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Going global? Prioritise cultural intelligence

We’re about to enter a time of great change in the world of work. I refer to the fourth industrial revolution where artificial intelligence and other higher-​level technologies disrupt the status quo. These technologies make it easier than ever to bring global teams together. Technology means global expertise can collaborate across locations, never having to meet. There will be no need to get a visa because the best person for the role lives in the Philippines; they will work remotely.

But the expansion of globally diverse teams brings new challenges, and a need for greater cultural intelligence. Leaders and managers will experience more global travel, as we can’t replace the basic need for social interaction. New etiquette and social rules will emerge for these new communication channels. The Very British Problems Twitter account highlighted this perfectly with one widely shared tweet: “Removing the ‘kind’ from ‘kind regards’ to let the recipient know you’re absolutely bloody livid.”

Global offices mean staff from different cultural backgrounds

In today’s globalised market, many organisations operate internationally. Indeed, many Fortune 500 companies expect emerging markets to be their main revenue stream in the next decade, according to Diversity Best Practice, 2018.

But it’s not only large organisations that are operating globally. The number of UK small and medium-​sized enterprises exporting their goods and services abroad has increased by 6.6 per cent, 2018 figures from the Office for National Statistics show. Organisations need global offices to develop and manage their worldwide client base, and unsurprisingly, those offices include staff from different countries and cultural backgrounds.

Of course, teams representing different cultures, languages and geographies will experience internal conflicts. Employers may experience a rise in diversity and inclusion issues causing barriers to work. Understanding how to manage multicultural teams, develop cultural competencies and ease smooth transitions across global clients, employees and business units becomes crucial. So we’ve seen employers prioritising the cultural intelligence of employees and leaders.

Cultural intelligence needed to get diverse teams on the same page

Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion’s global members use our global knowledge bank to build cultural intelligence among their employees. It enables leaders to identify potential issues and equip employees with the skills they need to operate in a global marketplace.

Cultural intelligence goes beyond awareness. It enables employees to develop the necessary skills to communicate, interact and work effectively across a range of multinational, multicultural and multilingual settings. It enables them to develop knowledge of cultural traditions, corporate cultures and best practice. Without this knowledge, employees may behave in a culturally inappropriate and negative manner, as Diversity Best Practice, 2018 says

Understanding communication is a key part of global cultural intelligence. Differences in style, diction, tone and voice mean context and meaning can be hard to understand even between native speakers of the same language. Employees using a second language in the workplace face even greater challenges.

This means diverse global teams may interpret an instruction or comment in many different ways. And this impacts productivity, team morale and the bottom line.

Cultural intelligence goes hand-​in-​hand with inclusion

Cultural intelligence goes hand in hand with inclusion and appreciating individual needs. It’s also best practice that solves other diversity issues, such as neurodiverse employees. Non-​verbal communication is important too; handshakes may not be appropriate in some cultures. Some cultures put higher emphasis on eye contact than others.

We’re used to seeing “strong communication skills” in every job description. It’s time to clarify and define that statement. We also need to recognise that communication skills, like all others, are not a fixed quantity. Employers have a responsibility to develop the communication skills of their workforce. We’re entering a world of work where technological, cultural and non-​verbal communication is as important as the traditional written and spoken forms.

Communication will always be the main lived experience of diverse international employee groups. The global success of any business depends on cultural intelligence.