Happy New Year?

image 3013Over the course of this week and next, those celebrating the New Year will be returning to work. In places like the UK, the Christmas break may have been an extended two weeks. By contrast, in India, New Year became a sombre occasion in the wake of a shocking death.

The varied celebrations are a reminder to those of us working in a global context not to assume that others are celebrating in the same way as we are – or indeed even that calendars fall at the same time.

Some regular readers of this blog will remember that in the summer, Phil Stockbridge visited the Rainbows4Children charity in Ethiopia. Just before Christmas, one of the founders dropped us a line to let us know that they have been preparing for the arrival of a large container which is carrying the equipment and furniture for their new science laboratories, ready to be opened on January 7 – Christmas day in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar.

The Chinese New Year is perhaps the most famous variation on New Year, since there are large communities celebrating in many of the World’s major cities – and one which we’ll be looking forward to (on February 10) this year.

But in November last year, even we were caught out when Tim Mitchell was due to facilitate a training in a North African country. It was co-ordinated by the company’s US parent, and so many people had wanted to sign up that Tim agreed to run two courses. But when the dates and venues were announced, only a handful of people booked on each.

The first day was great fun, hugely productive, with a really engaged, enthusiastic and determined group of delegates. Tim closed the first day, meaning it particularly wholeheartedly when he said that he looked forward to seeing them again the following day. The delegates looked slightly bewildered. Surely, they asked, he meant Thursday rather than the following day.

It transpired that it was New Year there – which, of course, explained the reluctance of people to attend. Fortunately, Tim had arranged to stay in Europe rather than return to America ahead of his next assignment, and was able to reshuffle arrangements. The course was successfully delivered, and Tim enjoyed a little time sightseeing in a country he hadn’t previously visited.

The deeper lesson for all of us is to look a little deeper rather than assuming when working in a cross cultural environment. Working across national and cultural borders means we have to develop relationships that allow people to break with social norms in their own country/culture, allowing them to share information that they may not have, knowing that it will be received in the spirit in which it’s intended and not seen as a breach of status protocol.

This can be a massive act of trust. In the case Tim shared with us, challenging the head office assumption that people would be prepared to work on official days off could, in some places/cultures, be seen as a career-limiting move.

So if you’re one of those people who makes New Year’s resolutions, perhaps this year’s could be investing in developing those relationships, understanding and working together on working around cultural differences?

If you are somewhere that’s just celebrated the coming of a New Year, may we, at Global Integration, wish you a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

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