Home » Dealing With Cross-Cultural Differences In The Workplace

Dealing With Cross-Cultural Differences In The Workplace

It has been stated that during his 27 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was inspired by a powerful phrase from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”. His leadership qualities prevailed through much ambiguity and uncertainty that he continuously faced during his times.

Today, more than ever before, it is the ability to connect with people, and build successful teams in such a cross-cultural environment that is going to help leaders and organizations stand out amongst its competitors. So many of us work in companies that operate globally and have to deal with cross-cultural differences.Relatedness is an increasingly important component to build effective collaborations between team leaders across many cultures. A sense of relatedness essentially builds mutual trust between people. Many of us work with colleagues that come from a totally different environment from us, therefore, as a leader the essence of building relatedness and a sense of belonging is extremely crucial.

Even when we reflect on this during any personal transition, nowadays we
must be able to join countless dots and be adaptable to new realities within shorter timeframes. We continuously face uncertainty and ambiguity in one aspect or another. I have read a lot of about VUCA in various publications recently. This is an acronym for Volatile, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The common usage of the term VUCA began in the 1990s and derives from military vocabulary and has been subsequently used in emerging ideas in strategic leadership that applies in a wide range of organizations and individuals. How would you like to be effective as a leader in this VUCA world?

I read an interesting quote from the ScienceDaily:

“Witnessing a person from our own group or an outsider suffers pain causes neural responses in two very different regions of the brain. And, the specific region activated reveals whether we will help the person in need. Researchers at the University of Zurich studied the brain responses of soccer fans and now have neurobiological evidence for why we are most willing to help members of our own group.” – ScienceDaily (Oct. 7th, 2010)

We often underestimate the importance of creating a sense of relatedness in dealing with cross-cultural differences. Most often there’s a lot of focus on creating tasks and objectives without much thought given to the relatedness within a team. These days we are confronted with cross-cultural differences across all dynamics of mergers and acquisitions.

Many times the mindset of “Us” versus “Them” lies deep beneath the surface. When individuals do not feel a part of the team, it is hard to recreate that togetherness and this can eventually have an impact on the bottom line. However, companies that manage to establish mutual trust and a sense of relatedness amongst teams across boundaries despite the cultural differences, have a clear competitive advantage. As a result, being able to manage teams successfully across nations encompasses many aspects of the human spirit.

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Alka Chandiramani is a multi-lingual HR practitioner with over 20+ years of HR and legal experience. She has been the Manager of the Career Resource Centre for Expatriates (CRCE) in Singapore since 2003. The American Association of Singapore (AAS) is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to enhance the experience of expats and other community members by bringing them together through social events, activities, and career and job support. She also runs her own consultancy firm, Alvo Connexions Pte Ltd.

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