I remember back when I started Highroad Global Services almost seven years ago. The whole idea for the business came from a small note in a journal I made while living in Nepal. The note consisted of a brainstormed idea about how to educate others about the different cultures of the world. I came up with a model called Enrichment/Respect in which I encouraged leaders not to force respect for other cultures on their employees, but to let it happen naturally through enrichment. When you work together with people from varied backgrounds you struggle through time zones and language challenges, but you also get rewarded through interesting food, music, ceremonies, architecture, stories, and more.
You know that old saying about how we never take our own advice?
Well, that certainly applies to me, and to many of my clients. We are truly living in the information age with e-mail flooding in without cessation, Blackberries and iPhones consuming our attention, and more demands on our time since the economic downturn. I increasingly hear from team leaders and team members alike that their day-to-day tasks leave them little time for non-mission critical activities such as relationship building and cultural enrichment.
I even find that the more my own business grows, the more easily I get disconnected from my original purpose. But like an important personal relationship, our global and cultural intelligence needs cultivating like a garden. Through this cultivation we remain inspired and through inspiration we remain productive and creative. Reminding ourselves that cultural diversity is fun and enriching really pays, literally and figuratively.
Recently I flew down to Miami to bring together a global team that was co-located in Uruguay and the United States. I was in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year and could barely remember which city I was flying into. Seeing the sands and clear waters of Miami beach helped, but I was consumed with my business goals for the session and with answering the plethora of e-mail that had piled up. I couldn’t get out of that mindset – until that evening.
The client hosted a dinner for the whole team and included me. The festivities were held on South Beach, Miami at an authentic Cuban restaurant. I sat with a group of team members from Uruguay and Russia and by the end of the night I felt like I was seeing the world in color again. My table mates charmed me with stories of the city of Montevideo, of the food and the late night dancing, and of their connections with the US team. We ate divine food like chicken with citrus glaze, yucca fries, and the best flan I had ever had. And after dinner we went upstairs to partake in Salsa dancing lessons! I tried a little Salsa myself, but I mainly enjoyed watching the advanced dancers whirl around in perfect synchrony, swaying their hips to the music. You can see a sample here:
By the end of the night I remembered why I’m doing all this cross-cultural consulting and training in the first place – because I am rewarded through enrichment. I am taken out of my routine and all of the things that seem so urgent and given a chance to see the world anew. Through cultural diversity I am given inspiration and unique perspectives for which to solve my business issues, and I am also given new dreams to dream. For example, after that night of chatting with my new friends I put Uruguay on my list of travel destinations. I looked the country up on my iPhone World Wiki application and learned something about their government and people. I was recharged and most importantly, I had fun.
I invite you to do the same today and have some fun with the varied cultures in your workplace. Here are a few ideas to spark your thinking:
- Ask what holidays people celebrate and look them up on the Internet
- Ask for a recommendation of your colleagues’ favorite foods and commit yourself to trying one dish this weekend
- Check out a book of folk tales or art from the library and focus on a country that interests you
- Talk to your colleagues on a personal level and listen to their stories
- Attend a dance or play with a multicultural theme
- Use You Tube to watch a concert from another country
The cultures of the world, including our own, provide us with an endless playground of ideas and a wealth of knowledge. All we have to do is grab the opportunity to learn and enjoy!