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How Culturally Intelligent are You?

How culturally intelligent are you? Do you know? Do you care?

You should. I don’t know one workplace that isn’t culturally diverse. The success of a workplace culture is dependent on many factors – common values, attitudes, behaviours, reward & recognition, environment, dress, open communication, trust & respect among others.

But if you don’t understand the ‘default programme’ of the various cultures represented in your organisation then it will be an uphill battle to build a unified culture that is consistent. Yes values are universal, but how they are expressed is unique to each culture, and with a diverse workforce this has to be taken into consideration.

Having just facilitated a series of ‘world cafe’ style sessions for a client in both the UK, and its two offices in India, I was struck by the difference in approach to the exercises, and the shape and format of the outputs of the sessions from both continents. Both sets of outputs are hugely valuable, as was the process in each location. But how those outputs are interpreted, and fed back, will need to be done through the lens of the local culture.

That’s the challenge. Cultural intelligence takes time to develop. It takes time to take into consideration all of the contributing factors as to why change initiatives are taking longer than anticipated; or why employee engagement might not have reached its target. But it is a critical element that can’t be ignored.

For a good starting point, I recommend the book ‘Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally’, David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson, published by Berrett Koehler. With chapters on Making Decisions across Cultures; Communicating, Negotiating and Resolving Conflict across Cultures; and Motivating and Leading across Cultures, it’s a great starting point to ensure that this critical competency is embedded into your business practice.

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