I’ve been so lucky to work with several organisations with a global presence because it has given me a valuable insight into different cultures, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Something I’ve learned is that although the work may be similar, different approaches, techniques and understanding are required in order to achieve your goals. One has to be ready to adapt.

For many of us my first experience of working with and interacting with colleagues in different countries was through outsourcing and offshoring arrangements that were popular in the late eighties and early nineties. The promise of plenty of well educated and cheap resources to provide high capacity at comparably lower costs meant that many of us had to learn how to work in harmony with new colleagues half way round the world.

In 2011 I worked on an assignment in Germany for much of the year. In many respects the English and the Germans are quite similar but a key difference I found was that in the workplace the Germans are much more direct than us Brits, which can be a little unnerving at first until one gets used to it. Personally I found it a positive thing because rarely did people come out of meetings wondering what they had been asked to do and if someone didn’t like your proposition, well, you knew it. It definitely helped to get things done.

I’ve recently been doing some work involving an organisation in the Middle East and as you would expect the differences are even greater. For a start the working week is different so forget your Monday to Friday mentality because many of your stakeholders will be enjoying their weekends from Friday through Saturday before returning to work on Sunday when of course they will expect your global IT services and support staff to be available and running normally i.e. don’t plan any downtime involving them on a Sunday.

The cultural and religious differences of this region are also much more apparent. I’ve recently learned that there are some religions that prevent practitioners from taking mobile phone calls and email communications around the Sabbath days so don’t assume everyone can be reached 24x7x365.

Continue further east and the differences become even more pronounced and at times even more challenging. Japan I found very interesting because of the very different etiquette required. Respect and honour stood out for me as values that must be upheld at all times. Everything from greetings, to meeting etiquette through to farewells needed to be conducted appropriately in order to avoid causing offence. It was all fascinating, and with hindsight I wish I had understood more about such things before I ventured out there. Fortunately I had someone with me to guide me through the work elements and to accompany me to restaurants where another set of rules needed to be observed.

So, based on my experiences my advice is to research foreign locations, cultures and religious beliefs before you engage with people from other countries, cultures and religions. Everywhere I have been I have enjoyed and gained much from the experience so take the time to learn and discover. You’ll find it interesting and rewarding.

November 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm
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