How does your team manage bilingual and bicultural communication issues in the workplace?
I am curious about the variety of issues that occur in workplaces when communication is between businesses from various countries with differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Can you think of some examples from your unique situation?
Rather than focusing on managing the differences, in my experience successful teams and business partners leverage and value them. When this applies not only to the language or cultural variances, and crosses over economic and position titles, you can almost guarantee successful results, projects and better ideas. I've seen both success and failure in helping form and implement mobile projects in agri-business. When the end users input and feedback are valued and included, the business gains efficiency and profit. If not, there is a good chance that a large box off expensive hardware and software will collect dust.
Been there and done that...To long to explain the whole journey we did, but very short; When everything boils down it end up in that we are humans with basic needs and desires. Fulfill them via Transformational leadership and you get moving...
I have a chart that I distribute. It's multi cultural, multi-faith, and all about business the "right way". You can view it here:
If you click and download it - you'll find it's printable / readable.
I do a lot of work for a client whose parent company is in Germany. The parent company has multiple subsidiaries in multiple countries. One thing I found interesting is that the parent company in Germany actually has an English coach on staff. The staff in Germany take classes to learn English and then take the time to make sure they interact with the subsidiaries in the UK and the US to advance their use of the language. The other thing I found interesting was that some of the people in the US and UK were picking up German in order to make their communications better. No doubt its becoming a global economy and people are realizing its beneficial to be open to learning and expanding to that end.
Okay, first, are your offices located in different countries or do you have offices that are bi-cultural and bi-lingual. I think that makes a difference in terms of how hard it will be to reach some kind of steady state. That said, here's what I think (for what it's worth):
1. Pick a corporate language standard. This is a common policy among larger multi-nationals, but there is no reason that any size company could not do it. English is the most frequently chosen corporate standard because it is such a widely spoken second language. In fact, there are companies without an significant english-speaking employee base that use English for just that reason.
2. Recognize that your bi-culturalism is a strength. Unlike the importance of a common language for business purposes, having two (or preferably more) cultures in your company gives you the opportunity to draw on the strengths of both cultures. That is not something that will come naturally, and there is nowhere near the room to discuss what that will entail, but you should research leveraging diversity -- start with Scott Page's book The Difference. It will help you understand the what's and why's of cultural diversity, but not the how's.
I advocate repetitive and adapted explanations plus questioning even if English is the common business language, each 'mother-tongue' has its own definition and linguistic-intensity for a same word...so taking the time to engage conversation is key. I do not believe that communication lies only on how protocol and processes...it is a natural human competence/skill...
In the federal government in Canada, it's normal business to promote bilingualism, multiculturalism and diversity at all level of the organization. Of course, some departments and managers are better at it than others.
For example. I used to have meetings where anyone can speak in either English or French. I also encouraged and organised workshops and conferences on multiculturalism and on diversity in leadership.
It is very important in any international company is to understand the customer’s culture, and that should be the base of the way that communication is built on, I have worked with many international companies in that last 18 years. Example, in some cultures the engineer (A) does not complain if he stayed longer hours to close the Job or to close a service issue, Engineer (B) from different Culture does not accept to work over 8 hours and he see if needs to do so he must get paid and so on. It happened that engineer A asked or called engineer B for help, engineer B turned him down by saying that I am working now, so engineer A starts talking to his management why should I work if engineer B does not work and we both work for the same company.
Even though that some international companies who have been in the international market for long time has made an excellent progress in unifying the work culture, still you can see the effect of the employees culture background, educations and work ethics.
In one of the Project for a telecom Provider in the ME I was in the same floor with many nationalities, from all continents, between their team members the communication is the same but with other teams from different suppliers the communication was one is to deliver as per the customer’s requirement.
I want to add here that the manager of team members must be experienced with diffident cultures and backgrounds where he can utilize it to minimize the culture differences and deliver the Jobs.
My experience stems from working with teams from up to 5 European countries and 16 African countries. I have found that recruitment solves a lot of these problems for you. Your senior people will usually have more international exposure or experience and they are usually the ones who talking across borders and can help you bridge cultural differences. Also, the more skilled staff you need to hire, the more likely they will have international exposure, if only through English entertainment media.
Without underselling national culutural differences, cultural issues are often more to do with general coroprate culture than national ones. You will spend a lot of your time facing issues like managing over distance, head office vs branch, big city versus small towns (small countries?) and don't forget time zone differences.
I haven't had problems with language issues, but my husband has. His company has offices and clients around the world. When there's a language issue, he reminds the speakers that English is the agreed-to language, and he might have to do that a couple times.
As for cultural issues, I have dealt with that. A client had a worker whose first language was Russian. While discussing how a Mac connects to a network, as opposed to a PC, he said, "I would like to take you by the hand and show you how it is done. You know nothing." I was appalled, and told him he was to never speak to me in that way again. Then I went to the owner who said, "he's not from around here. I'll talk to him." Everything was good after that.
A professional translation company can be a valuable resource when communicating with subsidiaries and customers abroad or with non-English speaking employees at home. They can look at your situation and discuss your requirements to put a plan for seamless communication place that is customized to your needs
More of thinking about differences is focusing on similarities, on how those businesses can work on win-win relationships while considering their uniqueness, strengths and even weaknesses. There is a critical point those businesses need to bring into conversations: their locations, languages and cultural backgrounds well handled are 'assets' that all those business need to take into account for their success (nationally and internationally). Working toward improving their business presences and overall organization performances hand in hand is an amazing factor we see successful businesses in this globalized business world do.
You got wonderful responses right here :)
1- Stick to British English
2- Don't use idioms and metaphors
"put our ducks in a row" ..."solution that we can hang our hat on it" ..."project is at stake" ...and so on. These will only cause confusion in international discussions.
3- Spend some time to understand those cultures that you're dealing with. In some cultures opposite gender handshake is insulting, hand gestures could be perceived as a threat, and hugging or touching shoulders is seriously rude ...and so on. Learn those differences and respect them.
4- Understand that others who speak English as a second language might translate their own idioms to English.
5- Also, understand that what we may perceive as rude or backwards, others may perceive it as polite and advanced. It all comes down to being humble when dealing with other cultures.
Communication has to be in a common language, say english as an example. So at least some people should know that as well as the language of the other team members. More important part is to understand the cultural differences. You have many professional trainers for cultural orientation and investment in that is very valuable. Both teams across geographies must go through cultural training of the other side.