Monday, March 03, 2014

Solving collaboration issues with technology is a myth

Yvonne van der PolThis interview is also posted on our Dutch blog Ennuonline. Yvonne van der Pol has her own company called Luz azul trainingen, advies & coaching and works within the domain of intercultural 'craftsmanship' (not sure how it translates in English but the Dutch term vakmanschap is wonderful). She did our learning trajectory on learning with new media Leren en veranderen met sociale media where she designed a blended trajectory about intercultural effectivity, in-company as well as a course for open inscription. The core of her work is to improve working relationships from people with different cultural backgrounds. We live in a ‘global village’ because of internet - every country is one click away. I interviewed her because I am interested in learning more about working interculturally online... which I do a lot by the way.

Where is the source of your interest in intercultural 'craftsmanship'?
I've studied Sociology of non-Western societies and worked in international cooperation for 10 years. When I was 18 years old I went to the United States, I experienced that you enter into a different culture and you have to adapt. On the surface there appear many similarities, but beneath the surface there are major differences. When I was in Costa Rica for research later, I encountered other intercultural challenges. For example, I gave a presentation which contained criticism.. The next day the director refused to greet me. That made me think about the importance of communication and intercultural skills. In another culture there are very different assumptions and methods to decipher and interpret the world.

Is collaborating interculturally a skill which is more strongly developed because of all the developments triggered by internet (eg. large gaming communities)?
Indeed, it seems that we now live in a global village, the Internet connects the entire planet. However, that is only on the surface. There is a difference between surface and deep culture (see Deep culture model of intercultural adjustment of Joseph Shaules). Regarding surface culture: we are indeed coming closer. An online gamer may experience for example an American or Chinese situation in the game. Young people experience more different things and different cultures than before. However, the deeper understanding and skills you develop to work interculturally are not developed. It is an illusion to think that with globalization, intercultural skills come naturally. I'd say on the contrary, sometimes prejudices only increase. At the same time it is true that the development of intercultural skills is increasingly important as more work is international, from horticulture to retail, from science to education everything is becoming more internationally oriented. The question is: "how are you going to understand each other better?" Take for instance the cooperation to build wikipedia. That communication is very multilingual - but native speakers have an advantage over non- native speakers.  Native speakers may sometimes empathize less with people who can not express themselves with nuances. Another example is: the open data movement. There is much to do about improving transparency and making data accessible. This conviction also stems from a cultural belief. If you are born in a country where you're not safe, there can be a lot of anxiety around online sharing of information and experiences. If you do not take this undercurrent in your approach to open data serious, then the project is perhaps less effective than hoped ... If you want to read more, go to Yvonne’s blog.

Do you think new technologies make collaboration internationally easier or harder? Why? 
The new technologies make communication easier and cheaper for sure, you can work with Skype, webinars, email, Yammer, and other tools. This makes collaboration internationally more practical than 20 years ago. But you have organize this collaboration specifically. It is a myth that technology will resolve collaboration across borders and across cultures. Technology can also obscure the difficulties: everyone continues to work from personal and cultural assumptions. Importantly, it is always about creating confidence to effectively work together. The new technology is fantastic but you have to learn to use it effectively to work together. That's the same as always: you have to stay alert to human interaction, pay attention to non-verbal communication in virtual teams. Is there no answer because the technology does not work or because someone is disengaged for other reasons? And then how do you solve this?

Can we learn something from the field of intercultural effectivity for learning to work with new media? Is there a parallel between learning to work in a new culture and learning to work with new technology? 
There are definitely parallels that can be drawn between the use of new media and moving into a new culture. In both cases you enter a new situation where you do not know the codes- how to behave. You crave for knowledge about how it works. Knowing yourself and how you react in situations like this is important – how open-minded, curious, flexible, persistent, tolerant are you? Schermafbeelding 2014-02-24 om 21.26.23

I work with an online assessment tool, the Intercultural Readiness Check, which is based on three areas: Connect, Perform and Enjoy. In the intercultural competencies (see diagram) you can see the parallels with dealing with new media such as how to deal with uncertainty? Some people enjoy jumping into something new, others much less so. How do you connect with each other online, and how to effectively work together?  So you could easily say that Connect, Perform and Enjoy are true both for personal intercultural skills as for dealing with new media.

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