There is a real battle of experts around the definition of interculturality in business, which has many more facets than one might suppose. In the collective unconscious, this notion is unfortunately very often reduced to a question of national belonging, to a simple story of the flag and the passport. In fact, it covers many other realities.
At first glance, working with a person who comes from a country different from ours is not necessarily synonymous with complication. In many cases, you have to dig deep to find the source of the sticking points and often the root of the problem is not where you expect it to be. But whatever it is, it must be taken into consideration in order to achieve fluidity in labor relations and improve the performance of the individual, the team, and ultimately contribute to the success of the company.
Interculturality similar to a mille-feuille
It is possible to imagine the notion of interculturality by comparing it to a “mille-feuille” of superimposed cultures. If each individual has characteristics linked to his personality, he is nonetheless influenced by a national or even regional culture. Each country has its own culture to which its population, globally, adheres. Take the example of the perception and management of time, which is rather rigorous among the Germans: obviously we cannot say that the entire population will adopt the same approach, because it is not made up of 90 million clones. On the other hand, we know that certain factors will contribute to federate the action of a group and that culture and education will largely reward this particular management of time. In this, we follow the principle of “expected, reinforced and rewarded” behavior within the group, which contributes to building the national culture. So two individuals who are not sensitized in the same way risk misunderstanding each other, and can potentially come into conflict. Interculturality is therefore first and foremost this cohabitation between different national cultures. But not only.
From the point of view of companies, interculturality can very well also manifest itself between different services, different functions or teams, between sectors of activity or even within them. It is important to understand that this notion has adapted to changes in the business world. Thus, it is not impossible that the Covid crisis will cause new facets to emerge, linked, in this case, to the issue of teleworking and the way in which it is practiced.
Companies should endeavor to identify and value the differences that exist among their employees so that they are a source of complementarity and not of conflict. Each element of a culture has a form of polarity and can be approached in a particular way.… Or the opposite way. Depending on the context, the situation, or the circumstances, knowing how to get out of your comfort zone and be agile by adopting a different style of behavior, or a more adapted communication, can help to find solutions. The key is a competitive advantage linked to the proper management of the potential inherent in diversity, which is real added value.
Know yourself … to work better with others
Working with others can be very complicated if you are not aware of your own ways of functioning. For example, are we more focused on performing our tasks (“doing”) or on our relationship to others (“being”)? Work on oneself and introspection are therefore decisive in overcoming blockages. Knowing yourself well allows you to see an opportunity where there is a potential risk of conflict. In short, the art of collaborating in a multicultural environment is based on the idea that there are no good ways on the one hand and bad ways on the other. We must try to balance the intercultural equation.
To get there, it is important to be cautious in the relationship, to try to identify the profile of the interlocutor in front, and to adapt to it. And if the latter is for its part completely closed to change, thus closing the door to intercultural dialogue, it is advisable to take the first step by using thethe “style-switching” technique which consists of adapting your way of working to the person you are interacting with. Employees are thus asked to be agile in their approach and not to change their personality.
How to better integrate this notion within companies?
Improving the management of interculturality and unleashing the potential linked to diversity requires training managers and employees in these new challenges. In order to achieve this, it is important to look in detail at the four phases of team development: sa constitution (forming), followed by the appearance of problems (storming), the latter being attenuated by a normalization phase, before reaching a balance conducive to performance. In this case, it is shown that even if the forming and storming phases can be more delicate for multicultural teams, the latter nevertheless become more efficient than monocultural teams as soon as they find a balance and a modus vivendi. which allows us to take advantage of the complementarity and richness inherent in our differences.
The starting point of any change necessarily involves collective awareness. This approach is essential for companies to be able to fully appreciate the advantages linked to the enhancement of the complementarity of their employees. To do without it amounts to depriving yourself of possible beneficial effects on the activity. In fact, if there is awareness, it most often occurs from below and can take time to reach management. On the contrary, the ideal scenario would be for the latter to propose an appropriate action plan before deploying it to the teams. This is more often the case for certain large groups, whose international presence or expansion ambitions lead them to carry out studies and conduct in-depth discussions, further upstream.