Cultural differences are a fact of life in the MICE industry. Buyers and suppliers are frequently international, and you are almost certain to find yourself working in a team project with people who have different values, ways of behaving and communicating than you do.
How do diverse teams perform, compared to homogeneous teams?
Leading, or working in, a diverse team requires certain skills to avoid disaster. Research has – counter-intuitively – shown that the worst-performing teams of all tend to be diverse teams – if they are not managed in the right way. Yet, managed well, they can be the best-performing teams of all.
So what sorts of skills are needed? The research cited on the above graph has indicated the following 3 requirements:
- Self-awareness and an understanding of the characteristics, values and styles of the other members of the team are a good start. In other words a clear team ‘map’.
- The ability to build bridges. For example, if you are leading a team you may have to interpret across cultures – “Listen Jeff (American), I know when Robert (British) said at the meeting yesterday that your proposal was ‘interesting’; you thought he liked it, but actually that meant he was against it…”
- The willingness to take the best of all worlds and integrate different approaches
These skills are more in the area of relationship and behavioural skills than the skills of performing tasks. Yet there has been a clear focus on being good at tasks, over the past 50 years or so, as the key to competitive edge in the Western world.
The times are changing. Cultures strong at managing relationships are over-taking and even taking over the Western economies – such as the BRIC growth economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China. And the competitive edge to be gained from ‘linear’ behaviour is narrowing. Linearity is still important – Slovenians are predominantly linear – but it needs to be complemented with strong relationship skills and empathy.
We need to be better at dealing with these softer, people issues, to really survive and prosper in fast-changing environments where employees are under stress and cling to their ‘culture’ as the last remaining thing when they perceive that everything else has gone.
This should be good news for the meetings and events industry, and a great sales argument to persuade organisations to hold even more physical meetings and events. You can’t deal properly with the people issues in a team or organisation unless they are in the same room together often enough.
If a key challenge for your clients in the MICE industry is to get multicultural teams to perform well, and that is a major reason for actually organising those meetings and events, then you ought to be very good at it yourselves!
A model of culture
Where to start?
- It is important to have a model or theory of culture. You need to be able to map yourself and your target cultures in an analytical way. It is no good pumping people full of facts about a whole series of countries, or long lists of dos and don’ts. They will forget, and not be able to apply them. The best-known models are by Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars and Richard Lewis. The Lewis Model looks at linear-, multi- and reactive cultures in the form of a triangle:
- Once you have mapped yourself and your team, you can work on bridging those skill/attitude gaps. If there are different styles of communication, leadership, persuasion, and diverse attitudes to hierarchy, risk-taking and decision-making between you and the other culture, you need to resolve those differences. There are tools on the web, such as CultureActive, Globesmart, and others, that help you do this.
- You may even find that learning about other cultures can broaden your own palette of skills. For instance, the Chinese are very good negotiators – is there something we can learn from them? Can we integrate new ways into our approach?
Taking cross-cultural training can be a highly transformative experience, as people discover truths about themselves for the first time, and begin to realise why others are different, not just how, and what to do about it. Workshops will typically include a mixture of presentation, interactive sessions, video, and group exercises and may even use tools such as a Dialogue Mat to facilitate structured discussion.
Establish some metrics with your training provider at the start. You don’t want to just measure how happy participants were, but also whether they remember what they learned. Has their behaviour changed? How would you like to measure improved performance?
The successful multicultural team
The multicultural team gets strengths from all cultural types, but time needs to be invested in planning the process not just plunging into the tasks:
Ground-rules for success
- Understand very clearly who you are
- State objectives and roles very clearly
- Define them in ways which mean something to everyone
- Use diversity as an asset
- Have fun!