We often get the question, is culture really important?

Over the years, it is our experience that differences in cultural parameters can have a huge influence on how we interpret the world around us. If we do not pay attention to the cultural differences, it can result in some challenges – and often negative ones.

When we sent some of our first colleagues from Ukraine to Denmark to visit one of our first clients almost 11 years ago, it was our naive belief that with a common goal – it would be a positive experience.

However, reality kicked in! It was not some major cultural gaffes, which became the challenge – it was all the small “things”, which were easy to miss when you did not know they existed. Because how can you be considerate to something, when you do not know it could be a problem?

On the first day of their visit, my Ukrainian colleagues had a guided tour at the office by the company’s CEO. When my colleagues discovered whom their tour guide was their feeling went from excitement to embarrassment towards the people they met on the way.

In a Danish context, most people would not think twice about it being the CEO who showed them around. It would be nice and show that the future cooperation was important and anchored all the way to the top management.

However, some of my Ukrainian colleagues interpreted the tour as embarrassing and awkward. Why?

The flat organizational culture that we have in Denmark, were not as usual to them as it is to a Dane growing up in such organizations. We grow up in a society with little hierarchy and with a tremendously high level of trust. We often forget that we are the odd ones in relation to many other cultures. Hence, we often end up being misinterpreted.

In this case with my colleagues, some of them were in doubt; was the tour in the Danish headquarter for them to see the office, or was it for the employees at the office to ”see the elephant”?!

How do you build bridges and trust between two cultures – especially if you do not realize that it is something you actively have to do? Back then, it was learned by “trial and error” – and too many mistakes can be a slow and costly method.

After 11 years, we have come a long way and have a lot of experience -and a lot anecdotes. Now we invest in training our employees in cultural intelligence, as well as we offer cultural intelligence training to our clients. We know the importance of having an awareness of your own culture and how it can play a positive role when cooperating with people from other cultures.

 

Line Milthers
Om Line Milthers

VP Global Delivery, Conscensia, lim@conscensia.com