Beyond Culture – Book Review

What these books are about
A set of studies about the deep meanings of culture. Edward T. Hall has lead a unique study in order to understand the consequences in our lives of our education. These books are not the latest available on the subject. Authors like Hofstede, Trompenaars or Lewis have produced more recent and maybe thorough studies. But T. Hall work is still worth reading if you are interested in the field of cross-cultural communication. These were the first books I read on the topic of cross-cultural communication. And I must say, they have saved me from a lot of frustration!

The Review
Edward T. hall has studied in a unique way the impact of culture in your daily life. Culture, doesn’t mean books or movies or even songs but is defining the part of yourself that you don’t really master anymore. All these reflex that you consider as natural are specific to each culture. They make you behave and think differently in front of the same situation if you are German, French, American or Japanese. It sounds obvious but it is not and Hall has driven an impressive study over the years which should be read by everybody living in a multi-cultural environment.
Once you have read these books you will never react the same way in front of your colleagues or friends coming from another culture. It should help you to avoid useless conflicts mainly caused by misunderstanding. Not that Hall is giving the explanation to everything but he is studying generic questions as: What is being late?; Are we doing one thing at a time like the Germans and the Americans or several at a time like the Arabs or the [...]

5 Truths about Communication inside a Project

Introduction
We are living in a world of communication. New fortunes have been made on the back of communication: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. to name but a few. It has never been easier to communicate! …Really? Well, it has never looked easier to communicate. But is it really as easy as it looks?

Easy communication is a kind of mirage, a dream we all would like to be true. If the means are indeed easy to use, it does not mean that communicating properly is easier. It is even probably the opposite: because it looks easy we do not think about it and we communicate badly. And bad communication is the source of many costly mistakes inside a project. This is why we are going in this article to review a handful of truths about communication.
Communication within an International Project
The context in which I thought this article is mostly within a Software Project. It remains true in most projects though. I have experienced these “Truths” and their positive or negative effects first hand. I also have experienced them within International contexts, such as an offshore software project. Keeping them in mind has saved the day often enough to be mentioned. If today, with Liemur, my company, we are offering near-shore software development, it is because we master these principles (plus many others that are not in the scope of this paper, of course). Far too often, projects are put in danger because of poor communication. People are always trying their best. It is rarely the intention that went wrong but the perception of the action.
1: Written communication is weak
Truth #1: To communicate efficiently, one must combine written communication with [...]

7 keys to outsourcing your IT project offshore

Here is an article posted on my company’s web site Liemur:

 

Selecting the right offshore company can be puzzling, especially if you have little idea where to start from. So, here is a short list of questions to ask yourself before you jump into the nearshore/offshore adventure.

More…

Fear and Trembling – Book Review

For once, I will not review a technical book or a study but a fiction. Not that I intend to become a reference in literature, there are far better reviewers than I for that, but this book is well related to a topic that I often talk about: cross-cultural communication. This book was given to me by my wife who knows very well my work on communication, especially cross-cultural one. I thank her for that. It is always extremely pleasant to have people around you capable of offering you the perfect book. I would probably have missed that one, had I been on my own.

The context is the following: a young woman, living in Japan, speaking Japanese fluently and knowing the country extremely well is getting a job in a Japanese company. She is not expecting the most fascinating job on earth but she clearly intends to do her best and integrate perfectly inside the company.

I won’t tell you about the story much more than that but I will comment on how this story appealed to me. The author is describing the daily life of someone who believed she could blend into a culture because of her excellent knowledge of the language and the country. She believes that she understands customs, habits, and practices well enough to become invisible inside the group. Of course, nothing goes as planned and her journey inside the company is fascinating. She is not Japanese and it is made very clear to her that she will never be. When I say clear, I mean she understands what is not necessarily said. She does indeed know the culture well enough to get these messages, but not well enough to achieve [...]

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-23

France is shocked by how #DSK is treated in USA? This is typical of #cultural shock. USA: flat hierarchy. Fr: high hierarchy index. #

Multicultural Thinking: the Develop Magazine article

Here is the content of the article I have published in Develop Magazine, issue #114 that you can read and download on the following links:

Read online: http://issuu.com/develop/docs/dev114_web.

PDF Download: http://www.develop-online.net/digital-edition. Look for the issue #114 in March 2011.

The version in the Develop Magazine is obviously nicer to read with diagrams. The magazine is definitely worth reading as a whole!

