1) MEETINGS DON’T ALWAYS HAVE THE SAME OBJECTIVES IN DIFFERENT CULTURES
Why meet? This is crucial at an international level because no all cultures have the same types of meetings and for the same reasons or objectives.
Is the meeting an open forum to brainstorm, share and discuss ideas? This is common in the US and Western Europe where ideas are discussed, decisions made and implemented later with follow-up and responsibilities are taken to make sure this happens.
However differences exist between cultures.
In South Korea, for example, decision making is by consensus rather than open confrontation so the decision is often taken before the meeting starts and scheduling a meeting can be one way to push for this consensus to be reached.
While in Germany you would often be expected to submit written documents in advance and then discuss the documents in the meeting: free brainstorming would not be the norm.
The only way to be sure what a meeting is for is to discuss this with the other people either in advance or at the start of the meeting. It’s also a good idea to agree on basic meeting rules, for example how to give feedback to people.
2. DIRECT OR INDIRECT FEEDBACK / DURING OR AFTER THE MEETING
In cultures where people give “direct” feedback and communication – Germany, USA, Netherlands, Nordic countries — it is very common for people to give feedback or present bad news in front of everyone.
Most cultures, favour “indirect” feedback and communication where it is considered rude and impolite to give direct feedback and bad news to that person in front of a group or other people. This avoids a loss of “face” or “prestige” in front of the group.
Usually these cultures have a strong hierarchy and are collectivists or have a strong sense of belonging to the group.
It’s better to give feedback or bad news one-to-one after the meeting or during breaks, at lunch or dinner. Also it’s useful to talk to people from that culture on the best way to give feedback or bad news in that culture.
3. THIS ITEM IS CLOSED LETS MOVE ON TO THE NEXT ITEM ON THE MEETING AGENDA
Meetings in the west are sequential, where decisions are divided into smaller steps and each step is discussed and then decided on. When this happens the “item is closed” and the meeting moves on to the next item on the meeting agenda.
Once an “item is closed” in the US and some western cultures we understand two things: – that the closed item will not be discussed again and what was decided will be done.
In other cultures both of these ideas can be wrong.
Sometimes “closed items” can reappear later in the meeting or in cultures with a lot of hierarchy someone senior may decide to change their mind and change what was decided. Things may change after the meeting in informal meetings between the most senior people who later inform others of the changes.
In a multicultural team you need to agree on a common approach: before the meeting starts or before a new team starts to work together it is a good idea to agree on meeting norms, objectives and what is expected from everybody.
As a manager you can do this openly as a group and/or one to one privately for people from “indirect” feedback and communication cultures, where people will feel freer to give their honest opinion.
Read about our course Managing Multicultural Teams
The Practice Office Group