Cultural diversity is a fact; it’s the face of globalization. Living and working in a culturally diverse society is becoming more and more a common reality. It is crucial to give special attention to the impact of cultural diversity on globalization.
Multilateral companies and organizations can only gain if they embrace the benefits of a diverse workforce. It enables teams to learn from each other, enriching themselves as human beings, opening their minds to the diverse world, and ultimately create more profitable businesses and effective relationships.
However, we must certainly not underestimate the challenges of working across borders, in different cultures, or in a new language. We may face communication differences, often stereotype other cultures, have an unconscious bias, and all these may put a barrier in relating with people from different cultures. We must also not underestimate the range of variation within cultural values that individuals of the very same culture may actually express. Culture can be complex. Developing the level of understanding in multicultural teams will facilitate the collaboration and cooperation, improving the capacity to adapt to diverse contexts and different cultural dimensions.
What is culture?
You will find many definitions of culture. Culture is what shapes us. It shapes our identity and influences our behaviour. We are not a product of a single culture. By implication we already have both the ability to act within different cultural environments and to take on new roles and strategies to deal with specific environments.
We were born with our national identity, gender, ethnicity, religion, and social status. As we grow, we choose our career, profession, and role. We may work for different entities, in different corporate cultures; we may move countries, embrace new experiences, or even change social status.
Culture impacts all aspects of our lives and our way of functioning as human beings, from greeting practices, to what we wear, how we manage time, how we identify and solve problems, how we conduct business activities, etc.
Our path will shape who we are.
Is it possible to develop Intercultural Awareness?
Developing Culture Awareness is possible. In 2003, Christopher Earley, Professor and Chair of Organizational Behavior at the London Business School and Soon Ang, Professor and Chair of the Division of Strategy, Management, and Organization at the Nanyang Business School in Singapore introduce Cultural Intelligence (CQ) – a measure of Intercultural Capabilities. CQ means developing the ability to adapt to diversity. It can be understood as the capability to relate, work and communicate effectively across cultures.
David Livermore, a social scientist in global leadership and cultural intelligence, a reference on this subject, gives us a great insight on the capability to relate effectively across culturally diverse situations that transcend ethnic, organizational, generational, gender and other contexts. Livermore is the author of several books, including “Leading with Cultural Intelligence” and “Driven by Difference: How Global Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity”.
Other references by other renowned authors on this topic worth reading are:
“The Culture Map”, by Erin Meyer; “The Emotionally Resilient Expat”, by Linda A. Janssen; and “The Intercultural Mind”, by Joseph Shaules.
Lets take a look at Mozambique:
Mozambique is a vibrant multicultural country with very deeply rooted values. Some expats relocating to Mozambique will soon realize that what works well in their previous culture setting can be completely ineffective and even offensive in this country. Imposing our own cultural style can be counter productive. Understanding our own communication style is the first step in order to be able to adapt to the host location. It also helps to promote self-confidence allowing us to have a sense of control in our own behaviour towards people from different cultures, while better understanding and respecting their differences.
It is essential to bridge cultural differences and improve the dialogue within the different cultures, nurturing culture diversity through mutual interaction, support and empowerment.
Understanding Mozambican laws, regulations, their own perceptions, values, behaviours and customs will enable barriers to be overcome, leading to better communication, better relationships, and ultimately leading to greater trust. Moreover, local connections, speaking Portuguese, and having the cultural/ socio-economic understanding can boost international business development significantly as a great part of your dealings will be based on personal relationships even if these are professional.
Take for example the cultural dimension that measures the power distance – Egalitarian versus Hierarchical. Mozambique is considered a more hierarchical culture as there is a wider gap between employees and managers. Mozambicans value a more formal business etiquette, people are generally less likely to challenge authority and it is highly important to honour the position of leadership by using professional titles.
In countries like the Netherlands, Germany or Denmark, considered a more egalitarian culture, where organizational structures are flat, a senior director may work on equal grounds as his/her employee, and both are equally comfortable using each other’s first names. In this case the less formal the better, authority can be challenged, there are much less or no formalities in meetings and there isn’t the same reverence for positions of authority and leadership.
If you’re dealing with employees of a hierarchical culture such as Mozambique, have in mind that being higher in hierarchy, you will be in a position where your subordinates will look up at you, so it’s important to encourage them to voice their opinions because without an invitation, they likely won’t challenge your opinion out of respect.
When relocating employees to Mozambique, like to any other location, there are mobility aspects to consider and both social and cultural adjustments are mandatory for the success of the expatriation. The cultural diversity of Mozambique is astonishing. The colours, the smells, gastronomy, music, the textures, the smiles and the hospitality make it a unique place to work and live. However, there are a few important things to take into account when thinking about settling-in in Mozambique. The perception of time (and this does not mean only arriving early or late), sense of space, the values, variation of lifestyle, the climate, the language and communication styles are some of the barriers expatriates might encounter when adjusting to Mozambique, which can at times lead to frustration and misunderstandings.
“Cultural diversity is not simply an asset to be preserved but a resource to be promoted.”
In UNESCO World Report Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue, 2009
In the context of globalization and increasing professional mobility, the challenges of preserving each employee’s cultural identity and promoting intercultural awareness should be seen as a priority for companies that employ multicultural teams. Companies and organizations should implement strategies that will impact positively these cultural differences promoting intercultural understanding. Policies that create a positive impact within these cultural differences must be defined so that groups and individuals successfully interact amongst each other, rather than withdrawing into closed identities and discover in their difference an incentive for continuing to evolve and change.
We should never underestimate Cultural Diversity. While seen by some as positive, for others it is a cause of friction between cultures and becomes a source of dispute. Building awareness can be the difference.
Providing Intercultural Training in Multicultural teams will help equip individuals or groups with the necessary tools they need to manage cultural diversity more effectively.
Today, more and more international companies understand that investing in global mobility plans, and providing the right support during the move of their international recruited staff to the new destination, is what makes a difference. This conscience certainly brings large returns to companies and their employees. One cannot forget that the cost of a failed assignment is much higher than investing in relocation assistance programs.
A word of advice to facilitate the settling-in in Mozambique: invest in the knowledge of the social environment, values, behaviours and customs, create a clear understanding of core elements which have shaped Mozambique and influenced its key values, while developing intercultural awareness to deal with its multicultural society. All this can be decisive in the success of expatriation.
Not less important is to explore the knowledge of values and norms of your own cultural identity. What nationality or ethnic culture shaped you? What subculture shaped you? Then carefully watch the people around you, observe how people interact with their family members, strangers, clients, adults, children, foreigners and others. What do you notice about communication styles, the sense of space, touching, body language, greetings, gestures, eye contact, etc.?
There is no need to be an expert in every single culture, but it is certainly useful to develop intercultural awareness to enable us to adapt to diverse contexts and different cultures, allowing us to successfully interact and react to strange or unfamiliar situations. It is certainly an advantage in both people’s private or corporate journeys. Once you become a good listener, you also become a better communicator.
The sooner the obstacles to full adaptation are resolved, the easier it will be to start working and living efficiently in Mozambique. We believe that in any relocation process, it is necessary that the people involved are available to face the challenge with a good dose of openness, resilience and perseverance.