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“You cannot work with these guys!…”
 

We all know that games development has gone global. This globalism is in line with the trend of developing offshore, in less expensive or more competent countries, creating in fine a multicultural project. In places like London, you’ll find people from all over the world in the same workplace. At first, this multicultural approach may seem to present real cost efficiencies, but what is the real price we pay? Team human dynamics are a complex issue and looking at the outsourcing savings alone can prove to be a false economy. Unfortunately, this little gremlin will only show himself late in the project, costing ridiculously high amounts of money.

We all know that if you are British and work with a Japanese, an Indian or even a Frenchman, the nature of the relationship might be more or less fluid and smooth. As Richard Lewis, one of Britain’s foremost linguists and author of “When Cultures Collide” summarises it: “A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimize unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty.”

 

What does it mean to be British, American, French, German, etc.?

Cultures have been studied by anthropologists for a while, but the analysis of what a culture [...]

Multicultural Thinking

In Develop Magazine’s March edition #114, I have published an article about multicultural project’s issues. You can find the article online in the pdf version of the magazine: http://issuu.com/develop/docs/dev114_web. Have a look, it’s page 54!

Cross-cultural business: who am I really dealing with?

If you are running a business in UK, especially in London, you are very likely to be working with people from all over the world. Since I am presenting seminars and business chats on cross-cultural communication, I am often asked what the implications are on a business. I have already presented some aspects of it in the perspective of off-shore development. I shall now consider the angle of business in general. So, in short, what if you are working with colleagues, partners, providers who are from another country?

Maybe I will start by answering something I already hear coming in your mind: “that surely won’t apply to me since I’ve been working in UK for XX years.” Well, I am far from convinced it is the case. If you are yourself a foreigner in the workplace you live in, at best you are adapted and work on adaptation mode without knowing, but deep inside there are elements of yourself that probably remain what you were educated as.

Before going further I will quickly recap what culture is about in the context of this article. I am using the definition given by Gert Jan Hofstede: Culture is the unwritten book with rules of the social game that is passed on to newcomers by its members, nesting itself in their minds. In other words, it is the sum of all the rules you have learned when you were a kid without necessary knowing you were learning them. They were just “the way to do things”. There are several depths in what makes culture. If we think of it as an onion with layers, in the outskirt we would have the Symbols made of Words, Gestures, Pictures, and Objects [...]

Where on earth will we outsource off-shore?

As we all know, outsourcing off-shore is a complex decision to make for a company. The reasons for doing so are generally cost saving of course, but also the hope to get the development happen faster due to a bigger and more readily available team.

When you have at last made the decision to do it, comes the difficult question of where to do it. By where I mean of course what company to use but I also mean where geographically. I’ll put myself in the shoes of a UK company as this is where I am working. So, you are based in UK and you want to use the services of people living in a remote cheaper country. Will you go in India as many have done? Will you go in Russia? Will you prefer to get closer with Eastern Europe? What about China? Then come more elements in the equation: language, time difference, reputation, process certification, etc. These are difficult parameters and indeed having 2h difference with the off-shore team surely needs a different logistic than having 8 or 10. Some argue that a big difference allows a team to work when the other is not and some will say that having a small difference allows better communication. All these questions and answers are valid, of course. But I would like to add one that is rarely taken into account: how will we get on with the local culture?

I was recently delivering a Cross-Cultural Communication Workshop for a customer which has decided to outsource in Romania. This workshop was part of a longer seminar designed to get both British and Romanian team acquire the same understanding of the project along a proper team [...]

Cross-cultural self stereotypes

Cross-cultural communication is a challenge for everyone! As Gert Jan Hofstede puts it in Exploring Culture, “Cross-cultural misunderstanding is a much under-estimated cause of trouble.” I am currently working a lot on this question for different reasons and I am very attentive to every cross-cultural trouble I am in front of. Working in London UK is a wonderful playground for the cross-cultural observer.
When you study cultures, the one topic that you need to be aware of is stereotypes. Almost every nation is seen with some specific attributes in the eyes of the other countries. To mention just a few, Germans are very organised, French are wine experts, English drink tea all day long, Italians speak a lot, etc. If you are a disorganised German or a very quiet Italian will not do any good as you are not as expected anyway. I remember a situation like that when I was 25. I was travelling the USA for 2 months. I was lucky enough to know a couple of families over there. These friends did something very good for me: they arranged for me to travel the country almost always from friends to friends; these friends sending me to other friends and so on. That was fantastic! But something I was not expecting happened to me at some point. In new-Orleans, I met a lady who had been informed of my arrival. And guess why she was waiting for me? …Because she wanted me to kiss her hand in order to say hello. Man! I had never ever kissed anybody’s hand before in my life! The only thing I knew was that you are not actually suppose to really “kiss” the hand and that [...]