I’ve been lucky to get a place on two of the most in-demand internal training courses offered by my company: “Working in a Matrix Environment” and “Working Across Cultures: India”. Both were very well-run, fascinating, entertaining and thought-provoking – but I realised at the end of them that they’d both given me the same ‘take home’ message.
I take a strongly pragmatic approach to the corporate training programs. They are unlikely to quickly remedy anybody’s problems, certainly not through your attendance alone. They are unlikely to offer easy or clear tactics to salve the complicated human psyche we come across day-in day-out. On average they take up 20% of your cherished working week time. What they are excellent at providing is a different viewpoint and a forum for thinking and questioning.
- Working In A Matrix Environment focussed on the common problems that occur when working for a big multinational company and having to communicate and co-operate with colleagues in different Departments, countries and companies. With a more flexible hierarchy comes a blurred understanding of which tasks should be prioritised, who has responsibility, and what to do if something goes wrong. Our trainer Kathy Hartmann-Campbell took a very broad & general approach to tackling these nitty-gritty problems – looking at basic conflict resolution/negotiation, human psychology (such as avoidance behavioural patterns), and getting us to discuss our experiences in small groups and start thinking about solutions for ourselves. A lot of varied anecdotes were swapped and many ideas were shared.
- Working Across Cultures: India was primarily concerned with providing the basic (yet thorough) cultural & corporate information that would enable us to better understand the root causes of cross-cultural issues when working with Indian companies. By the lunch break it was clear that trying to impose “Western” cultural norms onto our perception of India just doesn’t work. The ethics and culture of India come from maintenance of harmony (one of the most overriding principles), societal structure (for instance in Indian culture there is a strong distinction between the “thinkers” and the “do-ers” in an educational context) and hierarchy (marriage & family are important indicators of suitability for management). Some of the participants in the room were noticeably shocked when trainer Waseem Hussain spelled out the common Indian perceptions of unmarried, childless women. However, in the afternoon segment we were all equipped with the basic tools to start bridging these culture gaps and working on our problems. Everybody found the course fascinating; the cultural material was presented in an entertaining and fairly light-handed manner by the Swiss-born Waseem.
There was a collective light-bulb moment in the final third of Waseem’s course. He spoke about the importance of building personal connections with the Indian colleagues: sending emails that detailed your weekend activities, giving holiday/seasonal messages, making LinkedIn connections…
Treating your colleagues on the Indian subcontinent with as much respect as you’d give your colleagues down the hallway.
That’s the underlying secret to doing business with India? Treat them as you’d wish to be treated?
The funny thing is…Kathy’s training also touched upon the same themes. She suggested sharing mini personal bios prior to conference calls so that we could all see and humanise the people at the other end of the phone line. Again, respecting others as fellow human beings. How could we all have forgotten this?
Other themes that came up in both trainings were as follows:
- There is never a quick & easy solution to difficult problems. You’re going to have to invest time & effort into something if you want it to work in the long term.
- Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Empathy is a wonderful, wonderful thing. If you can understand where they’re coming from, the difficulties are likely to decrease.
- If you sit back and say “it’s not going to work”…then of course it won’t.
Professional Development suddenly is not just about expanding your abilities through training: it is also about focussing back in on the fundamental basics.