Fostering multicultural collaboration and a global mindset

Fostering multicultural collaboration and a global mindset

When I was 23, I took a job opportunity that plucked me away from my French culture and comfort zone and brought me to Sweden, where I was suddenly surrounded by colleagues with very different cultural and professional etiquettes. This led to numerous challenges and confusions. My team’s continuously cool composure in the face of crises, for example, made it hard for me to gauge the urgency of situations, as the emphatic verbal cues I relied on when communicating with French colleagues were suddenly replaced with neutral tones. A cultural barrier had emerged, and it would take me a couple of months of continuous efforts to adapt to this new culture and start to bridge the gap.

Now a senior director in an international company like Adobe and working across Europe, I see challenges arising from similar cultural gaps every day as we work across countries and cultures. Let’s discuss how we can bridge these gaps to promote multicultural collaboration and a global mindset.

Professional behavioral patterns are culturally inherited

It’s important not to stereotype employees based on where they’re from but instead acknowledge that each employee inherits specific behavioral patterns from their culture without realizing it. Because how we act and communicate is deeply ingrained in our cultural upbringing, education, and daily habits, it naturally influences our behavior at work too.

Let’s take an example — speaking to a colleague in the office.

As a French woman, my conversations naturally take a formal register, addressing a colleague as Madame or Monsieur, followed by their surname, and using the polite vouvoiement tone. In France, this is a polite and respectful way to communicate. My British colleagues address each other by their first name, use colloquialisms like, “Hi” or, “Morning,” and start conversations with a line of chit-chat like, “I hope you had a lovely weekend” or, “How’s your week going?” In the UK, speaking as equals and taking an interest in each other’s personal lives is considered polite and respectful. The communication style of my Nordic colleagues varies yet again, often diving straight in with their work-related questions. Efficiency translates as politeness, as unnecessarily taking up someone’s time would be disrespectful. The intention is the same in each scenario, but the approach is different.

Over my 20-year international career, I have learned to identify and interpret these professional etiquettes — but I still remember when my 23-year-old self was left feeling confounded by these differences in communication. Back then, I would likely have leaned on stereotypes and cliches to make assumptions about my colleagues and their preferred ways of interacting. I might have presumed that colleagues from the Southwest of Europe (say Italy or Spain) would have similar learned mannerisms and professional etiquette as myself because we share a “south” culture. My assumption would have been incorrect.

So how do we increase our exposure to different cultures, preserve our individuality, and build a global mindset? And what are the benefits of doing so?

Work designs to bridge cultural gaps

Of course, the solution would never be to only work with colleagues from the same cultural background as yourself or expect everyone to behave the same. I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of working with colleagues from across the globe. I’ve witnessed more diverse teams exhibit more creativity, demonstrate more flexibility, process facts more carefully, and ultimately make better decisions.

Instead, when team members recognize, understand, and take the best of each other’s cultures and approaches, we can use diversity to boost creativity and innovation. When we consciously adapt our interactions to bridge cultural gaps, ideas, knowledge, and ways of working can be freely exchanged. As such, team leaders must promote diversity awareness training and cross-cultural communication to improve cultural intelligence.

And work design should support this too.

In the post-pandemic world, our new hybrid work model and the digitization of our working day means we roll from one virtual meeting to another. There is little to no time for summaries, rarely are the main points reiterated or clarified, and rarely are written minutes distributed. Add to that the inability to read physical cues or body language that comes with speaking through a screen and the likelihood of misunderstanding purely verbal communication (particularly within a multicultural team) is considerably increased. That’s why your work design has to allow for cross-cultural communication.

For example, my team is a celebration of diversity. It includes members from across Europe, each of whom has inherited cultural behavioral patterns that (unconsciously) influence their ways of working. We broker deals with colleagues across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India, who are also affected by their own unique cultural best practices.

And yet, because my team consciously acknowledges their different cultural backgrounds and the benefits that come with this, they take this into consideration when communicating internationally.

Our work design has fostered collaboration, and we have adopted — as best we can — guidelines to promote an inclusive environment:

We also favor clear-cut written communication to avoid verbal ambiguities. Written communication, while stylistically different across cultures, is at least clear and concise — and would have really helped me while working in Sweden all those years ago.

In my experience, overcoming cultural differences and language barriers is achievable if we carefully document workflows and communication. By adopting a written alignment, my team and I have removed the challenges of oral communication and interpretation. Instead, people are clear on — and committed to — the actions they need to take.

Championing a global mindset

When thinking about diversity and inclusion across Adobe Professional Services, I’m proud to see the many ways that the business, our software, and our people facilitate cross-cultural collaboration and champion a global mindset.

Adobe supports an inclusive, open, and actively engaged community, deliberately hiring individuals like me with extensive international experience to help cultivate authentic relationships with both colleagues internally and clients externally, regardless of learned cultural etiquette.

Get in touch today to learn more about inclusion in the workplace or Adobe Professional Services. You can also read more about how Adobe is creating an environment where all talent can be creative, innovative, and successful here.

Mathilde Henry is a visionary leader, overseeing all operations presales and sales for Adobe Professional Services EMEA. She has managed large-scale projects, introduced a disruptive business model, steered a transition to digital management, and commanded a radical business restructure. Her global mindset, paired with extensive international experience and strong emotional intelligence, positions her to excel in fast-paced, diverse settings and communicate clearly and persuasively.