Understanding the global work culture

Adding value
Last Updated 22 November 2011, 13:42 IST

As economic and political spaces between nations are shrinking, global trade is on a rise. This has immense implications on India as it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Interestingly, the dynamic positioning of India has worked to its advantage.

From being a country whose companies took up maintenance-based projects to becoming a destination for effective research and development work for the quality-demanding corporate world, India has done it all. Now, India is no longer looked at as a destination for cost-effective service provision, but as a competency centre that holds answers to most problems.

This has led to fluid movement of people between countries. With the pool of talented workers having access to global market, competition has increased. Thus, making companies to sit up and take notice of the special needs of these workers. However, working in a global environment involves its own challenges – especially while making policies and programmes.

Many multinational companies with corporate offices beyond India make common policies and programmes for all their employees across the globe.  But this has its own adverse consequences as not all policies can be made uniform. Learning from past follies has led companies to rethink on their policies. Therefore, companies are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that creating a cross-cultural environment in the workplace is critical for long-term success.

However, what companies need to keep in mind is that while the Labour department of India has specific formats and expects organisations to keep records, the privacy laws of any country may hinder this process. Therefore, the key to working across borders is to understand the rules, regulations and policies of different countries and then frame policies that adhere to the needs of both these countries. Then, it is important to share these parameters with the implementing staff or else the communication may suffer as a result of which the final picture could be quite disastrous.

Cross-cultural training is now becoming an integral part of staff training as managers and the HR team want to ensure that effective communication is developed between employees. By educating staff through training courses, such as cross-cultural team building and communication programmes, companies and organisations are becoming more competitive in the global market.

Cross-cultural training is a fairly broad term that covers variety of different training programmes. Each training programme has its own focus and addresses certain needs of a particular client group. In some cases, it could be that professionals in India interact with counterparts in the global world on a daily basis. This could imply a multilingual expertise with knowledge of various international customs and ways of working. All this calls for a very high level of interpersonal skills to deal with in the global market.

The main objective of cross-cultural awareness is to introduce, analyse and constructively tackle the different manifestations of culture in the workplace. It essentially deals with interpersonal interaction. For example, cross-cultural team building training will aim to raise team members' awareness about each other culturally in order to foster mutual trust, respect and understanding. This will result in clearer lines of communication. Cross-cultural management training aims to equip management staff with the knowledge and skills to effectively supervise a multi-cultural staff. It results in a more convivial and understanding work environment.

The need of the hour is an environment where one has to do a little bit of everything. One has to be aware of cultural nuances that may affect business dealings which demands flexibility and ability to travel internationally. To ensure that such travel ends in effective business dealing, companies with a global presence conduct orientation sessions for first-time travellers. These are generally on-site trainings which cover various aspects pertaining to culture, tradition, usages, ways of living and much more.

These culture or country-specific training programmes are generally aimed at individuals or teams that regularly visit a foreign country or those who frequently interact with overseas clients or colleagues. Such training looks at one specific culture/country and covers areas such as values, morals, ethics, business practices, etiquette, protocol or negotiation styles. The aim of such trainings is to better equip participants with the key skills that will help in building successful business relationships. Some business etiquette sessions are also conducted from time to time to sensitise employees about interacting with people from other cultures.

Cross cultural training aims to develop awareness between people where a common cultural framework does not exist. In the business world in particular this manifests in better interpersonal understanding leading to more effective communication which ultimately results in a more productive business environment.

To quote an example, as cultural inclusion is an integral part of our way of working and as we interact with our counter parts in the corporate office of France, initially we conducted a French language workshop to develop basic conversational skills. And this indeed bridged not the just the language gap, but also opened up other avenues of cultural interaction.

Benefits of cross-cultural training
Cross-cultural differences can and do hinder communication and interpersonal relationships. In the business world, where people from different cultures interact daily and then depend upon that interaction to take decisions, effective communication is very critical. Cross cultural training aims to develop awareness between people where a common cultural framework does not exist in order to promote clear lines of communication and better relationships.

Cross-cultural training offers a range of benefits to both, participants and businesses. For participants in cross-cultural training, the 10 main benefits are:
Unravelling the self: Cross-cultural training has an interesting facet to it. It not only introduces the participants to different cultures, but it also exposes them to facts and information about their own cultures, preconceptions, mentalities and world views that they may not have contemplated otherwise. In the process of learning about others, cross-cultural training helps people to learn more about themselves.

Raising confidence: Cross-cultural training promotes self-confidence in individuals and teams by empowering them with a sense of control over difficult challenges, which they earlier found difficult to tackle at the workplace.

Bridging gaps: Mental barriers like preconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes prevent proper understanding of other people. Cross-cultural training demystifies other cultures by presenting them in an objective light. Thus, barriers are slowly chipped away, allowing for open relationships and dialogue.

Building trust: When people’s barriers are lowered, mutual understanding ensues, and this results in greater trust. Once trust is established, altruistic tendencies naturally manifest, thus, allowing for greater co-operation and a more productive workplace.
Motivating progress: One of the outcomes of cross-cultural training is that people begin to see their roles within the workplace more clearly. Through self-analysis people begin to recognise areas in which they need to improve and become motivated to develop and progress.

Opening horizons: Cross-cultural training addresses problems in the workplace from a very different angle as compared to traditional methods. Its innovative, alternative and motivating ways of analysing and resolving problems helps people to adopt a similarly creative strategy when approaching challenges in their work or personal lives.

Developing interpersonal skills: Participants develop great people skills that can be applied in all walks of life. By learning about the influences of culture, like the hidden factors behind people’s behaviours, participants begin to deal with people with a sensitivity and understanding that may have previously been lacking.

Nurturing listening skills: Listening is an integral element of effective and productive communication. Cross-cultural training helps people to understand how to listen, what to listen for and how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework of understanding. By becoming good listeners, people naturally become good communicators.

Encouraging common ground: When cross-cultural communication problems arise, the natural tendency is to withdraw in opposite directions and highlight the negative aspects of the other. Cross-cultural training assists in developing a sense of mutual understanding between people by highlighting the common ground. Once spaces of mutual understanding are established, people begin to use them to overcome culturally challenging situations.

Develops careers: Cross-cultural training enhances people's skills and, therefore, future employment opportunities. Having cross-cultural awareness gives people a competitive edge over others, especially, when applying for positions in international companies with a large multi-cultural staff base.

(The writer is a Senior Manager HR – Cegedim Software India Pvt Ltd)

(Published 22 November 2011, 13:42 IST)

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