Wow! When I think of being part of ACSI’s international Christian school movement, I think, “Wow!” Worldwide, ASCI serves 5.5 million children in 26,000 schools and with member schools in 108 countries and regional offices in 28 countries. I’ve been part of that, having served for over 30 years at 3 ASCI member schools in Japan.
One of the blessings of international Christian education is serving with Christians from all over the globe. I’ve been blessed to have served with Christians from New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Brazil, the UK, Russia, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Canada, India, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, and the US. It’s a foretaste of Revelations 7:9 (ESV): “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “’Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
And while it’s truly a blessing to serve with others from different nations, from different cultures, it’s also a challenge. Why? Because, for example, Christians from different cultures have a variety of perspectives and practices:
- Do meetings start precisely at 9:00 (Germany) or around 9:00 (Nigeria)?
- Are decisions made by the group (Japan) or by the leader (US)?
- When being evaluated, do staff prefer direct negative feedback (Netherlands) or indirect negative feedback (Korea)?
- When there is disagreement, do staff confront (Denmark) or avoid confrontation (Brazil)?
Enhancing unity in a national Christian school is a challenge, and enhancing unity in an international Christian school is a challenge with its own special complications. When I think of enhancing unity in an international Christian school (which is a multicultural organization), questions that come to mind include:
- What’s our perspective on unity (in a school with a multicultural staff)?
- What’s our school’s current level of unity?
- In terms of the current level of unity, how is our school’s culture perfectly designed to get the results we are getting?
- What are potential sources of tension in terms of cultural backgrounds/practices like communicating, evaluating, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, scheduling, and persuading? (To learn more, read The Culture Map and complete this assessment.)
- To increase unity, what do we need to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing?
- What mindsets, models, and processes could help us as we work to increase unity?
- How could working on unity be effortless?
Recently, I consulted for an international Christian school leadership team. The 4 members represented 3 countries (from 3 different continents), 2 of the members were married to citizens of the host country, and all 4 of the members had lived in the host country for quite a while. First, we mapped out possible sources of tension in terms of working geniuses and by personality types.
Then, we mapped out possible sources of tension in terms of cultural practices related to communicating, evaluating, deciding, disagreeing, and scheduling (in terms of planning and in terms of following meeting agendas). We identified that while the team had similar views on evaluating and disagreeing, there was a range of views on communication, deciding, and scheduling. I really enjoyed the interaction, and participants shared that mapping possible sources of tension was helpful!
What about you? What’s your experience with working with people from other cultures? When you think of enhancing unity in your international Christian school, what questions come to mind? How can you enhance unity in your international Christian school?
Here are some related blog posts:
- What helps you build a unified culture in a multicultural organization?
- As a leader, what’s it take to build organizational unity?
- How does integrity impact unity?
- How do you maintain unity when you are frustrated with someone?
- What happens when Christian organizations are not deeply unified?
- How can you increase unity in your Christian organization?
P.S. Bonus! Here’s a list of 8 quotations from things I’ve read that contain the word multicultural or multinational:
- “For multinationals, the potential payoff of integrating employees with overseas experience into their workforce is huge” (The Untapped Value of Overseas Experience).
- “The advantage to having people from all over the world on a team is that you may find that you have more innovation and creativity, and that you’re closer to your local markets. The disadvantage is that multinational teamwork is usually a lot less efficient than monocultural teamwork” (Erin Meyer Can Make Your Global Team Work).
- “On a multicultural team, most misunderstanding takes place between people who come from two high-context cultures with entirely different roots, such as the Brazilians communicating with the Chinese” (The Culture Map, p. 55).
- “Fortunately, if you are leading a multicultural team, there’s no need to count the number of team members from the left and right hand of the scale and multiply by the number of members to figure out what to do. There is just one easy strategy to remember: Multicultural teams need low-context processes” (The Culture Map, p. 55).
- “If you are leading a multicultural team, figuring out how to get all the group members to express their ideas openly and comfortably may be a challenge. Here are some strategies that can help. First, if you’re the boss, consider skipping the meeting” (The Culture Map, p. 210).
- “I’ve devoted my career to studying communication in multinational organizations and on global teams. Over and over again, Asian and European business professionals ask me the same thing: ‘Why do Americans speak so much in meetings?’” (How Not to Run a Meeting with Your International Colleagues)
- “…multinational companies need to think hard about how to prepare their managers to adapt their leadership style to be effective in all the different countries they might be working in, and that’s complex“ (Erin Meyer Can Make Your Global Team Work).
- “Most multinational companies think, ‘Cultural differences, that’s about how to exchange business cards, or what kind of gifts to buy,’ instead of recognizing that [managing these differences] is really about understanding psychology—the subtle differences in what types of arguments we find persuasive and what leads us to trust a person from another part of the world. Companies often put someone in a leadership role abroad simply because that person was a top performer at home. They think, ‘This guy’s a dynamo, let’s give him more responsibility.’ But sometimes, the people who have been the most successful in their own culture—especially, for instance, if they’re over 40, and they’ve had some 20 years of thorough conditioning on how to succeed—struggle when put in charge of a team in another country because it calls into question much of what they have learned over their career” (Erin Meyer Can Make Your Global Team Work).