Building Global Dexterity on Company Teams

In our increasingly globalized world, more and more U.S. companies rely on local staff to help manage their international operations—and therefore need to maximize their intercultural competency and global resource management skills. From an organizational point of view, this can create significant challenges.

Today’s global work groups (and whole offices and even companies) are often made up of people from a variety of cultures; it is vital that diversity training, expatriate management and training, and cultural competency training are given priority.

But they have to be done right. The key to overcoming these challenges is what Brandeis University’s Andy Molinsky calls “Global Dexterity[i]”—understanding that to be successful in the global business world, managers, division heads, and other leaders need to learn the “global skills of adapting behavior successfully across cultures,“ and “be attuned not only to the expectations and norms of how to behave in a situation but also the cultural background of the individuals involved.”[ii]

How Do Cultural Values Affect Your Own/the Group’s Behaviors?

In the international business context, both leadership and rank-and-file employees must hone their cross-cultural skills.

In my sessions, I like to use a group exercise to help people understand how their own cultural assumptions impact how they view new situations and other peoples, and how they react to both.

FarsideI begin by having them look at the famous “Far Side” illustration to the left. Then I ask them to think about the cultural assumptions involved with how they interpret the picture:

What does it tell you about motivation, values, behaviors, and priorities?

What role does culture play in decision-making?

The decision the chicken makes about whether to cross the road or not tells us a great deal—if we ask the right questions, such as…

Why do my staff always say “yes” when I need direct answers?

How can I build trust in my group?

Another way to look at it is, in dealing with other cultures, motives, and values are not always obvious or apparent…take a look at the iceberg image. It reflects the ratio between our conscious and subconscious minds.
At the top, we can observe someone’s behaviors and actions—it is all that we can “see,” and there isn’t very much of it (at most 10%). At the bottom is the subconscious: we can only guess at the opinions, assumptions, and motivations buried there (either in ourselves or for other people—or cultures).

If possible, you must try to discover—and act upon—these subconscious opinions, assumptions, and motivations through questions, presenting options, and learning about people’s interests.

Don’t guess.  

Get involved, ask questions, and learn how to communicate within a different cultural context. These are the only ways to meaningfully engage multi-culture staff and effectively motivate them to work together to create value for your company, regardless of setting.


[i] Andy Molinsky, Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process, Harvard Business Review Press, March 12, 2013.


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