John was frustrated. This was the third time he had been called into a meeting by a client and told that he was not doing a good job. He knew that he was a good employee and could not understand what the problem was.
The problem was actually one of his own making: he did not understand the culture of the organisation.
Fitting in with Company Culture
So how do you adapt to different cultures when working with different organisations? Being in the Project Management space, I have seen just how important it is to adapt to and fit in with various clients, and the same goes for the organisation in which you work.
The very reason you are invited into a company is to assist in a certain need, but if you cannot ‘fit in’ you may find yourself doing more harm than good. A quick assimilation into an environment means that your expertise can be maximised effectively.
The following statistics from The Economist Intelligence Unit (2012) about cross-border collaboration paint an intriguing picture:
It illustrates that cross-border collaboration is critical in a company’s performance (64% agree), but that internal cultural diversity (51% agree) makes collaboration very difficult. Performance can therefore be greatly hampered by cultural differences.
In South Africa we have a bouquet of cultures and, particularly in Project Management circles, collaboration is key.
How then can we train ourselves to be “inter-culturally fit”?
1) Observe others. How does management behave? How do the directors behave? Look for a common denominator in their behaviour. Patterns should emerge in how management treat staff. Look at the company values and find those who actually live them. These are the people that understand the company culture; they have influence and strong relationships with the people around them. They are the ones to focus your attention on, learn from and build relationships with.
2) Know your own values. It is important to know your own values. Security in yourself liberates you to focus on who other people are and their values.
3) Educate yourself. Read up on organisations and their cultures. Inside Coca-Cola gives many examples of how to conduct business in different countries, how to “get the local culture” and sell successfully to that culture. LEMON Leadership focuses on how to “read people” both in pressurised situations and their normal day-to-day life.
4) Keep the bigger picture in mind. Collaboration is about working together effectively, not about proving that your own way is the right way. Keeping the bigger picture in mind helps when small issues crop up; do not allow the little things to destroy long term relationships.
As Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General says: “Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.”