The Hidden Border of Culture

On this programme we have people from the UK, the US, Israel and myself from India. This has been both a challenge and a learning opportunity with so many people from different backgrounds working together. There is an intangible force that keeps people together that I can call Trust. It keeps the team motivated throughout and plays a vital role in the success of any project. On this programme one thing I have realized is that this inclination to Trust can be highly dependent on national cultures. “Similar” cultures tend to approach tasks, relationship and time in a similar way. So building Trust demands effort. For a multi-cultural project team to succeed people must strive to understand and grasp each other’s basic needs, interests, and worldviews.

Here are a few observations from my 7 weeks in Kenya on differences of culture.

Firstly, it has become evident that my colleagues favor collectivism over individualism when it comes to carrying out project tasks. I have seen lots of group discussions and people have strived to attend the meetings of other team members in spite of their busy schedules to see how others are doing and improve the collective effort. Some of the Kenyans that I have worked with have operated differently though. For example, during some meetings with my groups I have observed the Chairman of the group overreacting and trying to boost his position in the team, especially if he feels that other group members are trying to influence the decision. This can be a challenge getting everyone to work together towards a common goal.

Secondly, I have observed that there is a difference in the kind of relationships that form. Some members of our team like to work with clear relationships with defined boundaries. I think in Kenya and India this is different, where there is less differentiation between the social relationship and the professional relationship. Leading on from this, I think that in the UK open conflict is more appropriate in the working environment. Open debate and argument is seen as a good way of resolving issues but this doesn’t turn out to be the case with Kenyans and Indians as I believe they avoid open conflict so as not to spoil the social relationship.

Finally, although this is changing slowly, it has become clear to me that women play a different role in society here as the population is very much dominated by men. It can be a struggle to encourage women to attend classes and when present they are often very conscious of their social status and so are quiet and do not like to engage with the group. There are of course times where I come across very confident and expressive women so I know the situation is developing, but this is still the exception.

In conclusion, I’ve learn a lot about people from different cultures working together. We see the world in a different way and it’s a crucial skill learning how to engage with different types of people so that you end up with a happy and successful team.