In October, I travelled to York in the UK for a conference on ‘High Performing International Teams’.

Keynote presentations included: Fons Trompenaars discussing,  Servant Leadership and  Terry Brake exploring the key to effectiveness in Global teams.  The conference had some real highlights, including the opportunity to network with professionals from around the globe engaged in similar issues. One rather refreshing session was delivered by Carlos A Gonzalez-Carrasco on ‘Reframing Complexity in International Leadership’ ,

.  I was however, surprised by the ‘old school’ approach to intercultural issues by many presenters, the emphasis of many sessions still on ‘measuring’ cultures, and looking at cultures in isolation from the context and complexity of today’s globalised workplace.  The colonial connotation of the use of terminology such as ‘the Far East’ to refer to Asia also was rather odd.  ‘Far’ from where?  And ‘East’ of what?

It is sometimes very refreshing to be confronted with views you disagree with, and very helpful for defining what it is that we do actually believe, and the values and core approaches we hold true.  As a result of this experience, I have found it beneficial to define our core beliefs about the world we engage in with our clients:

We see:  Complexity, interconnectedness and interdependence, and an increasing reliance on global virtual teams operating in matrix structures.   We also see Increasing engagement with  Asia, particularly with China and India and a rapid increase in Asian investment in Western countries.

Challenges arising include:  negotiation and navigation of difference, issues o f power and systems, rapidity of change, the scale and complexity of issues to resolve, challenges of communication, collaboration and negotiation.

Opportunities include:  extraordinary opportunities to leverage difference of approach to create new, creative and exciting businesses, organisational communities and collaborative responses to the challenges of a changing globe.

A few key techniques to operating effectively:

1.     Develop an awareness of your own culture, perspectives and impact on your environment

Understand ‘where you are coming from’ in relation to people with whom you are engaging in the workplace.  You will be encountering such diversity and change, it is not always possible, to have an in-depth understanding of each and every cultural background of colleagues.  Rather, the one person who will always be present in any encounter is yourself.  To understand how your values, beliefs and cultural approaches may be different to that of others, and the potential impact of your behavior is very important.  Ultimately, you have control over your own interactions, but not necessarily those of others.

2.     Recognise pre-existing systems and leverage strengths

Local networks and systems are complex and embedded and have distinct power networks.  If you can’t, or don’t have the time to understand these, engage specialists for advice.  All communities, cultures and organisations  can have extraordinarily creative  responses to adversity and ways of guaranteeing results.  When working in new contexts, where possible, learn about and leverage local talents and don’t assume things must take longer to achieve.  With an appropriate approach, very limited resources can have viral and highly positive impact.  Quick action without understanding can damage, cost a lot and cause systemic  resistance.

3.     To understand and communicate clearly, observe, engage appropriately  and be strategic

There is a tendency to believe communication skills are all about making noise, rather than developing intuitive listening and watching skills to understand and engage with others.  Emotional intelligence, the ability to intuitively interact and to clearly communicate when necessary, and in an appropriate manner is vital when working in culturally diverse and globally connected workplaces.

4.     Manage risk through expecting and being flexible and adaptable in ‘chaos’ and building connectedness and community

Random events happen, systems and communities are ever changing, especially now due to the rapidity of globalisation.  Change is normal.  Individuals and organisations who  thrive in these environments of change will succeed.  A tolerance for ambiguity, the desire to engage with others, high level people and communication skills are key.