Collaboration between Diverse Teams;
Bridging the African-Israeli Cultural Gap
I recently had the privilege of conducting a cross-cultural communication workshop for SkyVision employees from West Africa and Central Africa, together with their colleagues in Israel. As an organizational consultant specializing in Israeli business culture and its differences from other cultures around the globe, I decided the best approach would be to start by giving the Africans the stage to share their local culture, as well as their challenges in working with Israelis.
Culture can be defined in many different ways: the characteristics and mindset of a certain group, everything from language, religion, food, habits, arts and more to values, beliefs and social norms. It is a combination of what we see above the surface, including our verbal and non-verbal communication, and—even more important—what exists below the surface, such as our underlying assumptions and worldview.
At one point in the workshop, I divided the participants into three groups according to their country of origin: West Africans, Central Africans and Israelis. I asked each group to think together about the ten main values and cultural characteristics in their own country. Here are their lists
The discussion about the similarities and the differences in each group was illuminating; however, most notable was the conversation between the West African and Central African participants. Due to their high diversity (for example, some countries have more than 200 languages), they felt free to speak openly and honestly about the difficulties in Africa and the differences between them. This multiplicity is both one of Africa’s greatest beauties and one of its biggest obstacles to becoming a stronger continent.
We learned in the workshop that each country in Africa is represented by an animal. Cameron, for example, is a lion, Burkina Faso a horse, the Ivory Coast an elephant, and so forth. We Israelis thought to ourselves: which animal would best represent Israel? One of the participants said “cat” and I liked that idea, since we always land on our feet. But we decided we also had to consider the small size of our country, so maybe it would be better to go with an ant because we are so diligent, or perhaps a bee because we make so much noise and never-ending buzz…
Israelis need to be heard all the time. We are constantly confronting one another, and with a lot of emotion. West Africans and Central Africans can also get quite emotional when speaking to each other, but some of them are more comfortable with that trait than others. I had our participants add their nations’ flags on a printed map of Erin Meyer’s four-quadrant matrix (see below). Note how the African countries are not just culturally divergent from Israel but from one another as well.
(Read more about this matrix in my blog about negotiations in Israel http://olm-consulting.com/negotiations-in-israel/ or in the original Harvard Business Review article https://hbr.org/2015/12/getting-to-si-ja-oui-hai-and-da)
In our enriching workshop we also spoke about:
- The challenge of working with Israelis due to the Israeli culture of improvisation, thinking outside the box all the time and making endless changes.
- The fact that Africans tend to use an indirect style of speech to show respect for higher-ups in the organization hierarchy.
The most important thing is to work with empathy and to understand that people from different countries have different values. We need to communicate with high cultural intelligence in order to build a diverse team in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This means keeping an open mind, maximizing each culture’s strong points and not taking offense about behavior you wouldn’t usually consider “normal,” “polite” or “necessary.”
It was my pleasure sharing and receiving so much knowledge. Thank you, SkyVision management and employees, for the effort you put into building diverse teams. It is obviously paying off and contributing to your success.
For more information about OLM workshops and other services, past blogs or “Israeli Business Culture,” my bestselling book on Amazon, please browse the relevant pages on my website (www.olm-consulting.com). And always feel free to contact me with any question or request, at firstname.lastname@example.org.