Formal + Informal = ?

What do you get when you mix formal with informal?
Upscale casual, of course : )

Throughout this month we’ve discussed diversity in the work place.
In a multicultural environment we need to be aware of the formality and informality aspects of some cultures.

  • Informal and straight forward – the way many of us interact in this country.
    That’s why I felt at home here as soon as I arrived.
    (It took longer to get used to the food; ‘till I discovered pizza : )
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are cultures where a more formal behavior is the norm.
    In these cultures there is great pride and “class” distinction based on one’s social status, job, etc.

Working in today’s global business environment chances are you’ll have both types on your team (and anything in between).
Obviously we need to be aware of and respect traditions and customs different than ours.
And we have the right to expect the same in return.

The lighter side of formal vs informal cultures
The perfect example for this is a short trip to the grocery store.
(You know – when you are in a hurry and only need milk and eggs.)

My sister-in-law (she lives in Eastern Europe):
She’ll put make up on, some nice clothes; only then she is ready to go out.

Me: I grab my phone, make sure I have money, get in the car and head to the store to get my milk and eggs.
My attire for this outing: jeans and a “holey” t-shirt (Sunny and Flipper have “designed” it with their beaks : )

Like I said, this is the lighter side of formal vs informal cultures.
Remember what I stated in an earlier post: we need to differentiate how much is attributable to someone’s cultural background and how much is that individual’s personality.

Sharing this blog with your friends is much appreciated.

/Comments/in Multicultural Work Team/by Mariana Fieraru

Food, Good Friends, and Fun

I’ve been to birthday parties where I went, had a slice of cake and two hours later I was back home with my feet on the couch.

And I’ve been to birthday parties where everyone had a great time well into the night.
Then the host family arranged for us to sleep there for few hours.
In the morning, we got up to the smell of freshly prepared food.
And we would start all over again.
Sometime in the afternoon I would finally make it home.

Different cultures. Different people. Different ways of celebrating.
Which one I like?
I’m fine with either one.
(Except the second one I prefer to be the guest. For obvious reasons : )

How people celebrate milestones in their lives (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries) it’s like a window in their lives.
By seeing the way they celebrate we can understand where they are coming from.
What kind of people they are.
We can understand and appreciate long-standing traditions that are important to them.

Many ethnic foods are now part of the American eating. No need to go far away to experience Chinese, Italian or Mexican food. And many others are just as familiar to our palates.
Migration to the States has brought food flavors from around the world in our backyard.

We all enjoy celebrations. The food, the people, the fun.
Imagine going to a party with an international menu.  The colors, the aroma, the taste!
My ideal party menu (for today anyway : ) would have: pastries (Romanians or French); stuffed grape leaves (Greek); antipasti (Italian); tamales (Mexican); aged cheese, fresh salads and San Francisco or Seattle sourdough bread.
For desert I’ll have Tiramisu or German chocolate cake.
(Can’t make up my mind, so I’ll have both : )

What would you have on your international party menu?

Food plays an important role in our celebrations. In our lives.
If you are part of a multicultural team then make the most of it.
With summer almost here, your company can have great potluck picnics.
We can look at food as an ambassador that helps us in strengthening our friendships across cultures.
Happy eating and celebrating!

/Comments/in Living Well,Multicultural Work Team/by Mariana Fieraru

Embezzlement – different culture, different reaction?

Since we are discussing multicultural work teams, here are some interesting questions.
Work style and behavior on a multicultural team – how much can it be attributed to one’s background? How much can it be attributed to the individual’s personality?

Over the years I’ve encountered work situations less than ideal, shall we say. Discovering embezzlement cases is one of them. Helping clients working through such situations it’s difficult.

It’s difficult because of the misplaced-trust factor among other things. Someone they’ve trusted had embezzled money from the company. Often significant amounts of money.

I won’t discuss here the prevention aspect of it.
Just how people of two separate organizations dealt with it.

The two embezzlement cases:
• One case was detected by me.
• The other detected by a company insider.

Swift Justice
The first case was an ad agency. Reviewing their financial records I discovered irregularities with their bank account transactions and their payroll. It appeared that it went on for years.
Once I brought this to the attention of the company’s president, FBI was involved and the process to resolve the case was on its way.

Except for a short period of frustration and anger, this company and its people resumed their normal operations.

Authorities not involved
The second case was much more complicated.
The company was started by family members and close friends. They all have pulled resources together and formed a company.

Years went by and they were doing well. Sales contracts kept coming in. They now owned several other companies and they had close to a 100 employees working in these companies.
Things were looking good.

Then it happened.
Someone in the organization discovered (accidentally) an embezzling operation in one of the companies.

