Cross-Cultural Business

As someone who worked alongside the talented team at Nature  for many years, I have always tended to regard “culture” as something that lurks in a petri dish or alternatively – as many HR Professionals will tell you – the values, behaviours and ethos that make up an organisation.  However, in the wider world, “culture” is a word that denotes the combination of racial, national, moral and other factors that go together to create the unique identities of different nations.

The reason that this is on my mind at the moment is because I was at a meeting organised by my local Chamber of Commerce , where the guest speaker gave a fascinating presentation about cross-cultural businesses, and how behaviour and expectations can be influenced by the background from which people come.  Having worked in a multi-national group of companies for many years this did not exactly come as a suprise to me, but it got me thinking about my own rather lazy assumptions on the subject of national stereotypes.

The speaker, Doctor Nigel Paterson, is a proponent of the theories of Richard Lewis , who has spent much of his career studying the subject, and developing mechanisms to neutralise the difficulties inherent in people of different cultures working together.  It would take quite a long time to explain his theories, but in essence he identifies three main Cultural categories, the characteristics that they each possess, and a series of “rules” for approaching and doing business with each category.  Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, and many nationalities are a mixture of types but – fascinatingly – this mixture can often make for the most successful nations, and individuals who possess this cultural “mix” within themselves generally make excellent business people and are the most effective managers of multicultural workforces.

I am a natural sceptic, and – like Herman Goering – mention of the word “culture” in any of its various definitions, makes me reach for my revolver, but I have to confess to being intrigued by the work of Richard Lewis, and I commend it to anybody who is faced with the challenge of a multicultural workforce, whether within a world-wide company or just here in the UK.  I am going to be looking at it   more closely myself, and I am sure it will have a bearing on how I deal with cross-cultural businesses in future.

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