We live in a connected world where global trade, barrier-free communication, and fast travel are considered a given, for instance. Similarly, we stream Korean series and video-call our loved ones on the other side of the globe. Therefore, cultural differences in global teams shouldn’t play a big role in business either. Shouldn’t. But they still do.


Mere prejudice?

I’ve worked abroad for the most part of my life, always in the midst of international teams. As a result, I’m convinced that every person is unique—yet cultural imprints and differences still persist in our globalized world. Usually, these differences do not cause horrendous offence against social mores. They rather manifest in behavioral nuances that end up dividing today’s multilingual workforce. Traditions like a kiss on the cheek as greeting even at work do more good than harm to corporate culture. However, there are other cultural habits which negatively impact our efficiency and effectiveness at work.


Talking brings people together

I really put my foot in it at the very beginning of my career in Spain. A motivated rookie, from Northern Europe, I wanted to advance the projects handed over to me as fast as possible. When I was stuck, I chose the way that seemed opportune: to clearly state my concern by e-mail. Which were completely ignored. However, I only learned why when asking a colleague of mine for help. Accordingly, she shrugged and told me that my approach was doomed to fail. Even if well-intentioned, because nobody knew me there. As in face to face. The solution? A colleague with an established network introduced me personally to the contact persons. Conclusion: In the Mediterranean world of work, no state can be made without the social component, even today.


Culture as potential for conflict

There are countless examples. Above all, most of them, funny anecdotes that make colleagues smirk. We sometimes enter a space where ignoring cultural differences can lead to serious collaboration issues or even personal offences, thereby leading to lasting negative effects on the working environment. In these cases, it is up to the entire team to raise awareness for cultural differences. In addition, to create a culture of mutual understanding and respect.


How to spot cultural differences in a team

Recognizing cultural differences as such can be a daunting task. US-American professor of economy and author, Erin Meyer, offers instructions on how to better understand and evaluate cultural influences on our behavior in her book “The Culture Map.” Her research led her to identify eight metrics which, according to their degree of manifestation, clearly highlight culture-bound differences in our value systems. In an analysis, Forbes aptly describes that said model helps us “decode culture and its influence on international cooperation.” The following example illustrates, based on four different cultures, how the model works.



Raise your awareness for cultural differences

Whether it’s at work or just as a thought experiment, why don’t you print out the model and do the work yourself? Try to assess where different cultural imprints show on the Culture Map. After that, you’ll be surprised by the results and this exercise will raise your awareness towards cultural differences, thus allowing you to create a better framework for culturally diverse teams in your company.