The Importance of Understanding Cultural Awareness and Diversity in Global Business
What is Cultural Diversity in International Business?
Many of today’s large corporations span across diverse locations around the world to do business globally or to operate within global supply chains. With this global mindset of doing business, we need to remember that we do not all share the same instincts nor approach, but in fact, we are operating in many nuanced specific geographic regions and countries that are unique in the way they do business. Though we collaborate to deliver consistency and exceptional results in our project work, awareness and recognition of unique cultural behavioral differences can further encourage shared understanding and enhance flexible thinking and communication.
How Does Cultural Diversity Affect International Business?
‘The Cultural Map’ by Erin Meyer provides useful insights into how the world's most successful managers navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a global environment much like ourselves. The concepts outlined in Meyer’s work help to identify potential barriers global teams may face when carrying out projects and provide suggestions to minimise such issues and ensure effective project delivery.
The below graphic illustrates the differing cultural patterns in eight management behaviours by mapping China, France, Germany, and Japan across these behavioural spectrums. To undertake and navigate in our day-to-day roles it is valuable to recognize how communication styles may vary due to cultural influences based on our countries of origin, and how differing expectations may elevate the risk of miscommunication. It is important to remember that no single communication or management behavioral style is the correct approach, but that educating oneself on these variations may help team members to better understand their global counterparts and in turn, foster more effective collaboration, and improve our inclusive culture within the Alliance.
Management styles across four different cultures
Source: Meyer, E. 2014. Management Styles Across Four Different Cultures.
Furthermore, an understanding of how ones own behaviours and tendencies relate to the cultural context within their own country of origin may improve self-awareness, and in turn encourage more flexibility and mindfulness when collaborating with other global teams.
How to Work Towards Cross-Cultural Awareness
In order to develop cultural awareness, we need to know what to be aware of. Intercultural communication training provides a good starting point. One example is looking at how conversational silence is perceived across cultures. Inogen Alliance’s diversity and inclusion exercise included an interactive survey to gather information on the range of perceptions across the group. Silence amid a business discussion differs from culture to culture and within a culture, depending on the context in which you encounter it. The results of the survey are below.
What Does Silence in a Meeting Indicate?
The data reflects the varied perceptions of 46 participants (each associate could choose up to 3 statements). The two most common viewpoints were ‘silence indicates good listening skills and ensures an understanding of project context’ and ‘I am processing the ideas and listening to others before giving my feedback’. Both types of responses can be reflective of higher-context cultures which tend to rely more heavily on implicit and non-verbal communication. The range of answers highlight the importance of perspective; all parties in cross-cultural working need to appreciate how others perceive silence and accommodate this in ways that respect everyone.
Examples of Cultural Misunderstanding in Global Project Teams
It is also valuable to understand some common points of cultural miscommunication in business.
- “Sit where you like” – Chinese / American Culture
Following a series of negotiations between a Chinese and an American firm, the US team invite the head of the Chinese delegation for dinner. Upon arrival they are greeted by the most junior member of the American company and told to “sit where you like”. Following the dinner, the US team learn that the Chinese associate felt embarrassed and was reevaluating the business relationship. This is because hierarchy is more important in Chinese business operations whereas equality is promoted in American. The Chinese would have expected to be greeted by the most senior member of the US firm and offered a seat at the head of the table.
- “It’s Fine” – Dutch / British Culture
Upon submitting a report for a British company, a Dutch businessperson is told “it’s fine”. Whilst they take this to literally mean that the report is of satisfactory standard their British colleagues inform them that improvements must be made. The miscommunication is a result of the frankness and openness of Dutch culture compared to the indirect and implicit approach of the British.
These examples provide useful insights into patterns of miscommunication to avoid.
Top Five Cross-Cultural Communication Tips for Global Teams
- Be mindful of different time zones and how the timing of meetings and deadlines may affect someone’s engagement.
- Provide a brief agenda before the meeting; this allows members to prepare how they will communicate their key points.
- Be flexible with the preferences of other team members’ level of engagement. Often when an individual’s camera is switched off, disengagement is assumed, however this could be a result of poor Wi-Fi or people in the background.
- Pause more often; give time to the members who value silence and are non-native speakers and consider inviting input from the quieter members of the group.
- Be patient, maintain perspective and apply a dynamic approach when working with colleagues from different countries.
Continuous Cultural Learnings as Part of ESG Policies
Through the launch of Inogen Alliance's Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) Policy, the Alliance has committed to elevating the cultural awareness of our associate team. During our recent, biannual Inogen Alliance Associates fall meeting, our team presented concepts associated with global cultural differences in management styles and encouraged our international teams to consider how their own working styles may differ from those of their global partners. Recognition of our own behavioral patterns and tendencies can position us for success by helping us to anticipate potential misunderstandings and can remind us to be more flexible as we encounter different management and communication styles.
Our Global Alliance Parallels Our Global Clients
Inogen Alliance’s work spans the world with Associates operating in more than 150 countries. To successfully achieve global coverage whilst delivering local work, it is vital that we recognize that our unique backgrounds, cultural upbringings, and professional experiences influence our communication styles and collaborative processes. By acknowledging and appreciating the variation in our working styles and approach, our teams build more effective partnerships, resulting in improved efficiencies and higher quality work. Furthermore, through our global cooperative partnerships, Inogen Alliance associate team members can leverage the unique perspectives and insights of our valued global teams to drive flexibility, agility, and innovative thinking in our service offerings as we continue to deliver exceptional results for our leading global client teams. In the same way we can help our clients in this global workspace and share learnings we have had within our own Associate members.
These are just a few examples of promoting diversity and inclusion through cross-cultural working. In any projects you carry out, it is important to always apply multiple perspectives, find the positive in other approaches, and be flexible and proactively encourage effective collaborative practices that will feel comfortable to those who may take a different cultural approach.
Through our global network, the Alliance will continue to share knowledge to help clients navigate cultural variation and ensure successful project outcomes while operating seamlessly in local environments.
Please get in touch with our team to find out how we can support you globally and locally.
Inogen Alliance is a global network made up of dozens of independent local businesses and over 5,000 consultants around the world who can help make your project a success. Our Associates collaborate closely to serve multinational corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, and we share knowledge and industry experience to provide the highest quality service to our clients. If you want to learn more about how you can work with Inogen Alliance, explore our Associates or Contact Us. Watch for more News & Blog updates here and follow us on LinkedIn.
 Meyer, E. 2014. Management Styles Across Four Different Cultures. [Online]. [Accessed 5th November 2021]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2014/09/predict-cultural-conflicts-on-your-team
 https://www.commisceo-global.com/blog/3-real-life-examples-of-cultural-misunderstandings-in-business [Accessed 30 November 2021]