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May 2014

Cultural Synergies is working more and more in the Knowledge Transfer (KT) space.  Recently we were approached by a long-standing client to help bring a KT project to closure.  The project was not proceeding to plan and there was significant frustration on the part of the knowledge senders as well as the knowledge receivers. This specific project involved a manufacturing client based in Western Europe working with an outsourcing company based in the Asia Pacific region. nbsp;

Prior to taking any action to get the project back on track, we undertook a quick review with the client to determine the things that had 'gone well' and the 'lessons learned' for the work undertaken to date.  Below are some insights that I thought were worthwhile sharing with you.  You may be surprised at how simple some of the issues were but for KT to be really successful it is important to get lots of the small things 'right'.

Some of the transition challenges experienced included:

  • Language barriers were not identified in the earlier stages, causing a significant delay in identifying the resources and arranging for translators at several locations simultaneously
  • Public holidays were not accommodated for in the initial stages 
  • Documents were not produced in local languages
  • Past experiences weren't shared
  • Training was only provided in class room sessions rather than on the job
  • There was a lack of engagement in the early phases from the sending team that was largely due to cultural issues, rather than a lack of skills and knowledge
  • Individuals in the receiving team were perceived to be performing multitask roles and not focusing specifically on the one project at hand

Cultures that are high on the avoidance scale may not be forthcoming in speaking up in particular settings or when singled out. Collectivist cultures prefer training that allows for personal interaction and trust to be generated.  Just as employees who are from individualist /monochronic cultures tend to work to deadlines, be more assertive in their communication and will be motivated to work for their own benefit. Polychronic cultures are more inclined to multitask and have a different relationship to time. They may not work the traditional 9 -5pm, rather, a 10am start maybe preferred and the end time is whenever the tasks of the day are completed.

Of course I am generalising, but I am sure that you understand the gist of what I am saying.  We are all motivated by different drivers, we have different styles and preferences of communication, different relationships to time and hierarchy, different approaches to conflict such as avoidance and confrontation, our work styles vary etc.  Fundamentally when we are working with people of different cultures we need to be mindful of what we often refer to as the 'right way' and the 'wrong way' and remember that there are just different 'ways'. 

Given that much of the knowledge transfer that is currently taking place is across borders, it isn't surprising that cultural differences are having significant impacts on processes and outcomes. Cultural differences need to be bridged early, of course remembering that what and how these differences will be bridged is dependent on which cultures are interacting.  I urge knowledge transfer leaders to document the challenges, successes and lessons learned because this is all valuable data that can benefit future projects.

Stay tuned for our discussion paper -  Cultural Intelligence for Knowledge Transfer Teams in the Asia Pacific Region.

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Best Wishes
Tom Verghese

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