As companies grow, communication becomes more and more complex. This is due to the increase of headcount, resulting on an exponential number of potential connections between different individuals. Another aspect to add to this complexity is that as the company grows, it is likely to become more diverse. This increase in diversity is great because it provides new points of view, alternative framings and minimises blind-spots for organisations. However, general communication, behaviours, expectations and, especially implicit understanding, become more challenging between people from different backgrounds.
Signal AI‘s headcount and has grown significantly over the last few years with offices in London, New York and Hong Kong and we have an incredibly diverse workforce with people from all different types of backgrounds. Just as an example, the Data Science function has had more nationalities than people for several years now. For those of you asking how is this possible, several members have multiple nationalities that did not overlap with anyone else.
One of my main responsibilities is to help people grow as best as I can. Because of this, I have explicitly focused a large part of my personal learning to improve my communication. This post focuses on some of my reflections on one of the best books about communication and management I have read in a while: The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer.
The book’s main idea is that although each individual is completely different, our background and environment have a major impact on our behaviours and expectations, especially in relation to communication. The book focuses on the geographical context and its core framework is a categorisation of different countries across eight dimensions:
- Communicating: Low-context (i.e., no implicit common understanding) vs high-context
- Evaluating: Direct negative feedback vs indirect negative feedback
- Persuading: Principles-first (i.e., starting from the foundational building blocks) vs application-first (i.e., applying techniques without fully grasping the underlying concepts)
- Leading: Egalitarian vs Hierarchical
- Deciding: Consensual vs top-down
- Trusting: Task-based vs relationship-based
- Disagreeing: Confrontational vs avoid conflict
- Scheduling: Linear-time (i.e., 5pm means 5:00pm, not 5:06pm) vs flexible-time
In addition to this geographical segmentation (which I have no doubt is the most impactful one), I would add that certain specific professions could create a shift on the values of some of the dimensions presented in the book. For instance, after interacting with many academics from all across the world over the years, it is very clear to me that we are very biased towards direct feedback, despite where we were born. I believe this is a natural effect of the scientific method and the peer-review process in particular where feedback is provided very directly (some times brutally so).
Another personal reflection on the book is that the majority of management and leadership books that I have been exposed to over the last years teach mainly communication techniques and styles most associated with the Anglo-Saxon world (especially US). While this is not surprising given the historical context, we have to be very aware that the gravity center of business and power is quickly moving away from this historical dominance. Therefore, the ways of doing business worldwide are likely to change significantly in the coming decades.
To wrap up, the culture map it is a must-read for all leaders operating in a global world. Also, I think the book will even be useful for people working in mono-cultural teams given that the examples of misunderstanding through the book are a great source of inspiration for people working on their empathy and EQ.