No two people are the same. Neither are two cultures. Each individual and culture brings a unique understanding of the world, a different communication style, and a mindset that fuels their ambition, aspirations, and passions. Keep in mind that you might take a different approach in talking to your Japanese colleague, as opposed to your team member from Spain.
Much of the ability to work across different cultures and disciplines stems from how well the organization enables a productive work environment and makes them feel respected as skilled individuals. In fact, all multicultural organizations (particularly multinationals) need to manage workforces in a way that ensures smooth functioning of operations, helps scale the business, and have a positive impact on bottom lines.
And while multicultural setups can foster long-term success due to diverse people offering different point-of-views, the same can also have a negative impact on productivity - depending on how well the differences in understanding between different cultures are bridged, and how well the organization aligns its objectives to its employees. But before we explore which elements infuse productivity into corporate cultures, let us first understand how cross-cultural corporate setups are shaped in the first place.
Role of national culture in shaping global corporate cultures
Studies have repeatedly shown that national cultural systems combined with an individual’s culture affect the corporate cultural system greatly. In many ways, national culture influences leadership and managerial practices, organizational design, shape collective expectations etc. Furthermore, organizational, or human resources policies are also determined by national labour laws, educational practices, industry standards, regulations and more.
A healthy exchange of cultural preferences and values are important for interpersonal teamwork, trust, and efficiency, given culture is essentially embedded in everything we do, how we work, and how we think. French workers, for instance, put high importance on work-life balance. They are not responsible for replying to emails after work hours as they are protected by the Right to Disconnect law. Driven by a growth-oriented outlook, Korean workers tend to value time as absolute, leaving no pending work for tomorrow. 15-minute Radio Taiso or warm-up callisthenics with guidance from radio broadcasts and accompanied music is a popular way to improve the health of Japanese workers before the workday begins. Indians take their tea and coffee breaks seriously, as it not only breeds camaraderie among workers, but also leads to higher collaboration and productivity.
Thus, a global work culture that may encompass workforces across France, Korea, Japan, and India, will have to be one that acknowledges each other’s differences in a healthy, constructive way, and also one that utilises each other's strengths to their collective benefit. Let us now understand how organizational productivity is improved in cross-cultural setups, in practice.
The direct effects of cross-cultural workplaces on productivity
Similar to Rome, bridging cross-cultural barriers to make the most of each culture’s strengths cannot be accomplished in a day. To begin with, there is a fine line between being fully aware of our cultural differences and stereotyping. Without understanding where your foreign teammates are coming from, it may be that you have crossed a line by painting them with a broad brush. Which is why certain practices enable organizations to structure their cross-cultural efforts. Here are a vital few, that I found to be very useful and educational in my experience:
Cross-culture training: It is important to appreciate your own, as well as the skills of other cultures. Culture training exercises expose mixed workforces to new mindsets, and therefore minimise their internal prejudices, open up communication channels, and help focus on common principles instead of differences. Most importantly, everyone must want to bridge this gap, as without vision, such exercises act as quick fixes to the organizational culture, instead of a long-term and advantageous melding of mores.
Learning opportunities: Establishing employees as affiliates in different cultures entails opportunities for novel access to new knowledge sources, new ways to learn. In particular, multicultural setups benefit greatly from a work environment that fosters new and different ideas, drawing from diverse market contexts and consumer preferences, as all add to the company’s valuable knowledge base and growth.
Tech-enabled measurement: Expansion of work culture into new geographies translates to organizational change, and therefore increased complexities. The greater the diversity of cultures, it stands to reason that associated challenges will also negatively affect productivity. Establishing a structured and technology-enabled monitoring of cross-cultural relationships, workforce satisfaction index, learning curve and more therefore, is a good place to begin.
Diversity is the melting pot for innovation
Differences and conflicts are not necessarily bad – as long as they are structured. On the contrary, if all cultures lived with the same set of values, the world would inevitably lose variety in innovation. When we deeply understand and celebrate what is common as well as different among us, we grow as human beings, become more inclusive as citizens of the planet.
Diversity in the work culture, therefore, gives us the strength to adapt to new situations, and find diverse solutions to complex problems that anyone can benefit from.