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Transcultural Collaboration: are you Competent?

Transcultural Collaboration: are you Competent?

  • 12 January 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

We were sitting in a room in a foreign country: 20 executives were waiting for the CEO to arrive. I was present to facilitate the first part of their workshop on culture after they did the OCAI culture survey. People were checking their laptops, smartphones or talking softly to their neighbor. The CEO was ten minutes late.

I checked the time with the HR manager who was my contact at the company. Should we call the CEO to remind him? No, he said, he’ll arrive shortly.

Another ten minutes passed while everyone waited. No one protested, complained, or left. When the CEO arrived after twenty-five minutes, everyone happily greeted him.

The CEO indicated that he was extremely busy and that he’d only have one hour to spend on culture - in spite of our agreement that he’d be actively involved with the culture change.

When he left after one hour people relaxed and after the first break, quite a few left - explaining they too had busy schedules that had changed in the last instant.

Welcome to our world of culture differences and diversity! I had to find a more effective way to engage the top executives of this organization - as my individualistic low-power-distance Western approach of “let’s get together to have an open dialogue about culture” clearly did not work - even though everyone had agreed in advance.

Examples of Cultural Differences

What are your examples of cultural differences? I’ve encountered many interesting learning moments over the years and had to get used to different cultures and behaviors.

Scripted communication in Anglo-Saxon countries: How are you? Fine, thanks, how are you? (Huh? This is an empty phrase? You’re not interested - this is your introduction to doing business?).

Shame to admit that you don’t understand something in Asian countries: Sure, I understand. I’ll do this as you have asked. (Huh? You said you got it and would deliver it in time? Were you lying to me?)

The habit to insist after you have refused something in Arab countries: But can you try just for me? Please, do. We need this. (Huh? I’ve refused two times and explained why and still they can’t stop nagging?)

Can you share your examples? I’d love to hear them. By the way, I used to be Dutch. I’m not so Dutch anymore since I started working internationally. I have changed as I adapted to my transcultural clients, co-workers, and suppliers. I now sometimes find Dutch people too blunt and not very elegant :)

Diversity and Differences

Cultural differences are everywhere. It’s not only the difference in subcultures due to professional fields or levels. Most people see the differences between the marketing and the accounting departments, or between the top executives and the workers in the factory.

There’s also the difference between different companies when you do business with both your suppliers and your client organizations. You may have to understand and influence organizations from different industry sectors that affect your organization.

Next, since we live in a globally connected world, you might encounter international differences - whether you’ve hired brilliant immigrant colleagues on your team, or you need to coordinate online with co-workers or freelancers in another country.

It can be even hard to collaborate with your co-worker with the same profession and organizational level, age, and national background. People differ… In collaboration, this is a source of fascination for me (Really? Wow, I never saw it that way, but it’s a great addition) but also frustration (Why can’t they do it my way so we can make the deadline?!). Do you recognize this?

Crucial to Collaborate

As we become more connected in many ways, we have to collaborate with more and more people who are from different cultural backgrounds. It is crucial to improving understanding and collaboration around the world to solve both organizational and worldwide challenges.

That’s why the Institute for Culture and Adaptive Leadership, along with the Professional Development Foundation, have developed and accredited professional certificate and a Masters in Science (MSc) degree in Professional Development: Culturally Adaptive Leadership (CAL) that are both offered online. These programs are accredited by Middlesex University, London, UK. This university is ranked among the top according to the IELTS world university rankings.

The CAL programs involve the understanding and application of transcultural competency, organizational culture, adaptive leadership, and lasting culture change in both local and global communities. Professionals completing the program will be prepared to operate in the diverse and complex global world of organizations and communities.

Classes begin in February, May, and September 2017. Spots are available for the next cohort that begins February 20. The entry requirements are a bachelor degree in a related discipline. Candidates with equal experience and background may also apply. For more information, please go to and email the Dean of the Program, Dr. Kimberley Barker at kbarker (at)

I’m excited to be an affiliate faculty member. If you enroll, I’d be happy to support you through the program. Please mention my name (Marcella) so the faculty can connect us when you start. Let’s prepare for transcultural competence and culturally adaptive leadership. And please share your examples in the comments below.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2017. All rights reserved.

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