Holding a meeting of people from different cultures

In one of the People and Business Management workshops that I facilitate we ask participants to outline how they would approach their first meeting as the manager of a multicultural team. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the imagination and inclusiveness of the responses.

This article in the Harvard Business Review provides useful guidance. Here’s an excerpt:

Do

  • Study up on the variations that exist among cultures and how those differences play out in the workplace
  • Create protocols and establish norms so that your colleagues understand how meetings will run
  • Incentivize colleagues to step outside their cultural comfort zones by institutionalizing rewards around what you’re trying to motivate people to do

Don’t

  • Be hung up on how people from certain cultures are supposed to act—remember, people are capable of adapting and adjusting their cultural default
  • Force a perfect dynamic in meetings—solicit colleagues’ opinions in other venues and encourage people to provide feedback in different ways
  • Overlook the importance of team bonding—encourage colleagues to get to know each other outside of meetings so that cultural differences won’t seem as glaring

 

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Visualizing empires decline

I am observing a surge in the management and organizations literature on the life and survival of corporations. I’m keeping a watchful eye on it and will report when relevant. In the meantime, here’s a visual refresher on the life and survival of empires.

The dissident leader

I found this quote in my notes. And it coincides with my current reading of Tomas Sedlacek‘s Economics of Good and Evil. Sedlacek was an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. Although I have not finished reading the book, I can already recommend it. More on the book and its thesis in a future post.

[Vaclav] Havel embodied the guidelines of creative defense with wit, wisdom, and the shortcomings of a man. He inspired people with a bold algorithm, a mantra really: living in truth. In an era of cryptic truths, so too was the very notion of “living in truth”. After 1989, he became the first anti-political president of the Czech Republic and the planet; he remains so to this day the bearer of a political legacy not so much shrouded in failure as indifference to power. Yet, he was never powerless, not for a moment.

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from “the people”; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself.

Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner’s chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate’s cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two — this is the gift Havel gave.

via The New Inquiry.

The power of one

Since the 1970s Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has singlehandedly planted a forest larger than Central Park in New York City.

 

For the movie buffs, pair this story with the Oscar-winning The man who planted trees (L’homme qui plantait des arbres):

 

Mintzberg: time to think of organizations as communities of cooperation

Our obsession with leadership, of any kind, causes us to build organisations that are utterly dependent on individual initiative. We do not allow them to function as communities. So when they fail, we blame the leader, and seek a better one. Like drug addicts, each time we need a bigger hit.

Consider that ubiquitous organisation chart, with its silly boxes of “top”, and “middle”, and bottom managers. How come we never say “bottom managers”? This is no more than a distorted metaphor. It tells us that we are fixated on who has authority over what and whom. The painting may not be the pipe, but to most of us, the chart has become the organisation.

Isn’t it time to think of our organisations as communities of cooperation, and in so doing put leadership in its place: not gone, but alongside other important social processes.

[O]bsession with leadership is the cause of many of the world’s problems. [L]et us get rid of the cult of leadership, striking at least one blow at our increasing obsession with individuality. Not to create a new cult around distributed leadership, but to recognize that the very use of the word leadership tilts thinking toward the individual and away from the community. We don’t only need better leadership, we also need less leadership.

via FT.com.

The model of rational choice is faulty

Virtually all of the assumptions built into it about human beings and the world are false:

  • It assumes that people are self-interested. Well, yes and no.
  • It assumes that there is a common scale of value on which everything can be compared. There isn’t.
  • It assumes that we can attach meaningful probabilities to outcomes. Sometimes we can, but life is not a roulette wheel or a series of coin flips, in which probabilities are well defined.

If we are to move toward societies of greater opportunity and justice, we need a more expansive notion of what it means to be rational than we will ever get from economics.

via Barry Schwartz.

Good governance went out of the window when a reductive view of human nature took hold

Simon Caulkin [website, @nikluac]  in The Guardian:

The irony is that we know what makes companies prosper in the long term. They manage themselves as whole systems, look after their people, use targets and incentives with extreme caution, keep pay differentials narrow (we really are in this together) and treat profits as the score rather than the game. And it’s a given that in the long term companies can’t thrive unless they have society’s interests at heart along with their own.

So why do so many boards and managers, supported by politicians, systematically do the opposite – run companies as top-down dictatorships, pursue growth by merger, destroy teamwork with runaway incentives, attack employment rights and conditions, outsource customer service, treat their stakeholders as resources to be exploited, and refuse wider responsibilities to society?

The answer is that management in the 1980s was subject to an ideological hijack by Chicago economics that put at the heart of governance a reductive “economic man” view of human nature needing to be bribed or whipped to do their exclusive job of maximising shareholder returns. Embedded in the codes, these assumptions now have the status of unchallenged truths.