The art of work across different cultures

Working on a multinational company I know the challenge, and art required, in making different work styles come together towards a common organization and purpose. Culture – both country-specific culture and local company culture – counts. A lot! Language provides all sorts of “lost in translation” moments (some funnier than others). You learn that humor has as many different “tastes” as local dishes. And cultural stereotypes also come to play: “oh, he did that because he’s German”, “of course she acted that way, she’s Portuguese”.

Often when meeting people that also work in geographically distributed companies I take the opportunity to pick their brains on how they view and address some of the challenges of different nationalities coming together to get stuff done, particularly when it comes to applying the concepts of Enterprise 2.0 inside their organizations. Believe me, conversations are always fascinating as we seem to share most of the pains no matter in which countries the organizations are.

Because I find the topic both fascinating and challenging, I was very much pleased when Twitter (what else, right?) “threw” at me two very enjoyable resources.

The first is this long but well worth reading post about Collaboration, Empathy, and Language in Global Teams. I was particularly struck by findings of some studies on the imposition of English as the lingua franca for some organizations such as the one I reproduce here:

Regardless of the level of English fluency, “almost all nonnative speakers experienced a feeling of diminished professional standing as their companies designated English as the organizational sine qua non…Feeling both restricted by language ability and reduced vis-a-vis their organizations created difficulties for nonnative speakers, because the gap between their mother tongue and English remained stark. This hidden turmoil had drastic consequences for employees and their global collaborators

Ouch! The post then goes on to explain the importance of stimulating empathy (yes!!) between employees of different nationalities in order to overcome some of the challenges and facilitate collaboration. You should read the full post, really.

The other resource was Steelcase’s study on Patterns of Work Cultures among 11 countries:



The findings have implications for the physical workplace design, the business of Steelcase, but not only as I think it provides some interesting clues for understanding different work habits and expectations depending on the country, with direct impact to the policies and tools we design to support work and collaboration. In fact, Steelcase goes beyond their métier to address current challenges of how work gets done in many distributed organizations:

Demands for increasing creative collaboration and innovation have shown that rigid organizational structures based solely on hierarchy are proving to be less effective than networks. Leading organizations comprise of project teams, committees, communities and individuals, all of which are virtually and physically networked

Check the full edition of Steelcase 360 dedicated to different work cultures here.

Boas leituras*!!

*enjoy your reading 🙂


One thought on “The art of work across different cultures

  1. Pingback: Liens de la semaine (weekly) - Bloc-Notes de Bertrand Duperrin

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