When we think of intercultural competence, we normally think of the skill of interacting effectively with people from different countries. However, even though the workplace is increasingly globalized, cultural differences most often arise in the interactions between colleagues from different departments within the same company structure. Because we tend to become siloed into our own narrow vision of the organization, we minimize the importance of the objectives of other areas, prioritizing our own goals. This is no good for business.
It’s no good for business and looking at it selfishly, it is also a form of professional sabotage because leadership teams value those further down in the organogram who get the bigger picture.
You can see this problem play out day after day in organizations across the world.
Take the finance director who wants to cut costs and doesn’t understand the sales director’s penchant for going over budget. Profits come from keeping costs to a minimum, don’t they? The sales director in turn can’t understand the finance director’s reluctance to spend money on promotion; after all, if the company didn’t sell we’d all be out of a job, wouldn’t we? The marketing director wants to invest in websites, social networks and the corporation’s brand positioning. The sales director thinks this is a waste of time – “we don’t sell image!” he smugly quips in the weekly committee meeting, trying to justify his position and make the marketing director’s worries about the market’s perception of the company’s value proposition seem completely irrelevant. “Isn’t the marketing director’s job to book hotels and organize the coffee breaks at our promotional events?” thinks the sales director. And then there’s the sales director in charge of product line A worth 60 million dollars who thinks that product line B worth 20 million dollars isn’t worth anything. And her bonus is probably skewed more towards the 60 million rather than the 20 million. The company ends up selling 77 million dollars that year instead of 80. The following year the company sells 75 million instead of 83. The competition licks its lips and moves in for the kill.
So, starting from the premise that it’s worth understanding where our colleagues from other departments are coming from…
Here are some tips for developing intercultural competence in the workplace:
- Be aware of your own corporate worldview. Reflect on what your department’s view of the organization and the market is and how this is different from other departments’ views. What’s important to your area? Is it cutting costs? Is it increasing sales? Is it developing new product? Do you realize that there is a bigger organizational picture? That your view of the organization and the market is not the only one that exists. That other areas also add value… It’s also important to take into account that what you value is not necessarily what other areas will value.
- Identify your attitude towards these differences. There is a spectrum with those who see differences as a threat on one end and those who celebrate differences on the other. If you’re someone who sees differences as a threat, try looking at it this way: it may be tempting to work towards this year’s bonus at the expense of other areas’ objectives; however, long-term this won’t help you move up in the organization. Long term, it’s to your advantage to celebrate differences rather than fighting against them.
- What do you know about other departments’ ways of working and the challenges they face? If you’re in sales, do you really understand why the finance department places so much emphasis on every expense being tax deductible? Can you look beyond your sales bonus to really understand why this is important to the organization in a larger sense? If you’re in marketing, do you understand why the sales reps’ customers value more the gift of a branded mug than that pet project you have to develop an app to monitor their spending habits? Can you listen to the sales reps when they tell you this without dismissing their opinion as unimportant?
- Now you’ve put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes and accepted that their point of view is important; what are you going to do improve your relationship with them in order to work together to reach common goals? There are skills you can develop to make this work. What about learning to listen actively? Or improving your emotional intelligence? Do you know how to negotiate so neither side loses? At Dara Idiomas, our trainers can bring out the best in your staff.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help your corporation become more interculturally competent. Our Skills for Managers courses are in English but that’s probably not a bad thing in today’s globalized business environment. (We can help with the English at the same time… just in case it needs a bit of work.)