Internal and cross-cultural communication in a multinational organisation
Communication Apr 24, 2020
Communications is often stripped down to the simple sharing of information between two or more individuals, groups or systems. However, when properly utilised—it can be the catalyst that energises a business or organisation into a thriving community of success-seeking individuals.
This is something I’ve come to realise in almost a decade of grappling with communications and how it affects the world around us and the organisations that we’re part of. Whether it was amid the loud, clanging warehouse of a metal factory, the sweet, soothing tones of a music shop, or the exciting, busy and challenging financial year of a multinational organisation—communication has held its golden weight of importance throughout my career.
Why internal communications matters
Being part of a large, multi-national organisation means that there’s a whole orchestra of different departments that need to play the same tune, in the same key. From sales and support to research and development, to human resources, marketing and customer relations, each colleague within these functions need to be aligned and focused on the same message that the organisation wishes to present.
This is where it becomes difficult to break down silos and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Because of the pace of business in the SAAS (software as a service) field, it becomes rather tricky to look up every now and then and ensure that you’re informed about what’s going on in the business, including all that lifeblood internal communication that houses purposeful, goal-oriented and value driven information.
It’s vital that each colleague in the organisation knows and understands what the business stands for, what it aims to achieve and what it represents.
Internal communication as a concept refers to any communication that influences and impacts on the goals, tasks and inclusion of the individuals within the organisation.
And so it specifically goes beyond just communicating purposeful instructions or information that pertains to the organisation, and extends to the informal chats we have, the small projects we get involved in and the even the gossip within the organisation. Internal communication is the engine that keeps the organisation working and breathing.
It’s about more than simply distributing messages through internal communication channels. Tapping into each department on a regular basis is critical, and getting feedback from them on how they’re experiencing the organisation, gauging their level of communication satisfaction, and understanding what value they feel they’re adding to our customers is an absolute must.
This not only ensures that they feel like they’re part of the company’s business and communications strategy, but also keeps them engaged, focused and happy.
Navigating cross-cultural communication
The ways in which different cultures communicate varies, even if it’s within the same organisation (whether it’s multinational or domestic). This is because there are deep-seeded values, beliefs, customs and rituals that constitute an individual’s frame of reference.
From their national culture (the country they’re from) to their social culture and religion, each person’s view of the world and how it affects the way they send and receive communication is determined by these varying lenses that we collectively call culture.
When you construct a communications strategy that carefully considers cross-cultural communication, you’re already taking gigantic steps towards a more respectful, inclusive and satisfied workforce.
However, as much as cross-cultural communication can be an organisation’s strength through the diversity of ideas, exchange of varying opinions and multiple levels of innovation, it may also become a barrier to managers and colleagues if cultural context is ignored.
Within a multinational organisation, for example, communications or information sent from the headquartered region of the organisation may not necessarily be received the way it was intended by the colleagues in other regions of the business. Likewise, communication and information exchanged between colleagues and managers who are based in different regions or countries may get distorted in the noise of cultural dissimilarity.
This is why it’s essential to ensure that the receiver of the message understands its contents as well as its intention, which can only be done if there is good, two-way communication in place with a well-oiled feedback mechanism.
Bridging the gap
I’ve discovered that the best way to overcome a potential barrier of cross-cultural communication is to not only assume responsibility for the way a message is sent, but also for the way it’s delivered.
Question whether the intended target of the message has a) received the message, b) understands the message, c) is able to contextualise the message and d) is able to digest the message from their perspective without it losing its original meaning and pass it on if necessary.
Making an effort to understand different cultural contexts leads to better engagement and communication across the business, which means more aligned colleagues and managers who clearly understand the purpose and values of the organisation.
Without getting to grips with communications and forming an appropriate communications strategy for the organisation, businesses run the risk of fostering a misaligned, frustrated and unsatisfied workforce. Bad communication is like a red wine stain on a white shirt, if you don’t target it immediately with the right detergents, it tends to spread and taint the whole shirt no matter how many times you try to rinse it.