I recently participated in a webinar on intercultural working presented by the Open University Business School (OUBS). The speakers included Dr Bjorn Claes, a senior lecturer in operations management, and Jeremy Roebuck of Grow Movement.

Here are the main points:

What is culture?

Definitions vary from “how we make sense of the world” to “our ability to fit in” with cultural norms, values, beliefs and symbols. Dr Claes said “It affects all aspects of life and not all aspects are observable”.

He talked about socialisation and acculturation and indicated that culture was like an iceberg – only a small element is visible at the surface.

Culture differs for national identities (see material on Hofstede http://kimtasso.com/faq/how-can-i-improve-my-cross-cultural-communication/ ), in business practices, in occupational groups and within organisations.

Adopt a global perspective

He argued that empathy (see http://kimtasso.com/faq/emotional-intelligence-eq-important/) is important in developing a global perspective where you must learn to recognise different values and perspectives, understand the meaning of others’ actions and gain an objective perspective on your own ways of thinking and acting.

We explored ethnocentric, polycentric and geocentric perspectives. Ideas to develop intercultural competencies included researching other cultures, being more aware of your own cultural biases and actively planning to be immersed in other cultures.

Cross-cultural coaching

Whereas coaching is focused on the individual, culture affects groups. Jeremy Roebuck indicated that organisational culture can over-ride national culture thus making international working in global organisations easier.

He noted that there were 200 million expat workers who had made the transition to working in different cultures. Generation Y had a distinct culture of its own that embraced, partly through social media, interconnectedness and cultural diversity. He asked whether we were “cultural critics” or “cultural learners”.

He explored his model of coaching and where culture has an impact:

  • Insight into self (reflection), others and role models
  • Motivation to change and develop
  • Capability to change (which includes attitude to risk)
  • The ability to practice in the real world
  • Accountability

Political astuteness

There was a video from Professor Jean Hartley, Professor of Public Leadership, considering people’s ability to deal with both the small p and big P of politics in organisations. She tackled this by looking at five distinct areas:

1. Personal skills (being self-aware, having self-control, curiosity about other people and being proactive)

2. Interpersonal skills (making others feel valued, building relationship with a variety of people, encouraging people to talk to you, soft skills and tough skills such as negotiating and dealing with conflict)

3. Reading people and situations (getting people together to address the issues below the surface, understanding the power that people having, recognising when you might be perceived as a threat and using both analytical and intuitive skills)

4. Building alignment and alliances (reaching out to people to build collaboration, deciding who to include and exclude, going beyond the immediate and obvious partners, working across competing interests)

5. Strategic direction and scanning (Understanding your purpose and what you want to achieve, timing things correctly, anticipating and timing things correctly)