Posted by: phynbarr | March 29, 2008

Managing multi-cultural meetings

My facilitation obsession at the moment is around facilitating multi-cultural meetings or conference calls. 

How do you do it?

Let me state my position first – I believe that the facilitator, as well as assisting a group achieve the objectives of their gathering, has a role in making the tacit, explicit.  From this perspective, managing the cultural environment in the room is all in a day’s work

First of all, do you assume everyone is familiar with the working environment of the organisation you work in?  I hope not.

Second, how do you elicit the common culture which is beneficial for the work you need to do?  Maybe, like the meeting Ground Rules, you start off with a basic list which can be added or amended to meet the needs of those present.  Perhaps like a Constitution which can be amended.

So what should be in the Constitution?  Because some of these issues can be quite subtle.  For instance, somone told me recently that if you arrange a meeting at “half three ” with some German clients they will assume that meeting will start at 14:30 and complain at the tardiness of English speakers when they turn up at 15:30.

No, I didn’t believe it either, so I checked with a native German who confirmed that if you omit the “past” i.e. don’t say “half PAST three” that is exactly right.

So the constitution has to come into play right from the start and not just when you’re all in a room together.  Which brings me back to the subtlety of how you create even an outline.  I think top of my list would have to be something to deal with “offence”.  How to deal with unintentional offence which is so easy to create and so ruinous to good relations.  Particularly without upsetting the unintentional offendee.

If it’s in your religion not to shake hands with a woman and yet your female client approaches with hand extended . . . . . what comes next in that picture?

As I said at the beginning, this train of thought is work in progress so if you already deal successfully with these issues I’d love to hear.  If they’ve tripped you up and cause you problems, I’d ove to hear that too; we learn more from our mistakes



  1. Hi, this is a comment.
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  2. No, not everyone’s familiar with the environment we work in – and moreover that’s going to worsen as we have more partners as contractors/consultants etc.

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