International organisations recognise the benefits of sending skilled employees overseas to open new offices, win new business, manage local teams, etc. Assuming that employees selected for an expatriation have the skills they need to be efficient in that role can be dangerous. Every culture has a unique set of values and working practices that can be difficult to understand, adapt to and manage if the expatriate does not have the appropriate level of intercultural preparation.
Culture shock is probably the first and most important challenge expatriates will encounter when relocating abroad. The different lifestyle, food, language and environment among other things can result in a feeling of culture shock that needs to be considered by both the expatriates and the organisation in order to prevent serious performance issues. The inability to cope with culture shock can result in a failed expatriation which can represent a huge financial loss for any organisation.
Culture also widely influences working practices. Attitudes to time for instance can vary dramatically from one culture to another. Germans tend to consider time as linear and will schedule projects carefully and do their best to follow the project plan or agenda. Indians on the other hand, tend to consider time as circular, meaning they usually don’t plan their actions throughout the day and are likely to do several tasks at a time. Bringing the two cultures together without an expatriate intercultural program before their collaboration can result in frustration and misunderstandings about when things should be completed. Attitudes towards authority, decision making or reward systems are other examples of where working practices can also vary significantly across cultures.
Communication styles are another factor of international working that can greatly differ from one country to another making it difficult at times to decipher your foreign counterpart’s message. Non-verbal communication such as eye contact, touching, smiling or even the distance between people can have totally different meanings depending on your culture. Other elements of communication such as context, accents, acronyms or specific vocabulary (e.g. American vs. British English) can also be obstacles for expatriates communicating across cultures.
Expatriate intercultural programs like Living and Working in Germany can ensure that expatriates have the right knowledge of cultural attitudes and how they impact business practices in other cultures. The importance of expatriate intercultural programsshould not be underestimated as with the right level of intercultural preparation expatriates can avoid cultural conflict, loss of time and failed assignments.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010