How to improve cross cultural understanding in international teams?

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

In our ever more globalized world full of international organizations, being able to work harmoniously and constructively with people from totally different cultural backgrounds is becoming a vital skill. Working in an international team requires the ability to decode cultural collaboration styles foreign to your own in aspects as: communication, decision making, participation, the way to give feedback, how to build trust, etc.

Without a framework for better understanding, it’s easy to underestimate the expectations and profoundness of these differences, misunderstandings can be avoided if you know how to read well the messages.

In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer (INSEAD) provides a field-tested model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business. The questions in the checklist below are derived from this model and the answers to the questions might be your guide for better cross cultural understanding.

1. Communicating:

• Is their communication style precise, simple and explicit? (this is a direct communication style, the core value is to be transparent)

• Or is their style nuanced, sophisticated, layered? (this is an indirect communication style, the core value is to maintain harmony)

2. Evaluating:

• Do they say exactly what’s on their mind? (core value honesty)

• Are they very careful when it comes to giving negative feedback? (core value is diplomacy)

3. Deciding:

• Is decision making dependent on group consensus, are they looking for recognition as a team? (collective style)

• Or is decision making made by individuals, are they looking for individual recognition? (individualistic style)

How to improve cross cultural understanding in international teams?‍

4. Trusting:

• Is trust built through work and performance? (cognitive trust)

• Or is trust built through deeper personal contact? (affective trust)

 5. Disagreeing: How do they express their disagreement?

• Can they say ´no’ directly and without reservation? (core value is transparency and confrontations are okay)

• Do they communicate their disagreement very dimly or are they uncomfortable with it? (core value is avoiding confrontations)

6. Scheduling: How do they manage their time?

• What can you expect in terms of punctuality? Deadlines are met? (linear time management style)

• Are punctuality and deadlines relative? (flexible time management)

Successful international teams are able to manage cultural diversity and capitalize on differences, they put the culture map to work and are culturally intelligent.

If you work in an international environment, avoid finding out the hard way how to decode the cultural collaboration styles! It is very recommendable to read about the subject to do the right things.

More to read in the book of Erin Meyer “The Culture Map”.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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