I was recently asked by a workmate to help address a problem with a team she leads. This tight knit team has, for the past few years, been required to work with another team, which is difficult enough. The team is remotely located which adds to the challenge because the teams cannot see each other on a regular basis making forming a bond an activity which takes concerted effort, effort that is not see as very important to either team. The challenge is compounded because the teams are based in two very different cultures.
Why was I chosen to help? According to my workmate, I am a “guru in intercultural communication.” This comment made me smile. A few years prior, when my team piloted offshore development for my company, we undertook cultural training to work with people in India. As the 8 hour training course progressed, and we learned of the nuances of Eastern and Western culture, it was very evident that I had a strong propensity to act in ways that were Western. Strong may not adequately describe my behaviors. On the continuums that described the behaviors, I was at the very far end of the spectrum of those behaviors ascribed to Westerners and my team saw me as the single biggest risk to the project succeeding. Their plan was to keep another workmate by my side during all interactions with our Indian colleagues to act as a buffer and to perform damage control whenever I opened my mouth and stupidity oozed out. This workmate was one of those people that were worried that I would cause an international rift.
Just the opposite happened. I was able to work very effectively within the Indian culture. Through my training and reading, I was able to meet my Indian teammates. I am happy to say that, despite the project ending a few years ago, I have made some very good friends in India. People that I miss because my company has not sent me back to India in quite some time.
Since that time, I have been lucky enough to work with teams based in Switzerland and Italy. I was given cultural training for all the countries with whom I have worked. My experience and my openness to trying to understand the people from other countries has given me a measure of understanding of other cultures. However, I am by no means a guru, just a person fascinated with people. And this fascination is something I happily share with others.
The role my workmate has asked me to fulfill, is to help her local team understand strategies to more effectively work within this intercultural context. My job is to ensure the teams can effectively dance together.