Tools To Manage People Across Continents



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  • I recently came across a powerful model by Professor Ronnie Lessem, called the Four Worlds Model. I find the model extremely useful in understanding how to manage and work with people across different continents. Lessem argues that we should focus on the strengths of the different cultures we are exposed to. If we are born into one culture we might tend think that our way of seeing the world is the best way, wondering why others can’t be a bit more like ourselves. The temptation might be to try and force others to think and behave in ways we consider to be acceptable.

    In the Four Worlds Model, the UK and USA are considered to be pragmatic with high verbal intelligence. Europeans are seen as rational with logical intelligence, while Asians are perceived as being highly skilled in intrapersonal skills and Africans as being humanistic with a highly social intelligence. Although the model could be criticized for being a gross generalisation, I do believe it to be a useful framework that can help us understand how to tap into the different strengths of other cultures. Another gap in the model could be the exclusion of Middle Eastern, Russian, South American, Scandinavian and Australasian cultures. The model could perhaps be extended to include intelligences from these corners of the world. Yet, using this model as a framework, can help us as managers become more patient in our understanding of different cultures and manage with more of a global mind set.

    Tools to Manage People across Continents

    Another powerful tool to facilitate the understanding of different cultures is found in the book, The Culture Map – Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer. Meyerprovides a field-tested model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business. She suggests that culture can me mapped across the following dimensions: communication, evaluation, persuasion, leading, deciding, trusting, confrontation and time management. Being on different spectrums on the continuum of these dimensions could well be the reason why we are experiencing conflict and frustrations across cultures. Her book is highly recommended.

    The illustration below applies the modelto German, French, Chinese and Japanese cultures.

    Tools to Manage People across Continents-EBS

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    Sonja Swart
    Adjunct Faculty – Eaton Business School

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