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Cultural Intelligence on leading a multicultural team

In November 2015 we organised an International Team Learning event on behalf of Team4Learning association. I was leading the project but I had an amazing project team with me who were all from different cultures, one was from Finland, another from Spain and third from UK. So what did I learn from leading a multicultural team?

Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is a capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. People with CQ have confidence, motivation, interest and drive to adapt cross-culturally, they also understands intercultural issues and differences. They  make sense of culturally diverse experiences and they are good at planning accordingly, bu also good at changing verbal and nonverbal actions appropriately when interacting cross-culturally.

But it’s important to keep in mind that there is a risk if you try to adapt the culture too strongly. You might lose your authenticity, which again is a key for forging relationships in any culture. Like some people find it awkward, inauthentic or even resentful when trying to adapt behaviour overseas. And when you have such strong internal reactions to adapting cultural behaviour, your external performance can suffer. The negative feelings can leak into your performance and make you look awkward or unnatural and that’s something you don’t want to happen.

“Leaders who behave consistently with their own cultural values will engender more positive ratings of effectiveness than leaders who behave inconsistently with their own cultural values”

And it’s important to understand your own limits and how much you are willing to adapt, as example I am more than happy change the way I dress or how I speak, but I wouldn’t be comfortable in the situations where I would be really unequal with man just because I am a woman. As a conclusion you’ll have to break out of your comfort zone to some degree, but make sure you still retain who you are.

How far you would be comfortable to go?

My biggest learnings

I wanted to learn more about my Cultural Intelligence, so I did a Self-Assessment Questionnaire and that revealed some good development points for me, like the importance of planning and preparing on international interactions as at the moment I might be a bit too spontaneous on those situations.

One the biggest learnings for me in this project was when the Spanish member from my team told me how I could have been tougher and more demanding on my leadership. That was interesting as in North European countries like United Kingdom and Finland prefers coaching leaders and when compared to preferences from South European countries like Spain, they prefer directing leaders. I also know that my leading style is quite coaching and participative, and I involve others in decision-making, however this style is viewed as a weakness in many other countries. This is important learning for me, as when leading people from different countries I have to research for what kind of leadership they are used to and then use my cultural intelligence to find the best way to adapt to the situation.

As mentioned earlier, I could be better on strategy and planning and maybe that is some of yours challenge as well. That’s why I want to share these four questions with you, which at least I am definitely going to use when leading an international projects in future:

  • Drive: What’s your motivation for engaging with the cultural dimensions of this project?
  • Knowledge: What cultural differences will most influence this project?
  • Strategy: How will you plan in light of the cultural differences?
  • Action: How do you need to adapt your behaviour to function effectively on this project?

It’s important to remember that everyone will make mistakes when experimenting with cultural adaptation and you shouldn’t punish yourself for them. You can go long way by just signalling to others that you’re trying to learn their cultural rules and that you actually care and respect their traditions, even though you haven’t mastered them yet.

Here a little video of our International Team Learning Event:

 

References:

  • Livermore, D., Van Dyne, L., and Ang, S. (2012). Cultural Intelligence: Why every leader needs it. Intercultural Management Quarterly, 12, (2), 18-21.
  • Livermore, D. A., Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (2015). Leading with cultural intelligence: The Real Secret to Success. New York: AMACOM American Management Association.
  • Molinsky, A. (2013). When Crossing Cultures, Use Global Dexterity. Harvard Business Review.
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