Intercultural Understanding

Exercise one – Improving Cultural Understanding


Form culturally mixed groups of three or four. Everyone takes turns (maximum 5 min each) to talk about: –


What are two or three things that would improve the cultural understanding within the Company? If we could improve the way we do business by better using our multi-cultural advantages, what would this look like?


This should take no more than fifteen minutes.


Quickly go around the group and ask people if they would like to share one idea and one thing they noticed or learned from the exercise.


This will reconnect the group and people may see more similarities and interesting variety. The “learning” feedback will help us validate the exercise.


Exercise two – Appreciating national cultures


Form groups of three or four, as far as possible from different cultures (mix people up again so they are with different people than in exercise one). Each person has half a piece of flip chart paper. He or she writes the name of the country at the top and writes some words or phrases to describe the strengths of the way they do things and some thoughts on things they could do better.


I give an illustration below of what I might say. This is just to make the process clearer.



Nick Heap – British culture
Strengths Improvements?
Producing ideasTurning ideas into products
Good information about the wider worldBe less complacent
Universal Health careBe faster to seize opportunities
Questioning assumptions is OKBe more hospitable
Rich literary and artistic traditionSpeak more languages
Change is usually by debate and peacefulBe more optimistic that we can do it
The English language is the language of businessBring more of our most creative people into business



Stick your chart on the wall and walk around the room and look at each other’s lists. Ask questions if there are things there you do not understand. Think about who might be able to help you.


For example, if you were a British person and realised that the European language most British people speak is only English and this is potentially damaging, you might decide to ask a Dutch or Swiss multilingual person how people learn languages in their countries. This might help you have some influence on language teaching in your local school or on recruitment policy in your organisation.


Come together as a whole group. Ask people to notice what a rich range of cultures are represented in the group. For example, what did you notice about the other people’s cultures? What surprised you? Lead a discussion about how can you use this cultural richness to add business value in your organisation.


Exercise three – Culture and working together


List on a chart some of the common ways that people interact at work where there may be cultural differences. You will have some of these already. (You could have a few on a chart to start the ball rolling – like formal meetings, delegating a task, managing time, deciding priorities, giving feedback, problem solving, influencing senior people, making a presentation, work/life balance and ask people for more)


Pick the ones that you will work on. (You could use the “each person has three votes” method to pick them out. If you wish, the facilitator can pick the ones that are likely to give the most lively discussion, you can decide this on the day.)


Put people in culturally mixed groups of (say) four (Each with a different topic?) and ask each person to talk about how she or he likes these things to be handled and why and what sort of things happen that he or she finds difficult.


Ask everyone else to: –


Listen hard and notice the similarities and differences in what people want or expect.

Think about what you could do to help the other person.


Talk about what you have learned in your small group


Exercise four – Coconsulting


Find someone in the group that you would find it valuable to work with not just today but after the workshop too. You can coconsult over the phone!


As the manager, if you have an odd number of people consider taking part yourself, this gives the process credibility. If you have people in pairs, and one “three”, the people in the three will overrun or feel short changed or both.


In your pairs, decide who (A) will talk first about what they have learned and might do, and who will be the “consultant” (B) (listener/questioner/supporter etc). For the first fifteen minutes A talks to B and then after a few comments about what B did that helped, reverse roles so B talks to A. Finish with some brief feedback to A about what A did that helped.


Questions to discuss: What could you do to help your part of the business? What specific action will you take?


Examples could be,


“I think I could stop copying you in on all my emails about project X but send you a summary of the important developments when they happen.”


“When you ask me to attend a meeting, I would like to know who will be there and what you want from me.”


Discuss your lists and decide what you will do to help each other. This should not take more than another ten minutes or so.

Take three minutes to discuss what you have learned from doing this exercise.

Please contact me to find out about the wider course.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick