Bridging Cultural Differences: Our Thoughts

Mikke Selandar Ancon

Being in the software development business, our clients come from the world over. Naturally, there are cultural differences which may get in the way. At Calcey, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help bridge these differences and help us deliver great work.

Every country has a culture that is unique. Sri Lanka, where we are based, has traditionally been hierarchical, collectivistic, and driven by a need to achieve consensus. What this means is that generally:

  • Subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat.
  • Everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.
  • People strive for consensus, and they value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts tend to be resolved by compromise and negotiation.

Geert Hofstede also agrees with us.

Lesson 1: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Sri Lanka’s collectivist culture brings with it a few positives, which serve us well as a global software company. The hierarchical elements though, aren’t of much use. Calcey’s internal culture is consciously and painstakingly built around values such as ‘Straight Talk’ and ‘Challenging Convention’. Obviously, there can be clashes.

New recruits often say that they find the Calcey culture a breath of fresh air compared to what they experienced while at University

Once new recruits come to Calcey, we try to encourage them to break free of the traditional  notion that being straightforward is undesirable, and challenging seniority is a no-go. At the same time, positive aspects such as collectivism and the high camaraderie which recruits bring with them need to be encouraged. In an industry such as software, those elements tend to be very valuable.

Lesson 2: Leverage the similarities

The tech sector in general, is somewhat counter-culture, no matter where you are in the world. Because of this, tech employees the world over have certain similarities between them. Not only do they speak the same languages in terms of code, they even chuckle at the same memes. This commonality helps us build a good rapport with foreign tech teams, whenever we encounter them.

Capitalising on similarities helps people get along better

Lesson 3: Achieve a personality fit between the client and the project team

Since our clients will end up spending most of their time dealing with the project team, it is crucial that there is a good personality match between the two parties. Even more crucial is getting a good personality match between the client and the project manager, who will be the main point of contact.

Starting from the pre-sales stage, we try to gauge the personality traits of the client. Being a boutique firm, there is a lot of personal involvement in the sales process, and this gives us enough time and space to understand the client very well. This knowledge then helps us to put together a project team which usually ends up getting along well with the client.

It’s important that the project team is a good fit with the client

Lesson 4: Hire well and hire right

This is a no-brainer really. When hiring, we look for people who display a good level of empathy and are open to embracing new perspectives. Graduating at the top of your class is not everything after all.

We also have quite a few experienced hands in-house, who bring with them loads of international experience. They’re always around to help smoothen things.

And that’s it really. Though overcoming cultural barriers is not complicated as it appears to be, failing to understand the impact of culture can be disastrous for any business. Our methods though simple, are powerful. Most importantly, they work.