Posted by Lori Zukin on February 18, 2014
The rise in globalization over the past three decades means that employees from nations around the world now work closely together each day – not only at global corporations and in government organizations, but even at the corner coffee shop.
At Booz Allen, our 23,000 employees represent a dizzying array of cultures – a single team engaged on a client project could include employees from six continents working side by side. A diverse team, working under deadlines to solve highly complex problems, will face myriad challenges. As an expert in leadership development and strategy, my team and I work with clients to help them create and maintain highly functioning cross-cultural workplaces.
Thirty years ago, American CEOs might have taken a course on Japanese language and customs and considered the cultural divide effectively bridged. Today, learning one nation’s culture is not nearly enough - and memorizing a series of facts about every nationality represented at a global firm like Booz Allen is not feasible. Instead, today’s leaders are focused on developing inter-cultural agility: a set of skills that includes knowledge of other cultures and languages but that also puts a high value on mindfulness of our own limitations and cultural biases, and on development of a comfort with tension. Tension may come from the work itself, external and unforeseeable factors, and from shifting dynamics within a team. Unlike in times past, when leaders sought to bring teams through times of dissonance, we now know that the tension that is inherent in a global environment can foster a high level of creative and innovative thinking that might not exist in a more placid, homogeneous environment. The dissonance is constant, and just as a good leader adapts to the tensions she continually holds in her neck and back, she also is able to consistently guide her team through tension so as to bring out the best in each employee in a constantly changing environment.
It is increasingly important for leaders to develop, and teach team members how to develop, the ability to adapt to a variety of rapidly changing situations. The process of learning cultural agility is ongoing, and there is no point at which even the most highly skilled leader can declare the work complete. Booz Allen, in collaboration with the Meridian International Center, is advancing the conversation about effective cross-cultural workplaces. Meridian is a global leadership organization which combines the power of idea-to-idea exchanges, experiential learning, and cultural education, so leaders and organizations can better succeed in today’s complex global environment.
On Tuesday, February 25th, the two organizations will host “Culture at Work: Building an Intercultural Organization for an Interconnected World.” The event will include presentations and panel discussions by a variety of experts including Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Grant McLaughlin; Luis Viada, President of Meridian's Global Leadership Institute; Jason Kemp, a leader in Booz Allen Hamilton's commercial and international practices; Dr. J.P. Singh, Professor of Global Affairs and Cultural Studies, George Mason University; and Connie Tzioumis, Director of Partnerships, Global Partnership Initiative, U.S. Department of State, offering their diverse perspectives on why creating an interculturally agile organization is more critical than ever. Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President and CEO, Meridian International Center will moderate the discussion.