  4. Organization structure
  5. Organization processes
  6. Systems (Automation)
  7. Performance Management and Metrics

The sequence would always be to first select a strategy you would like to pursue with the organization and then use this resource to plan the implementation portion of the activity.

Setting strategies is often an iterative process as changes from inside or outside of companies require an adjustment in approach. Remember to check the impact of further changes on the same checklist (see above) to ensure you maintain the strategy alignment.

 

 

 

Team building – Define individual roles and responsibilities


blocks final

When your team comes together for the first time there are several items you need to discuss with them including the main commercial terms of the contract, the agreed project scope of work for the team, the agreed and approved budget, the schedule etc. The next step, which flows from these basic project aspects is to establish who will be responsible for managing or accomplishing each of the key project outcomes.

The resource I am sharing here describes a process you can follow as part of an early team-building activity to clarify and agree team roles and responsibilities down to individual levels.

Team-building Activity – defining individual roles link

Additional thoughts:

  • You can use this activity after first running a sub-group responsibility definition activity which defines project interfaces or relative responsibilities for decisions and processes by functional or other sub-groups on the team. (see Defining team interfaces) Using this sequence means you drive home how the overall project outcomes are managed by sub-groups on the team and then right down to individual roles in those same processes.
  • This exercise can also be used when there is a change in phase or focus on the project or the composition of the team changes greatly. At those times it is important to keep the team’s momentum going by ensuring that roles and responsibilities remain clear throughout the changes.
  • Clarifying individual role and responsibilities also supports the performance management process. When individuals receive feedback regarding their performance it is important that they already understand what performance and role expectations are.
  • Having individual roles documented can also support bringing new team members up to speed fast. It helps explaining expected team functioning and who they should talk to while making their contributions to successful team outcomes.

Project teams simply function better when everyone understands how he or she is expected to contribute to the team’s goals. This activity does help greatly in clarifying expected individual contributions. I do suggest you distribute the final agreed pages with the team for reference purposes.

Preparing Managers to participate in a Staff Reduction process


 

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It is a critical activity to perform correctly: staff reduction, mass employee lay-offs or a reduction in force. This is the situation where employees are laid off based on a declining workload or business instead of for non-performance reasons etc. Not executing this activity correctly can expose the company to many liabilities and potentially law suits. There are several steps to take in this process and in most countries there are specific requirements which may include employee and/or union consultation and involvement and some steps could also be subject to approvals by governmental organizations. In many countries there are very specific justifications that a company has to be able to provide to show that the process of selecting who to lay off was fair and equitable and that no discrimination took place.

When your staff reduction process calls for a manager or supervisor to conduct the employee notification meeting, this set of slides may be helpful as you seek to orient them to the principles involved, the process to follow and also to raise awareness of the human impact of such a lay-off process. Without proper preparation of the managers/supervisors before the notification meetings they are very likely to make incorrect statements or to forget to make important statements or they may act in ways that could be interpreted as discriminatory. The resource that I share will help you minimize that risk as you first orient managers/supervisors in a group and then have each manager/supervisor work with his/her HR Representative to practice how to conduct the notification meeting correctly during the staff reduction process.

Orientation for Managers to conduct Employee Notification meetings link.

Remember:

  • It is not only the impacted employees who are going to have an emotional reaction to the staff reduction, employees intended to remain at the company may be losing valued friendly connections with peers – even friendships. Be sure to reassure those whom you intend to stay with the company to stop them from looking around for other jobs during the uncertainty that is created in the workforce when a reduction in staff is planned or in progress.
  • It is very important to plan the notification meetings to take place very fast. The shorter the time of uncertainty and people waiting to be called in for a meeting, the better your chances of restoring the morale of the remaining employees and avoid retention risks.
  • During times like these is when your company’s values should drive decision-making and how you talk to employees. Your branding messages can claim honorable conduct and make promises of fair treatment, but it is during staff reductions that you get to prove that you meant it. Employees will remember how you conducted the staff reduction more than they will remember what is written on your posters about company values.
  • (HR/Office Manager) Remember also to check in with the managers and supervisors who conducted the notification meetings. It is tough to tell a number of people that their jobs will go away and watch them have emotional reactions to that.

The staff reduction process is tough on everyone and it is vital that you plan it and conduct it exactly according to the rules and laws of the country where the people are employed. Internally you also need to make sure your planning includes an orientation process for those managers and supervisors who have a role in the notification meetings. And most importantly, check in with those who will remain after the notification meetings are complete to ensure that your business activities can resume soon after.

 

Performance Review and Merit Increases


performance and reward processes

Performance management, salary reviews, desired behavior of leaders and employees and reward and recognition mechanisms are all very much connected and very much over-lapping with each other. Making changes to any one of these areas without considering how the other areas will be impacted would be foolish. People will always adjust their behaviors and efforts to ensure the best personal outcome for themselves. It is up to the company to ensure that these interlinking areas are in harmony with each other in order to reward and drive towards desired behavior and outcomes.

The resource I have here ties a specific overall individual performance review score to a specific range of possible merit increases. Management demand to have a fixed and structured approach for this is easily recognized, but it is also true that more than one aspect should be factored into selecting overall increases for employees. Some additional factors could include what is the budget for increases that year? How did the company perform in the last year (overall)? What is the labor market like at that time – are some jobs in high demand and do you risk retention issues if you do NOT ensure good compensation packages that compare well to the local market?

