As we consider the quality of our followership and our experience of pursuing following with excellence, there are two facets that we certainly can’t ignore as part of our relational dynamic: our personal culture, and the culture(s) of those we work alongside—our peers and our superiors.
In Chapter 10 of Embracing Followership, I highlight the challenges that cultural differences bring to our expression of followership. While organizational culture—including its structures, categories, and terminology—is one important consideration, the various national cultures that play into a multicultural relational dynamic are also worthy of unpacking.
On one level, we all tend to carry some level of stereotypes and presuppositions about what other people are like. But digging more deeply, it’s important to remember that we ultimately relate, not to a national culture, but to an individual—and he/she may or may not exhibit those stereotypical tendencies and values.
Culture Combination Considerations (free Word doc) is an opportunity for personal reflection and group discussion to surface some of these presuppositions and personal predilections. Looking at the realms of leadership, followership, and communication, this resource invites articulating how we perceive our own culture, ourselves as members of that culture, and also our thoughts about our teammates’ cultures.
Such discussion enables several points of exploration:
- How does my perception of my teammates’ cultures align with their perceptions of their own cultures? Are we operating under the same stereotypes, assumptions, and expectations?
- In what ways is each team member a typical representative of their national culture, and it what areas is their individualism significantly different from what we might expect based upon where they come from?
- How do we see ourselves and how do others see us? How is that perception impacted both by my own culture and theirs?
- How do I submit to this leader from this particular culture? How do I lead authentically as myself and encourage these followers from these particular cultures to contribute with excellence? What distances do we need to cross so that we can work effectively together?
- How do we best communicate and understand one another given our varying perspectives on what good communication consists of and requires?
Although the worksheet is setup to compare two nationalities, if there is more diversity present on the team, you can take a number of approaches to effectively explore these cross-cultural realities.
- Work through each possible pair of national cultures, perhaps taking one pair at a time and spreading the exploration across several team meetings. (This can take a long time to achieve. For example: if there are 4 different cultures on the team, there are 6 possible pairings to explore; if 5 cultures, there are 10 pairings!)
- Rather than examine pairs of cultures, each team member (or all the members of one national culture) might begin by offering their reflections on stereotypes about their culture and comment on the extent to which they personally embody or differ from those stereotypes. Other team members may then reflect together on how their own perspectives about that culture & individual are similar to or different from what was shared. It will be worth noting the kinds of comments made by various teammates, and the influence of their own national culture and personal identity may be evident in how they view and respond to the team member/culture that was shared.
- If there is already some awareness of tension within the team, you might begin by highlighting the cultures that are perhaps most different or which are most likely part of the current tension in order to address a relevant team need. On the other hand, you might begin with some pairings of nationalities that are more similar or where tension isn’t currently apparent, in order to establish a pattern of discussing these elements, and then with a bit of experience and trust built, move into exploring cultural pairings that are more likely currently contributing stress within the team.
It should be noted that it may well be the case that cultures which appear very similar can be the primary source of tension, as often we may underestimate the impact of subtle differences that exist between apparently ‘near’ cultures and may assume that our perspectives are identical because we look or sound similar to other team members.
Culture Combination Considerations is a helpful accompaniment to the companion volume, Embracing Followership: A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups, and in particular Study #3 (Submission), #7 (Group Life), & #10 (Communication). Each of these realms of followership will be helpfully shaped by improving our understanding of the cultural differences and pervading stereotypes that exist within our group.
Note: if a warning pops up when you first open the document (see screenshot below), noting that macros have been disabled, simply click Enable Content; this will permit the worksheet to update the questions/labels based upon the two nationalities that you type in at the top of the worksheet (once you press Alt-U or Option-U).
Additional resources that provide useful frameworks for considering cross-cultural realities include:
Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally, by David C. Thomas & Kerr Inkson
Cultures and Organizations, by Geert Hofstede
Cross-Cultural Connections, by Duane Elmer
Be sure to check out the other free resources available from our Downloads page:
Free Sample Study (Study 8: “Honor Thy Colaborer”, with Facilitator’s Notes)
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017).