We all have charming anecdotes of cultural faux pas or idiosyncrasies which we regale our friends and families with. Most of you reading this are either expatriates, English speaking and internationally minded Thais or frequent travellers, so it is expected that in the course of your daily lives you will have come across some incident which jars against your own cultural norms.
That is all well and good…until it goes wrong. And more often than not it goes wrong when we attempt to communicate, especially in business, where communication is key. That is why so many businesses which have to work with multinational teams or have cross cultural clients flail when entering unchartered cultural waters.
“Cultural assimilation and understanding of cultures is what we have been working on for decades,” explains Colin Harlow, director and founder as well as lead consultant and trainer for Olive Training Consultants based here in Chiang Mai. Though Colin has lived in Thailand since the early nineties, he has mainly worked as a training expert in the mining, energy and security industries all over the world. He became so interested in the cultural relevancy of international business that he became a licensed partner and senior Cross-Culture trainer with UK’s CultureActive, part of polyglot Richard D. Lewis’s Cross Culture Group, renowned for the Lewis Model of cross-cultural communications which can be simplistically summarised into three cultural norms as said by Lewis himself in an interview posted on his site;
“The Lewis model differs from other models in that it shows that there are different types of human beings. Three different types of human beings – the Linear-active, Multi-active and Re-active. Linear-active people are Germans, Americans. They do one thing at a time, they are quite definite, they go forward. They plan well ahead, they are job oriented you know. Multi-active people are people-oriented, they are emotional. Try to do everything at once, get excited quite easily. Italians are a good example. And then of course there are reactive people like the Asians – Koreans, Chinese, Japanese – what do they do? They try to get you to speak first, to establish what your aims and intentions are. And that enables them to modify their reply so they don’t sound too worried about it, and that way they can create a slightly more harmonious response and attitude from the beginning. When we do business with different countries you have to ascertain to which cultural category the country belongs. You have to study the category and then respond to the category by adapting to it. So your own behaviour will have to correspond in a suitable manner to the people you are doing business with.”
So how can we apply this loose framework to individuals or an an entire company, when often corporate culture is yet another cultural quagmire?
This is where Olive Training Consultants comes in with their bespoke training and consultancy services aimed at helping businesses from international schools to large industries not just navigate cultural land mines, but harness cultural understanding to become even more competitive and successful.
“First thing we do is ask what the client is hoping to achieve,” explains Harlow. “Is it just that you want your expatriate employees to be more culturally aware in their new location? Perhaps you are not getting enough sales from your Thai staff or expat sales team. It may be that a group of Thais are travelling abroad and need to be prepared for what to expect. Or it could be lack of understanding between different nationalities within the company, most of us who have worked within a cross cultural team here in Thailand have experienced repeated clashes between Thai and expat members of the team. All these problems can be solved through our bespoke training.”
“Our solutions are customised and scalable,” added Harlow. “We prefer to work face to face with our clients, but with current climate we also provide online consultancy. We draw from the latest antropological and pedagogical research to keep up with an ever-changing field, after all culture is like language, it is fluid. We encourage face to face training, perhaps with online work in the initial stages a we analyse, pre-train or consult. Everyone has a preferred learning style and all of our materials are contextualised for personalised participation. We ask for and give constant feedback to ensure relevancy.”
What Olive Tree Consultants offers in a nutshell is to help an organisation to effectively communicate amongst culturally diverse teams and clientele. With research proving time and again that culturally diverse teams, when managed well, are more effective than homogenous teams, it is surprising more organisations are not working more towards achieving this goal. Here are a few highlights of what Olive Training Consultancy offers.
Cultural Awareness and Cross-Cultural Communications Training
This self-proclaimed gimmick-free course (no trust-falling exercise here) focuses on what lies behind cultural traits, behaviours and belief systems designed to foster respect and empathy amongst the team members. This programme is excellent for pre-departure or new-arrivals who wish to have a deeper understanding of not just the country they are about to land in but the company they are about to work for; learning about its HR resource support mechanisms or discussing protocols. They even have two country-specific pre-departure programmes – Live, Work, Thrive Thailand and Live, Work, Thrive Indonesia, both of which are one to three day training programmes though Olive Training Consultants offer tailored programmes for all their courses.
Through discussions, focus groups and in-depth research Olive Training Consultants can help identify shared goals and expectations, helping companies create solutions and resolutions.
Training & Employee Development
These bespoke courses cover a plethora of services, from offering workplace training and assessing, including training the trainers themselves, offering multiple tools and insights to up-skill personnel so that they can better understand and work alongside culturally diverse members of staff as well as clients.
Covering a wide range of services, from helping an organisation to set up its own in-house training department to delivering departmental workshops or employee competency mapping.
While all this may sound like corporate speak, at the end of the day it is about simple communication and how we can better communicate with others, either by modifying our own behaviour, or empathetically learning to understand others. Once communication improves, many companies have found that numerous problems are solved.
“While we do discuss stereotypes, we don’t fall into tropes,” added Harlow. “Stereotypes don’t come from nowhere but they have to be fair and reasonable and not one liners. Every nation has complexities as does every person. It is our understanding of some of these cultural complexities and how we can harness this understanding into effective communication and successful business that is Olive Training Consultants’ greatest strength.”
If your organisation are looking for more cross-cultural understanding get in touch with Colin Harlow at Olive Training Consultants