“Okay. Let’s get down to business.” It’s a familiar phrase for those who live in meetings in the Western world. It’s code for, “Cut the chit chat. Time to get something done.” Yet for many cultures around the world, a meeting is as much about building relationships and strengthening bonds.
Why have a meeting?
U.S.: The meeting is usually meant to gather the information and input from the participants. Individuals are expected to come prepared to compare and constructively analyze the alternatives.
Japan: The meeting is meant to publicly confirm decisions made in smaller groups. The participants explore alternatives just as thoroughly as their U.S. counterparts but by doing so in private before the meeting, they save face by avoiding conflict publicly.
Mexico: The meeting is meant to build relationships and trust. Once you trust someone, decision-making is relatively easy and fast.
Netherlands: The meeting is meant to identify all the weaknesses and criticisms of a particular approach or plan. There’s little need to spend time talking about what’s good.
Of course many meetings today involve people from several cultures. And many of these meetings are held virtually.
Imagine a Japanese project manager who never leaves Tokyo for work but is assigned to work on a project with a colleague in Indianapolis… And imagine the colleague in Indianapolis never leaves the Midwest on the company’s dime…or yen. And imagine that the only time these individuals “meet”, along with others like them, is at a weekly 30-minute video conference, scheduled 14 time zones apart.
Many of you can easily imagine this scene because it’s your life. This scenario brings whole new definition to “Death by Meeting”.
Culturally-Intelligent Led Meetings
Are multicultural team meetings doomed to fail? Not if they’re facilitated by someone with cultural intelligence (CQ). Here are a few ways the four capabilities of CQ can strengthen a meeting with culturally diverse participants:
1. CQ Drive: Showing interest, confidence, and drive to adapt cross-culturally
The leader will view the cultural diversity of team members as a potential asset that can provide a better outcome if managed well. And when conflict arises from the diverse preferences in the group, the culturally intelligent leader will persevere through the hard work of moving the group forward.
2. CQ Knowledge: Understanding intercultural issues and differences
The culturally intelligent leader understands that team members from certain cultures are less likely to “speak up” in a meeting, particularly if they have a dissident perspective that could create conflict. On the other hand, the leader understands that others may believe their best contribution comes by assertively confronting different opinions.
3. CQ Strategy: Making sense of culturally diverse experiences and planning accordingly.
The culturally intelligent leader plans for what’s needed to accomplish the meeting’s objective. For example, he or she might schedule a private conversation ahead of time with the individuals who are averse to direct conflict. Or the leader might prepare participants for a brainstorming meeting by letting them know ahead of time that they should come with 3 ideas to share with the group.
At the same time, the culturally intelligent leader will be careful not to assume a cultural stereotype applies to someone just because of a person’s cultural background. The Indian participant might have grown up in India but all her professional experience might be from working in Silicon Valley. And culturally intelligent leaders (and participants!) will be aware that some individuals ‘ behavior might not reflect their cultural background but instead, their personality or their perception of how they think others in the meeting expect them to behave.
4. CQ Action: Appropriately adapting verbal and nonverbal behavior
Finally, the culturally intelligent leader will facilitate the meeting in a way that’s authentic to him or herself while also adapting his/her leadership style to meet the dynamics of this group and meeting. High CQ Action will be evident through an effective meeting that both accomplishes the goal while also leaving members feeling respected, heard, and engaged.
I hope any meeting I facilitate accomplishes both those purposes—effective and respectful. I’m not interested in one without the other. But how one defines an “effective” and “respectful” meeting depends a whole lot upon where they’re from.