The Inter-Cultural Manager, Part 1 of 4
“My boss doesn’t give sufficient details when I get delegated a task. But I think that asking clarifying questions is not appropriate, so how do I figure out what to do?”
In the last 20 years we had the privilege to work with managers in more than 70 countries. As we listen to their stories and challenges, several themes seem to be surfacing repeatedly: directing and delegating, motivating your team, developing your people and collaboration with peers and your boss.
We want to unpack these four themes in this article series. As we do that, we will use a combination of our favorite assessment tools since human behavior is largely influenced by who we are as cultural human beings and our personality driven behavioral style.
This article series will use the four management competencies of the Everything DiSC Management Profile to illuminate the cultural challenges that managers face related to these four areas. For further reading on the powerful Everything DiSC Management profile and how behavior style influence the way we delegate; pleases grab the sample report from our Everything DiSC landing page here.
We will use the Three Colors of Worldview to equip you with intercultural insights and solutions in the areas of directing and delegating, motivating your team, developing your people and collaboration with peers and your boss –- beginning in this article with directing and delegating.
Permission to Ask a Question
Let’s start with one of the big intercultural issues in delegating. When I get delegated to as an employee: “When and how do I ask clarifying questions? If I do not understand the task I have been given, how can I ask culturally-appropriate follow-up questions?”
In an Honor-Shame environment it all depends on who is in the room. With others around, it becomes tricky when a manager’s directions are unclear, because asking clarifying questions can easily result in shame for the manager. The fact that I am unclear about the task I have been delegated and feel the need to ask clarifying questions, can have an unintended consequence: it creates the perception that the manager is not competent. This can result in a response triggered by a sense of shame. The manager may say: “You have enough clarity, go and get it done.”
If the manager does not create an environment where asking clarifying questions is permissible, then team members will typically default to agreeing quickly to complete the task even if they don’t have full clarity on what is expected from them.
The workaround then is to find a trusted colleague you can talk to privately. You would say something like, “I have been asked to do this and this, what do you think is the best way to honor the manager, save face, and get it done?” And then there is a bit of guesswork. This is one way seasoned people in the office show their value, because they get an intuition for what to include and what can impress the boss.
In the above scenario it is crucial for the manager to develop good delegation practices and this includes fostering more openness around the process of delegation.
In a Power-Fear environment, it largely falls to the manager to pave the way for clarifying questions. If a person being delegated to feel safe with the manager, they will probably feel it is okay, at least in a private setting, to ask clarifying questions. In a public setting, asking clarifying questions could undermine the power position or respect of the manager from others in the room. So again you have to be careful depending on who is in the room.
If a manager uses Power-Fear in a negative way, it creates an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty. Psychological safety becomes low. In cases like that, directing and delegating from a cultural point of view becomes a major challenge. It can become nearly impossible to ask for clarification. A manager may not only make you pay right away but could use your question against you later: “Last time you didn’t understand. You are clearly not in sync with me.”
Most Power-Fear oriented environments show that managers us a direct communication style with their staff, while staff typically use an indirect communication style with their manager. In this situation it is crucial for the manager to lead the way in creating a communication culture that is more effective and efficient for the manager and the team.
Directing and delegating in an Innocence-Guilt oriented environment can become challenging if the manager is not using all the steps needed to communicate effectively. In this situation the employee is still confused and doesn’t have full clarity on what to do, even though Innocence-Guilt oriented cultures typically allow more room for back and forth communication, even between different levels in a hierarchy.
Opening the Door for Questions
In any of these cultural environments, having a conversation between boss and employee is a simple thing that can resolve negative situations. The employee requests permission to ask clarifying questions, and asks when and how that would be appropriate.
The manager can then dictate, “Yes, I am willing – but it has to be in private” or “Only when we are sitting down to plan the day” or “I will commit extra time after delegating so we can talk about anything that is unclear to you.” Creating that permission basis is a simple key, but it can often unlock the ambiguity in directing and delegating.
A final thing about the seemingly simple process of delegating is that there are universal principles that help you do a better job in delegating! These are fleshed out in detail, for example, in the “Time Mastery Profile”, another tool we use regularly.
In a coaching or team facilitation journey we recommend combining these three things: “The Everything DiSC Management Profile”, Three Colors of Worldview, and universal principles of delegating from the Time Mastery profile.
Managing an intercultural team is an exciting opportunity to see your team rise above the average mono-cultural teams. Leveraging diversity to enhance creativity, finding viable solutions and expanding the reach of your team by applying a variety of communication styles all start with a manager who knows how to delegate well!
We like to apply the “Litmus Test of the Three Colors of Worldview” - Are you delegating in a way that:
Does right by your employees?
Employees feel honored by their manager and by the task at hand
Employees feel empowered and the ta