Career advice

Cultural diversity in the workplace

by Christina Hubmann - June 7th, 2016

The world of Allianz is colorful and diverse. Allianz offers insurance and fund products in more than 70 countries. Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, the Allianz center for large corporate and specialty risks, for example, is home to more than 5,000 employees from over 70 nationalities in 29 countries. Allianz even celebrates its wide variety of personal and professional backgrounds with ‘Diversity Days’ (this year on June 7, 2016), focusing on the challenges of cross-cultural communication as the workplace is not only the environment to discover the challenges of communicating across cultures, but also the ideal “playground” to further develop and practice the skills needed to bridge cultural differences.

The cultural diversity is already perceptible on basic tasks. Imagine you are located in Europe. On a usual day, you receive emails from the Asian representative in the morning, you might work together with your French colleague during the day and you have a phone call with your team member who’s based in San Francisco as the last point on the agenda.

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Coming from different cultural backgrounds means having diverse experiences, thoughts, cultural understandings and approaches within teams. Diversity provides a greater variety of perspectives and ideas. The benefits of working in global teams with individuals from around the world are obvious – and almost endless.

Communication is key

Knowing the cultural background is key to knowing the rules of engagement, interaction and working with colleagues who grew up in a different country to you. Observe the people around you – do they for example appreciate brainstorming together or do they prefer to sit in their single office?

Providing information accurately and promptly is critical to effective work and team performance. Share your experiences and ways of thinking but don’t forget to ask the people around you as well. Try to overcome your potential small-minded manners. Be prepared for having to try new things and not being able stick to old behaviors.

Value of time

While you may get mad at delays it might just be daily business for your colleague. Cultures differ in how they view time. Different perceptions of time can cause a great misunderstanding, so be prepared for that before you determine the next deadline – it can impact everyday work.

The business world generally runs on the western secular year. But – have you ever thought of how many cultures use other calendars to determine holidays? Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on a different day from western Christians. For Muslims, Friday is a day for prayer. There are endless differences in valuing days, vacation and time in general.

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Get to know the people around you

Empathizing with you colleagues’ cultures, habits and traditions is crucial to make your work easier and more productive. If you have the chance, go out, visit the places your colleagues are coming from, walk the streets, learn the basics of their language, meet locals to get first-hand insight s. Take the chance – It has never been so easy to travel, live or work abroad.

Awareness and acceptance

Coming from very different cultural backgrounds, we all have developed slightly different skills sets. Working successfully in an international team is all about awareness and acceptance. Keep in mind: Just because that’s your way of thinking, it doesn’t mean that everybody will understand you. Just because you’re used to certain styles of communicating, collaborating and working, doesn’t mean that this is the right way to do it. You’re not the middle of the world, even if you sometimes think you are.

What is a matter of course for you might not be obvious for someone sitting right next to you. Take advantage of all the benefits a diverse team in an international and globally working company like Allianz can have. Keep your mind open for new approaches, always question your stand and have the patience and curiosity to explore new ways of doing things.

Cross-cultural team-building

Yes, there are cultural differences and yes, it is very likely that the colleague next to you has a completely different working style, even if you’re working on the same topic. Some cultures are individualists; other cultures value cooperation within or among other teams. Some are better at focusing on hard fact; others are all about adding a human touch to everything they do.

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It can happen that a ‘details and process-loving German guy’ may clash with a more ‘spontaneous and passionate’ Brazilian or the reserved girl from Japan might not get a chance to raise her hand in a meeting with a group of extroverted Americans – just to mention some of the clichés.

But instead of seeing it as a potential source of friction, it’s worth it to treat cultural differences in a team as fruitful exchange. Cross-cultural teams consist of a variety of diverse strengths. And that is the ideal starting point to learn from one another, to improve on the skills you’re lacking in comparison to your peers from overseas and to find the best ways to work towards one common goal.

Christina Hubmann

Global Communications

Christina Hubmann works in the Global Communications team of Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, the Allianz centre of expertise for global business insurance and large corporate and specialty risks. She has a journalism background.

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