collaborating across cultures with Berlitz

Friday 28 September, 2012

I attended a seminar Managing Global Teams in High Growth Regions hosted by Berlitz, most widely known as a language training company, which is placing an increasing focus on cultural training for global leadership.  The seminar was led by  Tracy Xu, a senior cultural consultant @ Berlitz with contributions from Marcelo Roman, Chairman/CEO of  Training Management Corp (TMC).  We led off with defining intercultural challenges:

  • market-different markets have diverse needs & dynamics which require different styles & approaches.  Partner alignment is an issue
  • organizational-optimizing resources cross-culturally can be a problem, as are different organizational structures & relationships in different places within those structures
  • individual management-workforces are becoming more diverse, & successful firms leverage the differences in this diversity.  Communications can be a problem within multicultural teams as is performance management which varies widely across cultures.

We then moved into objectives for our program:

  • common understanding
  • models/frameworks to create common understanding
  • addressing differences/making adaptions

Next, culture was defined with the old iceberg analogy, indicating what you see explicitly, the above-water iceberg, is much less influential than what you don’t see implicitly, the ice below water.  In an intercultural context this includes values, norms, beliefs, expectations, assumptions, etc.  This led to the presentation of a model which showed that behavior leads to cultural norms, which are a sum of beliefs, assumptions, values, & emotions important in that culture.

Did you know grasshoppers are kept as pets in China & are eaten in Thailand?  This illustrates the difference between perception & reality, in the what is commonly known as a pest in America has much greater value elsewhere.  There are also differences between stereotypes & generalizations.  The former are formed based on unobserved behavior while the latter is based on observed behavior.  Regardless, cultural profiles can be constructed to reflect different nationalities, family orientations, corporations, functions, & host countries.

Joerg Schmitz of TMC (Thunderbird uses their  Cultural Orientations Indicator®) wrote  Cultural Orientations Guide-roadmap to cultural competence (btw-a pretty good book) which seemed to be the basis of the rest of the presentation.  Their Cultural Orientations Model was presented, which includes 10 dimensions on how cultures differ on how they view & use:

  1. environment
  2. time
  3. action
  4. communication
  5. space
  6. power
  7. individualism
  8. competitiveness
  9. structure
  10. thinking

In our seminar, we focused on communications, & the differences between hi & low contexts, implicit vs. explicit, & direct vs. indirect communications.  We expanded a bit on the action dimension, noting that those who focus on “doing” usually think short-term & are focused on completing a specific task while those who focus on “being” think longer term & focus on relationships.  We contrasted Americans, who value individuality, equality, directness, a can-do attitude, competition, materialism, informality, & freedom with Chinese, who value relationships, harmony, & guanxi.  The implications are that the Chinese are less concerned with how long a task takes (time) than the relationship to get it done, all of which is fluid & not concrete.

Narrowing down our topic to managing teams, culture impacts upon groups, hierarchy, seniority, age, etc.  When dealing with eastern cultures, it helps to get & give indirect feedback, build consensus, be less dynamic.  Leadership in those places is more of a benevolent dictatorship from the top down & more hands on than in the west.

The last topic of discussion was the difference between a local vs. a global mindset, generally, from an organizational point of view, as well as from a management perspective.

Intercultural adaptability requires 4 key skills:

  1. cultural due diligence-assess/prepare for impact of different cultures
  2. ability to switch styles-to take different approaches when required
  3. ability to create dialogue-to be able to adapt conversations in negotiations
  4. cultural mentoring-to help others with adaptation & integration


  1. My PhD focuses on intercultural competences, preferences, and training. This is a great blog post and I hope you will introduce me to either Tracy Xu or Marcel Roman to further discuss their work. An email address is preferred but LinkedIn or Twitter handles would also be appreciated. Thank you for sharing about your seminar experience; it sounds like it was a valuable workshop.

    • I’m sorry but I’m afraid I don’t have contact information for Tracy Xu or Marcel Roman. If you follow the links in the post, you might be able to get to some contact information. Hope that helps.

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