We are all more mobile than ever and more likely to traverse into cultures different from our own – for reasons of studying, marketing, selling, buying, serving customers, and production of goods: literally, in the old-fashioned way, as business travelers or as onsite assignees; virtually as ‘desk diplomats’ via email, chat, phone, or web-based videoconference in globally dispersed project teams.
Management research considers intercultural competence as an important condition for being successful in international business relationships. Yet, the development and transmission of intercultural competence in global teams has not been established clearly. There are environmental and contextual impediments to the effective application of the requisite intercultural competence skills, knowledge, and attributes often resulting in a gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing.’ My own experience working for more than a decade with several multinational companies shows that there are specific barriers to intercultural competence, mainly the non-availability of interculturally competent personnel within the company and on the external recruiting market, the perceived high costs of all activities associated with management training and coaching, and the difficulty of building an associated business case. This often leads to a situation where the status-quo is preferred and managers are unwilling to act.
As part of my research agenda, I have developed a low-touch self-report indicator, the MICE Mysore Intercultural Effectiveness Indicator. It helps project managers answer the question if an effective global team has been formed.
MICE provides two scales measuring intercultural effectiveness across the boundaries defined by cultural groups. Such boundaries – also called faultlines – split a global team into sub-teams based on certain cultural attributes and provide an informal structure for intercultural conflict. The two MICE scales examine how team members feel and behave when these faultlines are crossed. Or, in the words of the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall who remarked back in 1976: “Understanding oneself and understanding others are closely related processes. To do one, you must start with the other, and vice versa”.
The first MICE scale helps to understand the effectiveness in interacting and collaborating with foreign counterparts by providing an answer to the question ‘how I think I am with them.’ It is made up of four dimensions: (1) Ability to accept cultural differences; (2) Avoidance of psychological stress; (3) Successfulness of communication; and (4) Establishing of interpersonal relationships.
The second scale gives an indication about the satisfaction with appropriateness of communication from the foreign counterparts, and the outcome of the collaboration. It gives an answer to the question ‘how I think they are with me.’ It adds another two dimensions to the MICE framework: (5) Appropriateness of communication; and (6) Results of collaboration.
A test run in several international companies with live data helped to validate the indicator using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. The results are published in Vol. 8 / Issue 1 (2015) of the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, an internationally ranked journal by ABDC, NSD, and PBN. Have a look at the research journal: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/IJMPB-05-2014-0044; or the implementation of MICE and its various reports: http://www.globusresearch.com/MICE-Mysore-InterCultural-Effectiveness-Indicator.aspx
Now, what does it mean for the organization and the individual caught in international assignments? The organization benefits from acquiring insights into global team dynamics; gaining an understanding of the strengths as well as deficiencies of its global teams; and being able to pinpoint the root cause for possible team conflicts, misunderstandings, or performance problems. The researchers Preston G. Smith and Emily L. Blanck confirm this in a research article in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (2002, Vol. 19): “An effective team depends on open, effective communication, which in turn depends on trust among members.” But measuring the intercultural effectiveness is not an end in itself. On the one hand, an individual global worker can get a greater understanding of self and foreign counterparts and use the results as a starting point for improving own intercultural communication skills; the individual is better equipped to become more effective by reducing anxiety and stress stemming from intercultural collaboration. On the other hand, an international organization can identify which training and/or coaching measures will be effective in order to help them cope with unexpected events in another culture.
And what does it mean for you, as an aspiring Indian MBA student? Have you travelled internationally before? Have you worked internationally? Looking at the continuing growth of India’s export-oriented industries like IT and BPO, you will be likely to jump into an international role right after your graduation. As a business school, we have an obligation to prepare you for a global world, which is often dream to be flat – but in reality full of barriers. At MYRA School of Business, we not only recruit a good proportion of our faculty from leading institutions around the world, we also have active exchange programs with business schools in the U.S. and in Europe. You are going to experience how different styles of teaching, evaluation, and faculty-student interaction will open your eye for intercultural differences – a realization of culturally driven behavior which can later be most valuable at the workplace. And last but not least, I am also offering an elective course on International Management where we will be talking in much more depth about the challenges highlighted in this short article. Please see http://www.myra.ac.in/overview-m for an overview of what you can expect at MYRA School of Business in Mysore!
Dr. Wolfgang Messner is Associate Professor of International Management at MYRA School of Business and Director of GloBus Research in Mysore/India.
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