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The Application of Inter-Cultural Intelligence (ICI) in Multinational Companies

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Thoughts from the Manager of Diversity & Inclusiveness at one of the top three consulting firms, Middle East and North Africa.

My journey to ICI

Very soon after I joined my company in October 2011, I realized that the challenges that our company faces are very different to those met by more traditional diversity and inclusiveness practices. The MENA region is blessed with a lot of diversity, people from all over the world are coming and making their homes here. When we come to work overseas, we bring our whole selves with us: our ideas, our perceptions, our values and beliefs. While this brings fantastic opportunities to learn from each other, it also creates a lot of challenges.

To set the stage: a standard definition of diversity refers to ‘all the differences, visible and invisible, which we as individuals have because of our different cultural backgrounds’. Inclusiveness, or inclusivity refers to how we ‘make those mixes work’. A simple picture of this would be that of a cook making soup. Any recipe will involve salt, pepper, some vegetables and other herbs or spices. How the chef mixes those ingredients will make it the best soup in the world or the worst soup in the world. At our company, our problem was not really one of diversity but much more to do with inclusiveness: how could we work more inclusively on a day-to-day basis with both colleagues and clients?

Around that time I heard about KnowledgeWorkx and decided to complete its ICI Certification. There is an amazing amount of content packed into just one week – and it took the next few weeks to reflect on what I learned. As a result, KnowledgeWorkx completely shifted my perspective on a number of things.

Firstly, I come from a Power-Fear cultural background, but I was never able to pinpoint exactly what I do or how I behave because of that: why I think and react in a certain way; what sort of language I use in communication and how it may get things done with some people but offend other people. With this certification I was able at last to identify those things; but in addition to this I learned how to look at others differently. It helped me to realize that so many of our staff also don’t see that they are in a similar situation – unable to understand or describe what they are going through. I realized we had to provide this knowledge to everyone within the organization.

Training the organization

We went back to the drawing board. We already had some pure diversity and inclusiveness content, but we realized we needed to bring this to life in a more practical way, so that people who come from different cultural backgrounds are able to connect with it. As a result we have developed a cultural intelligence workshop that has been piloted in two or three locations and the result has been very positive. In my experience, KnowledgeWorkx’ Three Colors of Worldview is the simplest, most effective tool to start the conversation on cultural differences that I have ever come across. In the next couple of years we will revisit this workshop in order to include the 12 Dimensions of Culture as well.

And this is not just for internal relationships. Our client-serving teams are pulled from all over the world; I worked on dedicated sessions with them, implementing the Three Colors of World View – enabling them to understand not just their intra-team cultural differences, but also the differences of perception, beliefs and values of their clients.

Throughout the ICI workshops you can see people having lightbulb moments. We always get very positive feedback: it helps them to spotlight certain interactions with others, raising their self-awareness of what they are going through in different situations; it gives them a new layer of knowledge to use in conversations with people who are not like them, who do not think like them; it helps give them an understanding of why people are different and how we can interact with them more effectively.

Impacting the bottom line

The ICI or Inclusiveness content has to be positioned as client-focused training, as opposed to a traditional training that is developed with a more internal focus. Directly addressing this content to client-serving teams will make them more efficient in their interaction and help them navigate through the different cultural barriers that are there in any interaction we have.

In 2014 our organization moved rapidly towards virtual collaboration and intercultural teams; with one phone call we have teams lined up all over the world. The ICI development framework will help our staff in increasing their effectiveness with their client interactions, in understanding the nature of their work, and with the virtual collaboration between different teams in different parts of the world.

I believe that ICI framework should be a formal part of every client-centric team training – enabling them to be interculturally sensitive and to navigate their way through cultural barriers. It gives them a new lens with which to look at their clients in a different way. It also makes a very powerful proposition for our clients because our clients are as diverse as we are; now we can connect with them the way they want to connect with us. We are enabled to mirror their diversity and respond to their needs. The ICI development framework puts the client at the centre of everything we do.

Contact us to learn more about how KnowledgeWorkx can help you develop inter-cultural intelligence in your organization. Register now for our next ICI Certification event in Dubai! You can also start your culture learning journey from our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.



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