Acknowledging Cultural Differences Among Organizations
The purpose of this activity is to identify, articulate, and discuss “cultural differences” among participating organizations.
Many collaborators speak about “cultural differences” between organizations. For example, one participant describes his work with an international group as manifesting differences on many levels—different values around research, aesthetics of a written product, and how to use and manage time together. He explains:
While we share a kind of basic agreement about educational principles, and we certainly have [mutual] admiration, our value systems actually have some significant differences. One classic example of this is that when we were producing the book—it was written and it was being designed, and they were designing it—they would send us a package of five different versions of the cover. I would look at that and literally couldn’t tell you what the differences were. Some shade of blue, something about the font size made different. To them, this was the kind of thing that you send to your colleagues because you don’t want to make a decision between this one and this one without their knowing. Meanwhile, they would send us back pages in which we had indented long quotes, and they didn’t like the way that looked, so they took it out… So we would have heart attacks about one set of things; they’d have heart attacks about other things. They thought we were being nut cases; we thought they were being nut cases. We can kind of laugh about it now, but it was not easy.
They thought we were just incredibly interesting because we would establish an agenda for a meeting, and we would try to follow it. They thought it was kind of cute. I think at first they found it annoying, and then they found it interesting, and then they sort of said, “Do that thing, with the agenda.” But you can see how we spend two hours together, especially if it’s high-pressure (like somebody flew across the ocean to get there) and we have a day and a half or we have a single day, or we have whatever we have, and we’ve got to make the most of the time. Your idea of making the most of this time and my idea of making the most of this time are wildly different, where you need to talk about the history of something for an hour while I want to say, “Can you just give me the capsule?’”If I say that, we might as well stop meeting because I have just insulted you basically. So trying to listen and feel is key, and notice when I’m thinking, “Are they…serious? They’re going really tell us the entire history of this thing in great detail, and this is just the warm-up? She’s not just about to finish. And then we’re going to hear from everyone. We’re going to do this till lunch. And this is half of our day.”
With your potential partners, think together about the organizations to which you belong:
1. What are the particular cultures of each participating group?
2. Are there important differences in work process or organizational structure?
3. Are there differences of language or other cultural issues?
4. What is your organization’s mission? Can you articulate the mission of your potential partner organization?