Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Culture of People Who Study Culture

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Culture of People Who Study Culture

Article excerpt

The term "culture" appears increasingly often, from boardrooms to classrooms. It seems to pervade the popular media, as news analysts refer to corporate cultures and sports announcers to team cultures. Even world leaders widely use the term to explain national differences. Culture is now being recognized as the significant influence on human behavior and experience that it always has been.

Culture is a powerful construct for explaining how groups, such as communities and organizations, behave, as well as for how individuals both experience and behave. Many professionals in organizational change and development explicitly use the term culture, and actively apply cultural concepts, in their work, yet few have a deep understanding of its meaning. One common cultural misunderstanding, for example, is that culture is something that others' have, whereas of course all humans come with a culture. Overcoming this type of blinder to one's own culture as being "a" culture, and not misperceived as the singular right way to experience and behave (as any culture is merely one among many cultural possibilities), is fundamental for developing any type of cultural competence. In this and other ways, individuals and groups can vary in degrees of being better to worse on many dimensions of navigating cultural complexities, supporting the importance of cultural competence (Friedman et. al., 2013).

However, there are many types of cultural competence. One can be highly competent within one's own culture. Perhaps this can be seen as a type of emotional intelligence, knowing how to interact effectively with others in the context of one's home culture, but this may or may not translate into competence within other cultures. One can also be competent across two or even more specific cultures, leading to terms like bicultural, cross-cultural, and multicultural competence. These all involve being able to operate adaptively within specific cultural contexts, whether one, two, or more. However, no one can know in advance about the specifics of all cultural contexts.

The ability to operate adaptively across any cultural context involves what we call transcultural competence, and it involves a number of principles that we have explored in a recent book (Glover & Friedman, 2015). This includes awareness of one's own culture as a culture among many cultures. All cultures have their relative advantages and disadvantages, and no culture is best or worst in every way, which is part of the concept of cultural relativity. Professionals in organizational development and change need to be high in transcultural competence, as there is no way in advance to predict all of the specific types of sociocultural encounters that are possible.

Organizational development and change professionals come from many disciplines, such as anthropology, management, organizational behavior, organizational development, psychology, and sociology, as well as many others. All such professions can be seen as cultures, and we use those named for comparison because they are commonly the background of many who specialize in organizational development and change. These professions have different baggage that can lead to various biases that limit transcultural competence. Of course, those who come from other professional backgrounds also have their cultural baggage related to whatever discipline in which they were trained.

As each discipline has its unique culture that differentially orients professionals toward how culture is understood and applied, we consider professionals' awareness of the starting assumptions from their disciplinary cultures to be essential to their transcultural competence. Unfortunately, organizational development and change professionals often take their disciplines' assumptions as received truths without developing adequate awareness of how these might bias their approaches to culture and diminish their transcultural competence. Consequently, our purpose is to explore the worldviews of selected disciplines in regard to differences about understanding and applying culture. …

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