I would caution anyone to consider unintended outcomes when attempting to standardize and establish rigid structures for considering individual performance and linking that in a fixed way to increase percentages. Be careful what you specify and indirectly require from managers and employees. Your intentions may be good: to reward your best performers for their contributions and to ensure those with lesser performance improve or leave the company. You may end up with people for example not sharing information or not collaborating with others if doing so could hurt their own income potential.

One approach to tying the performance review process directly to the merit increase process is attached here. This example does not take into account some of the considerations highlighted above when it comes to selecting the actual increase percentage and I chose to share this resource anyway, because it does happen that HR is asked for a process like the attached on a regular basis and I want to make an example available to you if you find yourself in that situation. I do suggest you consider ways to incorporate the other aspects as outlined above when you finalize your proposal to implement a more structured approach to tie performance management to compensation review.

Performance Review process linked to Merit Increases resource link.

My main advice is to think it through carefully to ensure your good intentions have the best chance of being reinforced by your performance management and salary (or compensation) review processes. And I would also add that you should remain flexible in working with your documented process. Be ready and willing to adjust and update it as you gather input about how successful your process is in driving desired outcomes – results and behavior that you and the executives would like to see in your pool of employees.

 

Performance Management Process


final perf imp

One of the most fundamental areas where HR has to add value to companies/organizations is to manage and improve the outcomes of the Performance Management Process. HR’s accountability clearly goes beyond the setting and maintenance of  a process to manage individual performance outcomes. The resource I will share here is however mainly focused on the individual aspect of the Performance Management Process – including some links to the salary/compensation review process and the individual development process.

This generic Performance Management Process shows the various basic steps that would need to be followed over a 12 month period to create an annual process. There are references to the link with a salary/compensation review process and also the link with identifying and reviewing individual development needs and progress along achieving improvement goals.

Performance Management Process resource link.

Implementing a process like this would need a change management plan if your organization has never done anything like this before. Even if you have had some form of a performance management process in place, but would now like to expand on it to include some of the elements shown in the attachment, a change management plan would be recommended. Before you start you would of course ensure that the manager/director, who is accountable for the performance management process at your organization, is aligned with your ideas and suggestions and strongly supports the direction you would like to take.

The benefits of having a documented process for Performance Management (like the shared resource) are:

  • It is easy for HR to ensure new employees, current employees, new supervisors and existing managers understand the process and their role in the process.
  • It is a way to help stakeholders understand and then prepare for the input and activities that need to be completed in order to support the process.
  • Linked to a balanced score card, this process can make it clear to individuals/departments how they collectively and as individuals support the attainment of larger organizational performance goals.
  • Knowing that there are check-in moments or feedback and discussion moments around performance expectations, progress and development needs and activities can be a strong way to reinforce employee engagement as many employees tend to consider other employment options when they feel that their development and career progression goals are not being met by their current employer.

This list is not exhaustive. For more information about benefits see links like Benefits of performance management or Importance of Performance Management

 

Team Process Review Exercise


effective meeting

Most teams have challenges when it comes to ensuring optimal collaboration and effectiveness during meetings. It is true that many people are not fond of meetings and the list of pet peeves include that meetings are too long, do not reach any outcomes or agreements, are one-way conversations etc.  The tool I am sharing today can help teams become more aware of their particular downfalls and habits which contribute to having less effective meetings.

The Team Process Review Exercise requires the assignment of an observer to help make behaviors, team dynamics, habits and meeting inefficiencies visible to the team by simply observing them during a meeting. The assigned observer can be a team member (rotate the assignment to other team members for multiple team meeting observations) or it can be a trusted outsider (typically from Human Resources or Training & Development). The resource includes a template for the assigned observer to use when capturing impressions of the team during a meeting. The process of capturing observations, presenting observations and dealing with observations as a team is also described in the shared resource.

Team Process Review Exercise resource link.

Reflections:

  • The process is not that unusual – most experienced Organization Development experts have their own version of the attached process and tool. It does not really matter which specific questions are considered for observations or how exactly the team receives the feedback, the important part is to give the team a way to see themselves through the eyes of someone who is not participating in the meeting and thereby learning about themselves. The feedback information can be used for team improvements and also for individual learning. Individuals can learn how their own behaviors are contributing to team successes or inefficiencies and have the opportunity to consciously choose helpful behaviors going forward.
  • Typical team actions following the use of this process are: having a concise set of team meeting rules which is either permanently displayed in the team meeting room or displayed on a screen at the start of each meeting to remind them of the behaviors they have decided to emphasize or eliminate in team meetings; implementing specific roles such as for example a time-keeper for each meeting to ensure that meetings, discussions and agenda topics are not dragged out too long and that an additional meeting be set instead to complete some topics which were too complicated to solve during a regular team meeting.
  • If you have used team measurement tools on a team you may also have a session where the team becomes aware of the likely blind-spots it may have due to the presence of specific personalities and styles in that team (based on the specific team effectiveness tool you have used with the team). The sum of the individuals present in meetings can lead to the greater team having specific blind-spots, which can be mitigated once the team becomes aware of them and are able to take actions (i.e. assign someone to take on a specific role which may be “missing ” in the team due to its specific contingent of members).