Don’t let yourself fall victim to culture shock

Thanks to the growth and expansionist policies of many developing economies, as well as the rapid advances in technology, media, and telecommunications, the world is growing ever smaller, with traditional national and international boundaries being replaced by cultural boundaries which do not have a physical line on any map.

Our shrinking world and these cultural boundaries have resulted in many organisations expanding their presence into unfamiliar places, without the necessary agility to bridge these cultural boundaries. Their success in forming close relationships with potential partners and customers is greatly hindered by this lack of understanding, and can also cause problems between colleagues from different backgrounds who have different views on acceptable workplace culture.

The need for effective cross-border relationships, which take advantage of these cultural differences and the diversity of thinking that they bring, has placed new demands on leadership teams and their workforce. Although many organisations recognise the benefits that diversity and inclusion can bring, they are also aware that a lack of cultural awareness can make it very difficult for diverse teams to harness these benefits, making it challenging for them to collaborate effectively across cultural boundaries.

Brook Graham, the diversity and inclusion consultants owned by Pinsent Masons, was one of the first proponents of cultural agility training in the context of diversity and inclusion and has developed a successful methodology that has seen it run this training programme on a global basis since 2005. Client companies have included Royal Dutch Shell, Japan Tobacco International, Johnson & Johnson, DSM, Baillie Gifford, Oxford Instruments and BP

Cultural differences will manifest themselves in a broad range of beliefs, traditions, and behaviours, many of these will play out on a daily basis in any workplace. Management thinkers and academics have formulated frameworks which attempt to measure how a national culture fits into a complex pattern of behaviours, which can help to anticipate and then resolve any conflict that arises from misunderstandings between cultural norms.

The key objectives of the Cultural Agility training programme are to enhance the effectiveness of the organisation by increasing the understanding of the cultural factors that influence their everyday activities. All of the training is tailor made to the specific needs of the client but will embed a level of cultural agility which provides employees with a level of knowledge that allows them to operate in any culture. For example, it may include reviewing the individual and collective styles of the team, understanding the cultural drivers of each individual, as well as exploring the implications and opportunities that they bring. Cultural factors that will have an impact on how business is carried out across the whole of the organisation will also be a consideration.

The course defines individual and collective actions to further enhance stakeholder relationships and increase organisational effectiveness and seeks to build CQ (Cultural Intelligence), team cultural awareness, and frame the thought process for ensuring cultural agility.

Drawing on ethnocentricity models and research will frame the thinking and application of cultural agility in the organisation and course participants will be encouraged to develop the thinking and skills that relate to ‘Cultural Shock’, and the application of ‘Cultural Sensitivities’ when dealing with others.

The approach is firmly rooted in ensuring that organisations connect academic theory with the realities of their own experiences and observations, and then help them to translate that learning into practical actions and behavioural change that will bring positive outcomes at a personal, interpersonal, and organisational level.

Cultural agility will have a positive impact on all areas of the organisation and the context of the training can be tailor made to focus on how to improve relationships with colleagues, customers, clients, investors, governments, and beyond. I am looking forward to discussing in detail the benefits of Cultural Competency at a We Mean Business event hosted by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce on 11 September at the Aberdeen Altens Hotel. For more information on this event visit

Kate Dodd

Kate Dodd