Ready when you are (CULTURALLY SPEAKING)

A review of “Intercultural Readiness” written by Dr. Ursula Brinkmann and Dr. Oscar van Weerdenburg published by Palgrave MacMillan, May 2014.

Review written by Matthew Hill

 

Intercultural readiness

Intercultural readiness

Does this book constitute evidence of good teamwork, high intercultural competence and the completion of a demanding task in a diverse context? These are the questions that popped into my mind when turning though the pages.

That two people can collaborate based on many year’s work supported by a large body of data and yet manage to compress the resulting output to a tome of 197 effectively written pages may suggest positive answers to at least some of questions above.

Based on the International Readiness Check questionnaire developed by the authors, Brinkmann and van Weerdenburg, detail the premise of their work and make a bold claim – that cultural knowledge, in-group charm and good fortune are not enough to ensure the emergence of healthy diverse teams, the smooth passage of a new company in foreign lands or that a diverse team will outshine a homogeneous one.

Referencing their own cultural experiences and those from their network of associates and telling representative stories from some of the “larger than life” executives they have encountered in the last 20 years, the authors build a case for considering 4 essential cultural competencies;

  • Intercultural Sensitivity – Being mindful – cultural awareness and paying attention to signals.
  • Intercultural Communication – Active listening and adapting communication styles.
  • Building Commitment – Strengthening relationships and reconciling stakeholder needs.
  • Managing Uncertainty – Openness to cultural diversity, tolerance of ambiguity and exploring new approaches.

“Intercultural Readiness” also refers to the reconciliation work of Dr. Fons Trompanaars and moves beyond country etiquette and the dimensions of difference to include leadership, self-development and plenty of business oriented psychological research on culture, teams and diversity.

I smiled as, in a few places, the text resembled a graduate dissertation in psychology with references to a large number of organisational psychologists offering succinct summaries of their findings.

In any short book there is always the temptation to include dramatic stories that illustrate a point, offer a clever corrective intervention and, thus, support  one’s favoured model. These tend to frequently conclude with a positive outcome.

As with many psychological papers, the chosen examples seem to distill a simple answer from the chaotic cloud of international commercial reality.

Balancing this, the authors are up-front about the limits of diverse teams and how, without the management of emotion and interaction, they can easily be less effective than homogeneous ones. There are plenty of warnings included to help the young team leader find a safer path in managing their diverse teams.

Who should read this book?

If you are a tired and jaded HR partner, a habituated intercultural trainer or a coach, this book will lift your spirits with its wit, abundant references and intelligent analysis.

If you are a commercial leader with little regard for statistics you may, however, choose to skim over the more analytical parts in the second half of the work.

This book opens the door on the International Readiness rationale and helps readers to decide upon the merits of this way of thinking.

The book’s key findings are that culturally diverse teams can engender great task accomplishment but that the emotional and relational strains often deter team members from joining forces on subsequent projects. Alleviating this problem can be achieved by including team members that have a developed competence for managing uncertainly. This, it is argued, can prevent the newly formed team splitting into two or more subgroups, from which unity cannot easily emerge.

Also, ratings of personal satisfaction in diverse teams can be much lower than in the cosier environment of a homogeneous team.

With a blue print for things to watch out for within a corporation and when leading a diverse team, this book represents an approach to culture, coaching and competence that is hard to beat for pithy wisdom, peer based analysis and wide referenced sources. Its subtle depth is balanced by an enjoyably readable style.

It is enough to help you continue to believe in your diverse commercial team.

Buy Intercultural Readiness at Amazon; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Intercultural-Readiness-Competencies-Working-Multinational/dp/1137346973/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402243074&sr=8-1&keywords=intercultural+readiness+brinkmann

The reviewer, Matthew Hill, is an author, cultural facilitator, a past president of SIETAR UK, and founder of the Intercultural Training Channel.

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