The Culture Map book cover

The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
by Erin Meyer

Hi, I’m Samhita 👋 and I work as a Senior Technical Support Engineer on the Tier2 Email Support Team here at SparkPost, a MessageBird company. As part of ongoing personal enrichment, we are required to allocate some time during our workday towards reading, training, or other enrichment activities. Some of this time is dedicated to reading for the SparkPost support team book club.

The SparkPost support team book club: “The Culture Map”

The SparkPost support team has just finished reading the book “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

During our weekly team meetings, we discuss the biggest takeaways from the reading, things that have resonated with us, and any relevant personal experiences.

We have read books on topics including leadership, diversity, customer service, and being a good team player. In fact, when I first started as a Tech Support Engineer on the SparkPost support team in 2018, this book club helped me rediscover my love for book reading – a habit I had lost while in grad school!

Our team is very diverse with people from different backgrounds and cultures. And in case you haven’t heard, we joined forces with MessageBird in April 2021 to take on the ambitious goal of building a world where communicating with a business is as easy and natural as talking to a friend. The Nest (as it is affectionately called) is now home to about 800 global birds 🐦 from more than 50 nationalities. Therefore, reading The Culture Map couldn’t have happened at a better time than this to help us navigate the diverse cultural contexts. Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

The book does a great job of providing context around different cultures, their norms and expectations, without stereotyping. The complexity of some multicultural scenarios is illustrated with real-life examples. This is followed by practical advice and actionable frameworks that help in areas such as effective communication, providing feedback, decision making, and the trust-building process when working with global teams. Some of the quotes that have personally resonated with me are detailed below.

This first quote is a general theme throughout the book:

“If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn’t matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly” (Meyer, p. 13).

Why this is important to me:

I believe making a conscious attempt to not perceive others through our own lens forces us to reevaluate any biases we might have and be more open and transparent towards one another. This is especially crucial when working in multicultural teams and in the present-day remote work environment.

These next two quotes, I feel, are tied together:

“There is just one easy strategy to remember: Multicultural teams need low-context processes” (Meyer, p. 55).

“Putting it [expectations] in writing reduces confusion and saves time for multi-cultural teams. But make sure to explain up front why you are doing it” (Meyer, p. 59).

Why this is important to me:

When working on a global, multi-cultural team, it is important for us to have an agreed-upon method of communication.

Low-context cultures rely on precise, clear and explicit communication while communication in high-context cultures is often layered, nuanced and implicit. The above quotes signify the importance of using low-context communication in such scenarios.

I’m originally from India and soon after finishing my education, I started working here at SparkPost, which is a US-based company. Per the book, the US falls towards the low-context end while India is on the high-context end of the communication scale. These quotes remind me of some of my early experiences where I’ve unlearned and relearned the strategies I use, to communicate effectively with my colleagues and customers.

Like the previous quotes, these final two quotes I’ll share also go well together:

“The further a culture falls toward the task-based end of the scale, the more people from that culture tend to separate affective and cognitive trust, and to rely mainly on cognitive trust for work relationships. The further a culture falls toward the relationship-based end of the scale, the more cognitive and affective trust are woven together in business” (Meyer, p. 171).

“Putting a little effort into the choice [of communication medium] can help tremendously when you need to build trust with your globally-dispersed colleagues…email, telephone, face-to-face meetings – all are acceptable, so long as the message is clearly communicated clearly and succinctly” (Meyer, p. 189).

Why this is important to me:

Taking the time and effort to build a connection with our colleagues is key and goes a long way in establishing trust with one another. When working with global teammates, the above quote acts as a compass in helping us determine the best mode of communication and relationship building.

I have gathered feedback from my colleagues and here are some quotes and insights that have resonated with them:

Scott Habicht – Senior Director of Support (Global)

“You have two eyes, two ears, but only one mouth. You should use them accordingly” (Meyers, p. 5).

As a director of support, it is very important for me to see what is going on in my part of the organization and actively listen to all support members. This quote is a good reminder of those principles.

Eryck Montes – Manager Tier1 Support (EMEA)

“As with so many challenges related to cross-cultural collaboration, awareness and open communication go a long way towards defusing conflict” (Meyers, p. 161).

Coming from Brazil and living in the UK for so many years taught me that differences of opinion will always exist and, usually, will not be the same for people from different parts of the world. This direct quote goes straight to the point of what I learned through all these years: the key to overcoming challenges is (open) communication!

Raymond Liu (刘瑞龙) – Technical Support Engineer (APAC)

“Chinese people think from macro to micro, whereas Western people think from micro to macro. For example, when writing an address, the Chinese write in a sequence of province, city, district, block, gate number. The Westerners do just the opposite” (Meyers, p. 151).

It’s easy to see how these differences in the characteristic sequence of thinking may cause difficulty or misunderstanding when people from Asian and Western cultures are involved in conversation. We live in a multicultural world, I always remind myself of how important it is to communicate with each other and understand each other.

Sasha Malcolmson – Lead Technical Support Analyst (AMER)

“To engage in conflict, one does not need to bring a knife that cuts, but a needle that sews” (Meyers, p. 218)

While our cultural differences can be quite vast, as people, we are still somehow more similar than different. It’s a matter of prioritizing collaboration and learning from each other’s perspectives.

Steve Perotti – Lead Technical Support Engineer (AMER)

“In today’s global business environment it is not enough to be either an egalitarian leader or a hierarchical leader. You need to be both – to develop the flexibility to manage up and down the cultural scales” (Meyers, p. 142).

The key takeaway here is flexibility. Adapting to different and dynamic situations is key to success.

Alfred Wang – Director of Tier1 Support (Global)

“In today’s global business environment it is not enough to be either an egalitarian leader or a hierarchical leader. You need to be both – to develop the flexibility to manage up and down the cultural scales” (Meyers, p. 142).

Leading a global support team, I encounter many cultures from around the world. It’s imperative to step out of your comfort zone in the ways you were brought up to do certain things and to learn different ways that will motivate your team to follow you.

Femi Lande – Technical Support Engineer (AMER)

“When working in a culture that is more confrontational than your own, adapting to your style to be like them carries a big risk. Remind yourself that what feels aggressive in your culture may not feel so in another culture. Don’t take offense if you can help yourself. But don’t try to mimic a confrontational style that doesn’t come naturally to you. Engage in a more relaxed debate or discussion without confronting back” (Meyers, p. 216).

I like how this explains being able to draw a line or differentiate between acceptable debate and inappropriate attack. Also being able to identify the culture you’re relating to and being careful with your response – while still being yourself (i.e., not thinking you understand all about the other culture).

Glen Carlow – Lead Technical Support Engineer (EMEA)

“Style switching sounds very simple, but it takes a lot of trial and error to understand the subtleties and to get them right. You have to try, miss the mark, try again, and gradually find you are becoming more and more competent” (Meyers, p. 420).

As with most things in life, trial and error plus consistently trying to get it right usually leads to success.

Conclusion

How many of you have a list of books that you want to read in 2022? Perhaps there are too many in there and you’re having a hard time choosing which ones to pick first, like me? 😅 If I may, I’d like to add this good read to that list!

I had fun sharing my insights with you all and hope to talk again soon! 🧡

Until next time! 🚀
Samhita Kanagala, SparkPost Senior Technical Support Engineer

Where to buy the book

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