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The Do and Do not of Running Intercultural Meeting (Malta)

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Do:

Research on the different cultural norms, rituals and behaviorist traits that exist among cultures and how these differences impact in the workplace.

Create rules and establish guidelines that it is important to listen to and respect everyone’s opinion so that your colleagues understand how meetings will be conducted.

Reward colleagues to step outside their cultural comfort zones by institutionalizing key performance indicators and rewards around what you’re trying to motivate people to achieve.

Do not:

Dwell on or stereotype how you think people from certain cultures are supposed to act.

Be aware that people are capable of adapting and adjusting their cultural mind-set however the exact opposite may occur if people are pushed too hard on an issue or situation they are uncomfortable with.

Force a perfect dynamic in meetings ask for colleagues’ opinions in other settings and encourage people to provide feedback in different ways.

Overlook the importance of team building from the traditional sense for the time being, instead encourage colleagues to get to know each other outside of meetings so that cultural differences will not inhibit outcomes.

Real Case Study: Tackle subgroups take them out of their comfort zone to encourage open dialogue

As Labyrinth’s Managing Director of global intercultural training programs, David P O’ Shaughnessy spends a great deal of his time improving organisations capabilities and capacities on the challenges facing intercultural interactions in the workplace. “What I’ve learned over the years is that you need to look at how people operate through their model of the world don’t be judgmental or come to the table with preconceived ideas, but think creatively about how to engage and build trust with them and to get the best out of each person,” he says.

He recently facilitated a number of focus groups in the Maltese office of an Aviation Company as a way to inspire senior executives and staff members to build their careers at the company and show them what was possible. “Many of the organisations senior executives and team members showed up to the focus groups which incidentally were not obligatory to attend. There was an almost 50/50 split between men and women there to showcase their support,” David says.

Midway through the program, he stimulated a group discussion by asking the women to share their experiences and their professionals concerns in Malta “The room went silent,” he recalls. But David was confident that the women there were interested in the topic because of the high number of registrants. “I was sitting in the back watching all this unfold when I realized that there were cultural norms at play. They did not feel comfortable talking.”

David broke the silence and addressed the audience. “I am going to ask some questions that I think are on your mind whatever ever we discuss is private and confidential so please trust me on this. What are the big issues here? How do management handle work/life integration? Your opinion is important so please speak up? How can you improve things? I saw the body language shift people relaxed and suddenly became more engaged,” he says.

He then broke up the audience into sub-teams of nine mixed nationalities so they could talk about these topics in break out rooms. After thirty minutes of small group discussion, the groups reconvened and one person from each team served as a spokesperson to the rest of the audience.

It’s a model he has used in other locations, including China, and one he encourages other managers to try. “Creating an environment of cultural awareness and mutual respect is a beautiful thing to see in action”.

Malta Forum