How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness
Last month on the blog I discussed the value of failure and how, rather than trying to help young people avoid failures, we should be more intentional about teaching the ways that failure helps us learn, grow, and ultimately succeed. This month I want to turn our attention to the workplace as well as to our school environments; specifically how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace and school culture and effectiveness, and why this topic is more important than ever at this time in our nation.
The U.S. is currently in the middle of a significant demographic shift. Groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050, with the population of Hispanics likely to more than double and the black American and Asian populations also expected to grow by a significant margin.
In the workplace, due in part to globalization, customers and employees will represent an even more diverse mix. Most organizations are already experiencing this as they hire employees and serve customers from multiple cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It partly explains why many large corporations now have multilingual human resource personnel and customer support staff, and are looking to diversify their boards of directors and executive management teams. This diversity presents workplace opportunities for high-quality professional development to avoid team conflict, bias, and communication breakdowns. Without engaging in appropriate, compassionate training for staff and management, businesses could experience higher turnover, lower morale, and losses in profitability.
To overcome the challenges posed by this shift, schools and businesses need to invest in intentional cross-cultural competence equipping as part of their overall talent management practices. This is one reason why my songwriting programs were presented in Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon by the U.S. Department of State with the focus of bridging across cultures and defeating some long-standing religious, social, racial, and cultural biases. The same principles apply in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.
What is Cross-Cultural Competence?
Culture refers to the shared traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, folklore, and history of a particular group of people. A culture is shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, customs or religion. Competence, meanwhile, means to have sufficient knowledge and skills to enable someone to work in a wide variety of situations.
Cross-cultural competence, therefore, refers to possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to work with people of different nationalities, ethnic communities, languages, and religions. If a person, school or organization is culturally competent, it means that they understand, appreciate, and can effectively work with people with different traditions, beliefs, and customs.
Millennial idealism offers a great opportunity to overcome many social injustices, including racism. This generation is “color blind” and multicultural, so by embracing this aspect of millennial mindset, we can organically grow out of some implicit biases that currently hinder cultural competence in the workplace.
The good news is that you can now arrange for cross-cultural competence training for your school or organization where every generation of employee, from top to bottom, is taught skills to help them interact with people from cultures other than their own more effectively. These skills often include
- Active listening capabilities
- People interaction skills
- Flexibility, and
- Emotional intelligence
Benefits of Cross-Cultural Competence in the Workplace
There are several reasons organizations and individuals need to invest in cross-cultural competence training:
- It helps us appreciate the perspectives and views of others
Culturally competent employees are open to the views and perspectives of employees from other cultures. This can be vital in achieving unity within the organization.
- Multiple viewpoints can help us find lasting solutions
When people from different cultures work together, varied perspectives come to the table. With more ideas to consider, it becomes easier to find lasting solutions to existing challenges.
- Looking out for each other
A culturally competent workforce also looks out for each other. Individuals are always willing to take action for the collective good. This, too, can be instrumental in achieving organizational togetherness.
- Helps us develop listening skills
One of the fundamental requirements of cross-cultural competence is to possess excellent listening skills. Everyone at the organization will be willing to hear what others have to say and understand them in the ways that they uniquely express their views. More important, workers will know how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework.
- Instills empathy, flexibility, and adaptability
The benefits of these skills are obvious. An empathetic, flexible, and adaptable workforce is productive even in the most demanding situations. When routines, management or the direction of the organization change, individuals will more readily adapt accordingly.
- Helps employees resist unproductive stereotyping
Stereotyping is one of the primary impediments to workplace harmony. Cross-cultural competence helps employees recognize and deal with implicit bias and similar vices, thus boosting individual confidence and guaranteeing team morale.
- Decreases and overcomes institutional racism
Finally, and perhaps most important, instilling cross-cultural competence in the workplace can be instrumental in rooting out racism. At the very least, the workforce will learn to appreciate each other, significantly reducing incidences of racial discrimination and abuse. This was a theme in my keynote two years ago at the National Education Association, where I talked about institutional racism in higher education. This is a pervasive challenge that must be eradicated from our multicultural society, and the benefits of unity in diversity revealed.
With the significant demographic shifts within our nation and the increased globalization of our work experiences, cross-cultural competence has become a critical issue for businesses. It impacts not only productivity but ultimately organizational profitability.
How will your organization address the challenges impacting workplace culture and effectiveness? I would be glad to discuss. Please contact me to talk further.
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In 2018, Ravi founded Ravi Unites Schools—a growing network of over a hundred K-12 schools worldwide whose students participate in peer-to-peer global real-time audio-video interactions hosted by Ravi. He believes that such exchanges promote world peace by enabling youth to bond organically rather than succumb to implicit biases formed by institutional agendas. The idea was born out of his ten-year partnership with Shanti Bhavan Children's Project—a highly successful boarding school in India for the poorest of the poor.