A recent discussion at The Braintrust Knowledge Management Group asked how cultural dimensions affect learning and knowledge sharing. I really like Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars' book "Building Cross-Cultural Competence" as a basis for understanding the challenges and opportunities you face and Hall's "Values Technology" approach to leveraging the differences.
This issue is further complicated, complexified and/or mitigated by the uniqueness of organizational, professional and departmental cultures—and don't forget that there are often nested subcultures to these as well. For example, Japanese are said to have a very unique and cohesive culture that permeates their corporate behaviors. However, when I studied Japanese corporations invested in the US, I found huge differences between, say, Hitachi, Ricoh, Toyota and Seiko. I also found every site and subsidiary had unique attributes based on the character of the managers, the local staff, the region, etc., as all these agents and communities "co-evolve."
I used to write extensively about such issues in global business and focused on the KM angle in a 1999 article for Knowledge Management magazine called "Managing Knowledge Across Borders," which I will repost here.
- Decide what kind of company you are: multi-national, international, global—or transnational.
- Design KM systems that adapt to local conditions.
- Map the cultural roadblocks.
- Anticipate miscommunication in multicultural teams.
- Optimize your corporate culture for knowledge sharing by understanding and leveraging inherent values.
- It may be more important to be sensitive to corporate cultures than to ethnic cultures.
- Be sensitive to the different subcultures of functional competencies within the corporation.