There were the normal questions:
How long it’s been going on?
How much money has been taken?
And the hardest question, “How can one of our own do this?”

It was a difficult time for the company.
They chose to resolve the matter themselves, without involving the authorities.

What I found interesting about these two embezzlement cases:
Both founders of these organizations came from group-oriented cultures. These cultures pride themselves on close family ties and loyalty.
How each company dealt with the embezzlement was also interesting.

One company swiftly dealt with the problem. Involved the authorities to resolve the case.
Then returned back to its normal operations.

The other company did not involve the authorities. They resolved it on their own. And it took a lot longer for them to return to normal operations.

Final Thoughts
Are we really that different?
Many of you, being in the same situation, would probably have chosen either one course of action or the other.

Yes, it’s important to understand cultural differences.
But it’s equally important to understand the personality differences.

When having difficulty at work with individuals from diverse backgrounds it’s easy to blame it on their culture.
More often than not the truth is much simpler.
You are just dealing with a difficult individual.
And culture has nothing to do with it.
(Then forget multiculturalism – start brushing up on persuasion techniques : )


“I have a multicultural background, so I tend to have an open mind about things, and I find other cultures interesting.” Viggo Mortensen

/Comments/in Leadership,Multicultural Work Team/by Mariana Fieraru

A Multicultural Workforce: Communication and Trust

Diversity in the work place, when managed properly, is a great asset to the organization.
Yet, many times it’s an uphill battle, for the team as well as its leaders.
Why is that?
Maybe because we all are more comfortable being around people like ourselves.

Take people with pets, for example.
I have birds: Sunny and Flipper. My friends keep cats, dogs, or birds for pets.
And I love visiting with them.

But if you would have an unusual type of pet I may need some convincing to be around you (or your pet!).

That same feeling or reluctance, if you will, it’s felt when we find ourselves working with people of culturally diverse backgrounds.
Often we cannot relate to their upbringing and we struggle to understand their perspective.

Communication and Trust
One of the biggest barriers in a multicultural team is communication.
Accent and fluency will obviously make it difficult to communicate effectively.

But it’s much more complex than that: status, authority, and more.  How one feels about the community also plays a major role.

In a big city where many of its residents are coming from different parts of the world, getting integrated it’s somewhat easier.
In a small Midwest town feeling like one of the locals may be somewhat more challenging.

As the manager or the team leader, your job is to build an atmosphere of trust.
Trust will pave the way for the team members to understand and accept each other’s differences.

Yes, communication can be challenging, especially when cultural and language barriers are part of the equation.
It takes effort to make it work. And everyone needs to be involved. Create a positive, supporting work environment,  and your team will achieve great results.

Achieve great results and create something beautiful.  Jimmy Carter said, “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic.”

/Comments/in Leadership,Multicultural Work Team/by Mariana Fieraru

A Multicultural Workforce: Advantages and Challenges

Smart business leaders know the importance of understanding cultural differences.
In today’s increasingly complex business environment understanding your multicultural work force helps you gain and sustain a competitive edge.
And can greatly improve your organization’s productivity and bottom-line results.

Multicultural workforce or cultural diversity in the workplace – whatever name you use – it’s a reality in today’s business world. To get the best results for you and your organization it’s important to understand and effectively interact with people from diverse backgrounds.

What do I know about diversity in the workplace?
Well, that was a twenty-year-long learning process : )
The best way to learn about other cultures (for me) was to live in a border or in a port town.
San Diego is both. That’s where I learned about diversity. For those of you not familiar with the city:

• San Diego is the eighth largest city in the United States.
• With a diverse and multilingual population (by some accounts its residents speak close to100 languages).
• San Diego’s economy is led by manufacturing, tourism, military and defense industry.
• The city has one of the busiest border crossings in the world. More than $30 billion goods are going through customs every year.

San Diego was my home for twenty years.

Understand our differences
Celebrate how much alike we are

I could tell you about PD, MAS, IDV, and more of the same.
But I won’t.
Throughout this month I will share with you first-hand experiences and observations.

I work with clients who have business operations on both sides of the border. At the top of their agenda is learning about how each side operates best and gets the optimum results. Simply put, they want to maximize the benefits and minimize the challenges.

In today’s global economy that’s an important part of managing any business.
We’ll also discuss inclusion, which I think is one of the most effective tools to use in managing a diverse workforce.

“We are, I think, much more mature and wise today. Just as we welcome a world of diversity, so we glory in an America of diversity ; an America all the richer for the many different and distinctive strands of which it is woven.” Hubert Humphrey.

Sharing this blog with your friends is much appreciated.

/Comments/in Leadership,Management,Multicultural Work Team/by Mariana Fieraru