Intercultural Competence in Organizations – A Guide for Leaders, Educators and Team Players

by | Jun 12, 2018 | Collaboration, Digital workplace, Reviews

Most of my consulting work has been with multi-national organisations that are also multi-cultural organisations. An important outcome of my work experience in over 40 countries is that it takes a great deal of time, effort and immersion to even begin to understand how best to work with people from a different cultural background. There are many books on how to survive when working outside your own country. When Cultures Collide by Richard Lewis is my favourite but the best that books like this can achieve is to stop you making a total fool of yourself at the initial round of meetings. Culture is far more than language. Even when chaperoned by a local senior manager they themselves may not be familiar with (for example UK) business and social practice and so may not be in the best position to warn and encourage.

I am also finding that the use of internet videoconferencing is reducing travel opportunities. This is of course the core business case, but the downside is that I have recently been conducting interviews in eight countries from Australia to the United States without moving out of my office. Across an MNC this means that there is much less opportunity to experience, if only for a few days, life and business in another country. In the 1980s I was running a business operation across 13 European countries and visited the local offices three or four times a year plus perhaps four or more visits to the mother ship in the USA.

By chance I recently came across Intercultural Competence in Organizations, a book written by Alex Matveev and published by Springer in 2017. At first sight this seems to be a typical Springer monograph with a huge number of references to the research literature lightly glued together with a touch of text. This book is different, because the author’s personal experience in many countries and the fact that he is Russian but educated in the USA all add a distinctive touch of expertise to the book. Matveev has developed a Collaborative Intercultural Competence Model to act as a basis for the development of intercultural policies and training in organisations.

The four dimensions of the model are interpersonal skills, team effectiveness, intercultural uncertainty and intercultural empathy. Intercultural uncertainly reflects the ability of a team member to display patience in intercultural situations. Intercultural empathy is the skill of being able to see the world from the perspective of the cultures of every member of the team. This focus on the team is an important element of the book – it is not about being a ‘cultural hero’ but about working together in multi-cultural teams. Another feature of the book is that the validity of the model has been tested by the author in two stages, the first being a survey of 380 participants and the second a more detailed survey of a further 124 middle and upper level managers operating in both the USA and Russia.

Despite its academic base this book provides a very practical guide to managing multi-cultural situations without being prescriptive about how to do business in (say) Oman. The model presented by Matveev is an approach which needs to be embedded in training and mentoring programmes, not wheeled out a day before a site visit. Many MNCs will use the programs developed by Gerd Hofstede and delivered through Hofstede Insights. This book offers what I feel is a less prescriptive model. If you deliver information solutions across multiple cultures then this book could be of considerable benefit to you and your organisation.

Martin White