I am a facilitator. It is one of my strengths. Now having said that, I also realize I have a western viewpoint that quite frankly I have to work with at times. What does that have to do with anything? Well, my natural approach to meetings is to drive a meeting to accomplish goals and ensure I get my audience from A to B. In fact, I take pride in such an accomplishment. However, I have learned over the years the importance of understanding my leaders, culture and team make-up. On the surface this may be obvious, however let me “peel the onion” a little to clarify a few points. Different cultures have different expectations of meetings.
Some cultures expect that meetings should be formal, They see the meeting as a key management tool for debate and a place for decision-making. Other cultures expect that meetings should be mostly informal and unstructured with a focus on relationship building.
Now overlay this with different organizational cultures!
As a result, clarifying meeting expectations, approach and norms before a meeting especially if you are conducting a meeting with representatives from different countries, is so important. There are three major areas where cultural differences have an impact on expectations of the meeting purpose:
1. Tasks vs. Relationships
In a relationship-oriented culture the relationship needs to be strong before the task can be accomplished. Task-oriented cultures have a tendency to ignore relationship issues in their quest to get the task done. What is important to understand is that the task is important in both cultures and hence does occur in both cultures. What is different is that the tasks start at different points. Therefore when faced with these different “values” especially with different cultures, it is important to have time to establish some level of relationship before launching into tasks, negotiations or new business.
2. Informal vs Formal
In some cultures meetings are formal and structured – roles and responsibilities are well-defined and it is expected that an outcome will be achieved by the end of the meeting. However in other cultures meetings are more informal and “free-flowing”. As a result, again it is really important to discuss the expectations and your intent of the meeting at the beginning of your meeting.
3. Information synthesis vs. Information exchange
Now this is an important point to really understand. Some cultures see meetings to synthesize information so that you can attain a decision within the meeting. However, some cultures see meetings in a total opposite way- they see meetings to exchange information and the decision is often made outside the meeting. Again, you can see why it is so important to voice or make visible the meeting intent before the meeting.
So next time you are conducting a meeting, not only should you think about the meeting purpose but you should also think about the cultural nature of your participants.
Thank you for visiting. I would love to hear from you and your experience. Do encourage others to join in and share.
Photo by Funchye
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