image We recently hosted two US students visiting the UK on the “People to People” programme.  Our children’s school plays host to the “Homestay” section of the programme. The US students stay with a UK family with kids of around the same age, go to school with them and generally experience everyday life in the UK.

One of the fascinating thing as a parent is observing how the US and UK kids discover and then overcome their cultural differences. Our school uniform always causes comment, especially the blazer. The US kids get asked to say words like “awesome” and we normally are amused about our garden being called a backyard.

Observing this made me think of the differences I see in culture between teams when I’m facilitating.

It’s often the case that solving a process problem needs a team made up of all the parties who take part in the process. These different groups can have very differing cultures which make the facilitators role more tricky. In large organisations even teams from the same department can have specific cultures.

Examples of different cultural types that you may encounter include:

High flying executive teams Can tend to use lots of jargon and avoid the details of a problem
Marketing and media teams Can be full of ideas, but may be difficult to engage in technical problems
Call centre staff May be less qualified and motivated and less willing to speak up in meetings
Site based maintenance and operational staff May be very vocal and likely to call a spade a spade!
Research scientists Can be very theoretical and may have less ‘real world’ experience
Engineers Can be practical and not willing to engage in softer, people issues

So what can be done to bridge these differences and move forward? Here are some tips distilled from my experience:

  • Ensure that all participants understand each other – jargon and acronyms may either not be understood or have a different meaning
  • Use the different viewpoints and attitudes as ways to bring different perspectives to a problem
  • Don’t get drawn into the battle, make sure you stay impartial and be even handed
  • Spend time working with the group to develop a common view of what the group wants to achieve. If there are major differences find the smaller things the group can agree on and work on these first
  • Set out the room to make people mix and have a separate area for coffee during breaks. If people have to interact, then you start to break down their preconceptions about each other
  • Make sure you have ground rules that include showing respect, listening to ideas from all, being open to new ideas and supporting the aims of the group. These need to be enforced right from the start, do not let one group get their soapbox out and start lecturing the others
  • Encourage opinions and viewpoints from all participants

What strategies do you use?

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