Synergy is the key to effectively utilizing diversity in an organization. Synergistic management strategy recognizes cultural difference and similarity and views it as a resource. Difference and similarity have the same weight of importance. There are many ways to live and work; which way is best depends on the situation.
Most management practices are one of four basic approaches. By themselves, these approaches may be appropriate actions to take. However, they do not necessarily create synergy. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
For example, managers can choose to maintain their existing behaviors and approaches. These were learned at home, and sometimes the manager truly believes they are the right way. This can potentially cost business relationships. Even so, it can sometimes be the best choice — especially when ethics are involved. Conversely, managers can attempt to blend in with the cultures in which they find themselves. This can be effective for creating business in the target culture. On the other hand, it can cause a gap with the original culture.
Blending the first two creates a compromise. The danger with this approach is that it can alienate stakeholders still immersed in the home culture. This is usually true if others believe the manager is sacrificing too much.
Cultural conflict can also simply be ignored or avoided. Managers can allow cultural practices or behaviors to pass uncontested. Sometimes, the cost of this kind of avoidance is low. That means this can be a useful approach, especially when the potential gain from maintaining business is high.
Synergy is different from these approaches because it creates a new system for addressing problems. Synergy can mean combining these approaches in various ways. Or, it can mean coming up with something entirely new. Either way, it does not ignore or minimizes the problem. Instead, it consciously leverages difference as a resource to be creatively used.
There are three steps managers and team leaders can use to create a problem solving approach that builds synergy:
Describe the situation: include both a recognition of the problem and the perspectives of all cultures involved. Avoid interpretation or evaluation; just describe the problem, drawing in as many perspectives as possible.
Culturally interpret the situation: Recognize historical and cultural assumptions and implications. Question what is motivating behaviors. Remember that all behavior is rational from that person’s perspective. Draw on multiple perspectives to illuminate that rationale.
Increase cultural creativity: Learn how to enhance effectiveness and productivity from other cultures. Also, try to find ways to effectively combine and leverage the various cultures involved in a situation. Look for opportunities to equalize advantages and disadvantages so that all involved can bring forward their best thoughts and abilities. Seize opportunities to make everyone happy without compromising anything that truly matters to any party involved. Think outside the box created by your own cultural perspectives!
What problem have you solved using intercultural synergy?
Adler, N.J. and Gundersen, A. (2002). International dimensions of organizational behavior. Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.