Cross-cultural Competency Helps Organizations Engage Diversity
By James M. Fraleigh
By 2020, knowledge workers will regularly collaborate with colleagues from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. As social technologies make global teambuilding simpler, people from different cultures, technical backgrounds, and management philosophies will meet under the same virtual roof. Workers will need to match their styles of supervision, training, and communication to multiple audiences over an average day.
To pivot with peak efficiency among these interactions will require cross-cultural competency: an instinct for sensing new contexts and suiting one’s response to match. Cross-cultural competency is predicted to become a valuable workforce trait, one of 10 described in Future Work Skills 2020, a report by the Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute. Organizations are beginning to understand that diversity drives innovative teamwork. Research has shown that groups featuring a variety of skill sets, modes of thought, and generational backgrounds are more likely to outperform those composed of similar-minded experts, according to Scott E. Page, director of the Center of the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.
Employers will need to adapt to a more global hiring perspective as well. Opportunities for corporate expansion increasingly will be found outside national borders, as will the highly talented personnel such initiatives will require. Immigration is easier and cheaper than ever, however, and mobile technologies have freed people from relying on any permanent workplace. To engage and retain talent, employers must speak these workers’ language, both literally and in terms of their career expectations and life goals.
Technology can smooth this process. Software-based intercultural tutoring is becoming more affordable, bringing language lessons and primers on a region and its business customs to every tablet or smart phone. Armed with these tools, and the sensitivity to search for mutual goals and values, workers and managers will form more productive partnerships with distant colleagues—and broaden their personal horizons too.
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James M. Fraleigh writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.