A Success Story

Cultural Agility in the Workplace Inter-Cultural Intelligence in Australia, Asia and New Zealand


Shireen Chua, Founder and Director of Third Culture Solutions, an intercultural consulting company in New Zealand shared the way her unique upbringing equipped her for what she is doing now.


I talked with her just a week after she won a prestigious award from The Employee Mobility Institute for the way her organization, Third Culture Solutions, is preparing the workforce for the challenges posed by working in a globalized world. However, Shireen's passion for people and culture began long before Third Culture Solutions.

The Journey

Cultural complexities are a part of the very fabric of Shireen's identity. She has been navigating the realities of a globalized world daily from a very young age. "I am a Third Culture Person, so that’s why it is such a natural area of interest. It’s part of who I am" She says, "I was born in Malaysia, arrived in New Zealand at age 12 and a half and have lived here since. My family now live in Singapore, so I live between two worlds"

Getting started by working in the New Zealand government and the University undertaking research amongst the multicultural communities in, Shireen was exposed to the necessity for cultural awareness in order to interview and find solutions that helped these communities. She says, "Out of that came two desires: an interest in understanding more about all things intercultural, and also a desire for understanding my own journey. Who am I? Where do I belong?"

Compelled to understand those complexities, she began a learning journey studying culture both academically, through an MBA focused on organizational culture, and personally, through her own "soul searching" process. At the same time in 2015, New Zealand was experiencing globalization like it never had before, and there was a growing need for organizations to help develop their intercultural intelligence. I saw the opportunity to give things a go and started Third Culture Solutions.

Applying Intercultural Intelligence to the world

After starting Third Culture Solutions, exploring numerous intercultural tools and frameworks, Shireen was on the lookout for a tool that went deeper. "The range of tools that were out there were helpful, but they were very academic, and they didn't engage the heart," she says. When Shireen found KnowledgeWorkx and got certified in their tools she knew it was different. "When I took this to my clients, particularly the minorities such as Māori and Pacific, they responded to the different languages that the Three Colors of Worldview used. The learning came alive for everyone, and especially the minority whose voices are often not heard.”

Looking to the Future

Shireen received this TEMI award for designing and developing learning journeys for the leaders of numerous organizations to help them become globally and culturally aware of their multicultural workforce. However, that has not prevented her from continuing to improve the depth of her offerings to organizations. She is currently halfway through a PhD focusing on how leaders can grow culturally inclusive diverse organizations.

Thinking about the future, it is the transformation of individuals and teams that truly excites her. She dreams of offering leaders the opportunity to develop skills, awareness and understanding that will both encourage and challenge them to go deeper into the issues they are facing making what is hidden visible to them. She hopes that it will truly transform every interaction within teams and organizations. Yet, the beauty of these cultural dynamics is in their complexity. Shireen acknowledged, "There is no way that you can just find a ’solution.’ It’s a developmental journey that all are invited to go on, but few truly want to take. Today’s world is driving everyone to be on this journey".

Shireen's own story of mobility is becoming more and more common in our globalized world. Whether someone moves when they are twelve, twenty-five, or stays in the same country their entire life, they will need go through the hard work of understanding culture from within and without. So, Shireen will continue to walk leaders and teams through this journey. Building human to human connection and creating transformation drives her to continue helping organizations and individuals find Third Culture Solutions.

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