Many businesses are increasingly operating in a global work environment; using the best teams and people from a variety of regions and countries to complete their projects. In this way they can draw on strengths from certain groups and also minimise costs. Consequently more and more people are working with remote colleagues and collaborating with teams from all over the world. As a result business analysts need to have the ability to embrace differing cultures and working practises in already challenging project situations.
Many people have adopted the term cultural intelligence to describe the attributes a BA requires to be successful in this type of globalised working environment where face-to-face communication is rare.
Dealing with any cultural differences needs to be done right at the start of the project so that everyone involved is clear about the expectations for the project in terms of communication, benefits, shared goals and objectives.
Handling cultural differences requires a level of sincerity and sensitivity from all sides if everyone is to work successfully in a multi-cultural team. Sometimes humour may be appropriate to break the ice and get individuals to open up and be honest about the differences but different working practices may be so ingrained that it is hard to see what the issues are and hard to understand alternative ways of working. Nevertheless it is possible to improve working relationships and to build trust, which, in turn, creates an environment where greater understanding can develop.
It is important to understand that some individuals may be naturally quiet and reticent because that is what is expected from them in their own culture, especially if they hold junior positions. There will be people who will not contribute to group discussions not because they have nothing to contribute but simply because they feel they should not offer their opinions or thoughts publicly to the group. This means there may be times when you, as a business analyst, need to have separate conversations with individuals who are important to the overall success of the project but not forthcoming in meetings.
Engage with other people in the way most likely to elicit their opinions and provide a mutual understanding of what is required. If people from different cultures can learn to understand one another and show respect for the different ways of working it is possible to develop highly effective cross-cultural teams
It is also important in multi-cultural situations that individual roles and responsibilities are made absolutely clear for each person working on the project. Otherwise assumptions could potentially be made that could knock the project off course. It is hard enough dealing with unspoken assumptions on projects when they are being carried out within the same location and working culture; but introduce different locations and cultures and the problem is magnified.
Finally, try and learn about each other on a more personal level to help build trust in the working relationship. Common topics that can be used to build this trust include families, holiday destinations, favourite films and music – even the weather!