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Continuing on culture in the workplace

April 23, 2010

Continuing on from from my last post I’m wondering how culture impacts how knowledge gets used in the workplace. When people choose to share their experience they usually do it with someone they know and like. If the workplace is divided up into groups based on language, ethnic group, gender or age then most of the time experience sharing is only going to happen inside that group. This seems obvious to me but most of time it isn’t explicitly addressed in how we organize the workplace.

Simple organizational behavior change techniques can break down the groups and help them to interact with each other more. I’ve organized project teams with members from all of the groups in the workplace. Even if the project team isn’t perfect it does better in the long run to just have more interaction. It sort of like 1960‘s American style affirmative action on a small scale. I’ve noticed that knowledge transfer goes up not only for that project but for a long time simply because people know each other. I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to build teams this way and I’m convinced it works. Some examples, in Japan (more women, younger people as leaders), Malaysia (equal numbers of Chinese, Malays, Indians), Indonesia (woman leaders, balance the Indonesian and Chinese) Switzerland (avoid all French or German speaking teams at all costs) and Hong Kong (Europeans need to be in subordinate positions) and the results are immediate and obvious. Yes, I define ‘culture‘ as being partly defined by age and gender.

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