Updated: Feb 26
Imagine you're at a #Play14 Event, you've never met me before but heard a lot about me and you ask someone to point me out to you. What? Who? Nancy? Oh, you mean that very enthusiastic Dutch woman! Wanna bet that based on those comments you'll have no trouble identifying me between all those other people? Because not only am I super enthusiastic, I'm also incredibly Dutch. And it's not so much to do with the way I look but everything to do with the incredibly Dutch and direct way I tend to express myself.
Open, spontaneous and out there. And yes, that's pretty much the first thing people notice about me. Nothing wrong with that, now is it? It's just part of who I am. But it is something that I need to remind myself of, every now and then, when I'm facilitating a session with a large number of participants from different countries for instance. Because, well, me being direct... it can be somewhat of an issue when it comes to intercultural communication.
A while ago I was talking to a fellow Scrum Master from Portugal. We had a lively and interesting conversation about all sorts of cultural differences and how to best deal with them. He recommended me the following book: The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
Erin is an American who’s married to a Frenchman, she lives in France, travelled the world extensively and actually makes a living by advising companies on intercultural differences that might pop up when doing business abroad or with foreign companies. Based on her own experiences in combination with scientific research, Erin managed to create a clear overview by converting the main differences into scales. She has indicated for each nationality where they can be found on each individual scale. Because how you perceive my 'Direct-Dutchness' also depends on which country you come from and on your country's position on the 'communication scale'. If you're from Germany, for instance, well... me being direct probably won't be that much of an issue. But if you happen to be from China or India, to name a few very-exotic-to-me-but-maybe-not-that-exotic-to-you countries, well, then it's very well possible that I don't come across as somewhat direct but as positively rude and, trust me, that's absolutely the last thing I want to do.
Cultural differences in feedback and decision making
Apart from communication, Erin also devised scales for the way people give feedback, the way they try to persuade each other, how to best manage a team, how decisions are made, how to built a relation of trust, how to give criticism, and how time is perceived. It turns out that each nationality's position on all those different scales tends to change for each scale and those differences are what makes the intercultural experience so incredibly interesting but also incredibly complicated. Luckily, Erin has filled the book with a huge variety of examples derived from her own experiences and from those she's helped over the years to illustrate how to deal with all these differences without completely throwing your own cultural baggage overboard. Because even the subtleties of when a certain attitude is appropriate, or not, are part of the cultural mix and mastering those subtleties is not something that you can simply pick up as you go along. So it's very well possible that you'll miss the mark completely, should you attempt to bridge the 'communication gap' by adopting a direct attitude towards me. And then you'll end up being the one that's positively rude. But rest assured, I won't doubt you for even a second if you tell me that was absolutely the last thing you wanted to do. But luckily, The Culture Map is jam-packed with practical advice and I'm sure that in the end everything'll work out just fine between us and our intercultural communication differences.
Must read when working with multicultural teams
As far as I'm concerned, The Culture Map rates a positive 5 out of 5 using the Xtrem Reading method. the subject is a 100% worth your time and effort, the concept is well thought out, and it's such an enjoyable book to read filled with practical but also fun miscommunication examples. As Scrum Master and Agile Coach, I put a lot of effort in selecting the perfect session or game in order to create the result I'm after. But that only works if I'm absolutely sure that my chosen session or game will actually help me get the reaction I'm after. Because there's no doubt about it, someone's nationality has a huge influence on the way that person will react during my o’ so carefully chosen session or game. When working in teams, the cultural baggage also plays an important role and it can be a real asset but a lot of times it tends to have a disruptive influence. By addressing this issue and creating awareness among participants, I can easily improve the way they function as a team. The knowledge and advice Erin has succeeded in writing down so entertainingly give me an overview of the possible issues that may arise and how I can best address those to suit the session or the team I find myself struggling with. All in all, I can't thank my fellow Scrum Master enough because this book was exactly what I was looking for.