The ability to understand group behaviour and manage potential culture clashes is an essential skill for anyone interacting on a global scale. What may be considered acceptable behaviour by some national cultures may be seen as misbehaviour by others, so it’s important to have a strong cultural awareness in order to effectively anticipate, interpret and manage any cultural clashes that may occur.
With 205 national teams being brought together during the London 2012 Olympics, there were plenty of occasions for spectators to practise their cultural awareness on the occasional clashes of behaviours they witnessed during the events. Looking at the medal ceremonies, for instance, it’s interesting to compare the different behaviours of the winning national teams in the men’s handball event.
Well Behaved, or ‘Mucking About’ – Contrasting Cultures
The men’s handball medal ceremony brought together teams from France, Sweden and Croatia – gold, silver and bronze medal winners, respectively. The way in which these collective units displayed their cultural affinities would have engaged any culturally intelligent onlooker.
First the Croatians came onto the podium. Before stepping on, they collectively went down into a press-up position and completed a repetition as one. Moving together, they then stood up onto the podium and raised a clenched fist to the crowd. They smiled, as if to underline the playfulness of their gesture.
Next came the Swedish team, who simply stood together, linked with their arms around each other’s backs, exchanging quiet words, remaining so throughout the presentation both on and off the podium, only breaking up to applaud the other medalists and while the winners’ anthem was played.
Then the French team stepped up to receive their gold medals. They casually struck a ‘Lighting Bolt’ pose in unison , imitating Usain Bolt’s now renowned winner’s celebration. In contrast to the other teams, the French shifted among each other, chatted openly, waved at the crowd and stood casually by while the bronze and silver medals were being awarded.
Gaining a Cultural Advantage
Each team behaved completely differently, and although this did not make a significant difference to how the medal ceremony was played out, there were different interpretations and comments of the behaviour going on around the world as people watched.
Looking at the Croatian team, who in the opinions of many commentators had come into the competition as favourites, you could argue that their collective gesture may have been motivated by a need to save face after failing to achieve gold. The Croatian team’s parading may not only have been construed by some as humorous but also as defiant in the face of what some others may have considered to be a failure.
There are parallels that you can draw from observing this scene and what may happen in business teams. In a business context it’s increasingly common to have team members from distinctive cultures who behave differently as a result of diverse cultural values. Leaders and team members alike can struggle to work effectively together without an understanding of how their behaviours are perceived and interpreted.
Reading the Cultural Cues
So what cultural clues might enable an executive to quickly assess a group in terms of their sensitivities to power and hierarchy, for instance? To what extent might these team members value respect for certain rules and formalities? How acceptable would it be for a French delegation to be “mucking about” when their Swedish partners might expect a degree of dignity and discretion? What perception would it create if certain team members banded together about the success of a project in a similar way to how the Croatians did?
Because there are so many other variables to consider in addition to the cultural values at play, such as context and individual personalities, being culturally aware should not imply cultural stereotyping. The rules that govern behaviour are never hard and fast, but cultural awareness can give you the know-how to observe and recognise certain cultural signs that another person displays.
Communicaid’s cultural awareness training courses are specifically designed to help global leaders and international team members to understand cultural difference and learn how to adapt to their counterparts while at the same time keeping their own “corporate” and core values intact. As important as it is to cater for the needs of our increasingly globalised business circles, it is also vital for people to learn to adapt themselves to their new surroundings as much as possible. This will ensure a much better experience for all involved without risking offence for either party.
So whether it’s a medals ceremony in the Olympics or the launch of a new international project team, understanding how people will behave to attain the desired results or what they do to celebrate success will be vital to the performance of everyone involved.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012