Trainers in intercultural issues experience intercultural issues too (Pt. I)

Thursday, September 17, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

frustrationDespite having an intercultural background and 20 years of experience in intercultural settings, I continue to experience issues with communication and expectations when working with colleagues from other cultures.

Recently, I’ve gotten involved in an international education project involving one Colombian, one Indonesian, one Singaporean, one American and one Australian. Like me, they are all teachers and trainers. The Colombian is married to the Indonesian and they’ve been living in the Netherlands for more than 40 years. The American has Greek roots and the Australian is just Australian.

Ever since we started working together, the American would reply almost immediately to my emails, the Australian would do it a couple of days later, and I wouldn’t hear from the other ones. As the leader in this project, it is my role to bring all of us together, so I’ve been calling those who don’t reply to my messages on the phone. Our Skype meetings are a joke. Some never show up whereas some do but then have just 5 minutes to talk.

We all agreed that we would create a cooperative registered in the Netherlands. The colleagues from the Netherlands took care of the administrative issues with a notary, created a back account and had the cooperative registered at the Chamber of Commerce. When the moment to sign up for the cooperative arrived we all were required to send a letter of intent. The Singaporean and I sent our letters straight away. The American wanted to see the terms of the cooperative and make sure that it would not post a potential for lawsuits if something ever went wrong. The Australian said he was sick and assumed that we would understand that he wouldn’t be part of it. We ended up being only four founders for the cooperative – the ones who trusted each other and blindly signed a letter of intent.

As I am the President of the cooperative, I said that the very first step was to create our website. The couple living in the Netherlands referred someone they knew to do it. I then wrote the text for the website and waited for the website to be created. That was in April 2015. The website finally got ready in June. It looked like an amateur, homemade one. I figured that the person working on it was family with the two colleagues from the Netherlands and that he did it as a hobby. Then, I suggested some updates, and sent a file that just needed to be copied and paste into the existing website. He said that it would take 2 or 3 days. After two weeks I asked him about the update –‘don’t worry, it will be ready next week’, he replied. It was not. It took him 3 weeks to update the website while a professional company would have done it in few days and with fewer mistakes.

But how can you tell your associates from implicit and relationship-oriented countries that their brother-in-law is not competent to do this job? How do you get out of this situation knowing that you are all interdependent in this project and that you should get started in few months?  Nothing is ready and they are still taking their time to talk, eat, drink and enjoy life.

To be continued next month…