The culturally intelligent organization

Feb 27 2013 by David Livermore Print This Article

Most of us know what a culturally intelligent individual looks like. We have more than 15 years of research that answers that question. And we can predict someone's global potential in light of their CQ scores. But what does a culturally intelligent organization look like?

This is one of the key frontiers in the cultural intelligence research. And we can learn a great deal from others' insights and research on organizational factors that promote effectiveness in our globalized world.

In his book Love and Profit, James Autry famously argued that "profits" are like "breathing": they are absolutely essential but not something you spend much time thinking about.

People develop habits, circumstances, and environments that effect their health and wellness (breathing!). And organizations develop disciplines, environments, and circumstances that influence profits. An organization without revenue dies. But it's the invisible environment that often makes the difference of whether an organization is profitable or not.

Here are some of the key characteristics of a culturally intelligent environment:

1. Trust

"The people in the New York office just don't understand us…The team in Mexico just won't follow through in time."

Mutual distrust is one of the first things to occur when cultural differences are present. Trust is built intuitively among people from similar backgrounds. But follow-through and reliability are the key determining factors for creating trust among multicultural teams - especially when they're dispersed geographically.

So culturally intelligent organizations create structures and cycles where members deliver specific results in a coherent sequence. And they're places where leaders know how to build trust among people with different value orientations.

2. Engagement

Team members from culturally intelligent organizations are more fully engaged in their work. When you work at a place where your manager understands how to motivate you, gather your input, and support you to do your job, it drives you to be far more productively engaged. And when you interact with team members who value what your different perspective offers, it causes you to lean in and speak up more fully.

So culturally intelligent organizations provide multiple ways for team members to participate and offer input. And they're places where leaders know how to leverage the diversity on their teams to produce innovative results and solutions.

3. Influence

Culturally intelligent organizations are places where employees have learned how to wield influence on their peers. And they can even find ways to positively influence supervisors, vendors and clients, regardless of the cultural backgrounds involved.

Culturally intelligent organizations promote individuals who are effective working across cultures. And they make a point to highlight the individual's effectiveness working across cultures when they announce the promotion.

4. Authenticity

Working in a culturally diverse environment can often be fatiguing. It sometimes feels like you have to continually adapt to everyone else's preferences. But a culturally intelligent organization is a place that encourages people to be comfortable in their own skin while learning which behaviors and procedures need to be adjusted.

Culturally intelligent organizations have a strong sense of their own identity. They've identified the non-negotiable aspects of their corporate culture and policies. And they've learned how to enact those values and policies in various cultural contexts.

5. Positive Intent

Psychologists say we're naturally inclined to view others suspiciously. It's called the fundamental attribution error: "If my cell phone rings during a movie, it's because I have a family emergency going on. If yours does, it's because you're an inconsiderate jerk."

We're most susceptible to this line of thinking when interacting with people who are different from us.

Culturally intelligent organizations create a culture of positive intent by hiring managers and associates who are committed to assuming the best first. They're places where people stop to consider whether an "inconsiderate behavior" might be a result of a cultural difference before assuming something else is going on.

We need to continue the quest of researching what makes a culturally intelligent organization. But these factors are a few of the essential characteristics of a culturally intelligent environment. And there's no better way to create this kind of environment than to hire and develop culturally intelligent people. I'd love to hear your additions to my list!

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About The Author

David Livermore
David Livermore

David Livermore is a thought leader in cultural intelligence (CQ) and global leadership and the author of "Leading with Cultural Intelligence". He is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan and a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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Leaders seek to gain input and feedback from employees and guests of various backgrounds to make the best business decisions.

Juanita H. Nanez Dallas, TX