To talk about cultural differences could be a taboo. It’s taboo in Malaysia because of the inner structure of society. It can also be a taboo for many managers who sometimes believe that their leadership competences will reach across cultures. The World Institute for Action Learning congress 2018, that I attended in The Netherlands late September, gave some vivid examples of the risks of neglecting the impact of cultural background in leadership development programs.
Richard Bryce is a CEO for Bayer in Alpe Adria, which is covering 8 diverse countries of Southern Europe : Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. He held a conference during WIAL 2018 and I couldn’t help but draw parallels with situations I often encountered in my professional life.
Mr Bryce used action learning process and tools with great success to build strong teams in Netherlands with a culturally homogeneous group. While he was mislead in neglecting cultural aspects, the same successful processes failed when he applied them during his posting in Alpe Adria.
Richard Bryce then decided to conduct a cultural scan of his organisation. The results were clear: alignment at the regional level was very poor within the leadership team and even more worrying among their direct reports. It was essential to create awareness of cultural differences within the teams. “Cultural differences can have a big impact on any strategy setting or team building effort; Therefore we need a tool to map our company culture first” concluded Richard.
This testimony re-enforced my strong believe and own observations. Not addressing culture differences can cripple your team’s creativity and problem solving potential.
In multicultural contexts such as Malaysia, a cultural mapping should be treated as a priority in any leadership development programs, trainings or team buildings.
Listening to the inner voices of your team will allow you to save time, gain efficiency and shape a shared vision that reaches everybody.