I was in China last week, helping an organization in building commitment and alignment in their management teams. I assisted their CEO in his desire to create a transformation agenda for the company. This was exciting stuff, not only because of the topic but because it involved trying to get a number of different nationalities within the organization to collectively contribute and share their ideas and concerns.
I loved being back in China. It has now been almost 15 years since I was last in Beijing, and I must say I didn’t recognize anything. The airport is new, all the ring roads are new and certainly the commercial district I was in didn’t exist 15 years ago. Like many others parts of Asia and the Middle East I witnessed massive change.
The interesting thing was that just by being back in China for a few days, flashes of the language started coming back to me. I had originally tried to learn the language when I was posted there but I never succeeded and only mastered some survival Mandarin. My inability to learn the language (and don’t even ask about my Vietnamese!!!), discouraged me from ever fully grasping trying to learn Urdu. While I understand most of what is being said, here I am ten years later and I still don’t speak enough Urdu to buy me a chapatti. Shame on me!
The fun in collaborating with different nationalities is the differences in getting them to work, share, express their views, learn and disagree with each other. So from my experience, this is what works in facilitating a diverse group of nationalities:
Build a Relationship
Spend one-on-one time with people prior to getting them all together. This helps you to understand their perspectives and learn how they see the world. Build a relationship in which individual members trust you and you can utilize that trust during group sessions.
Create a Shared Need
Spend a considerable amount of time on creating an equal playing field in which all participants agree what the issue is and create a shared need of what changes are required.
Build a Safe Environment
Most Asians, (except my Desi brethren) feel uncomfortable in speaking up in large forums, certainly if the ‘big bosses’ are present. It is therefore important to create smaller groups in which people can share their thoughts and opinions.
Give Equal Talk Time
Stop people that speak too much and allow the less talkative individuals to express their views. Give everyone an opportunity, you will be surprised to find that pushing people to speak up will help them not only gain confidence, but might also produce some fresh ideas and perspectives.
This approach worked well last week and the team truly only enjoyed their experience. They were not only able to agree on the content of their transformation agenda but also were committed to its implementation.
What techniques would you use to get people from different cultural backgrounds to speak up???
– Paul Keijzer