ECG Principal Michael J. Vivion, PhD, takes a look at ways of constructing workshops or meetings for those of a culture different from your own.

As a concept, culture is neutral. In practice, however, culture sometimes manifests itself in ways that create communication issues in multi-cultural teams, especially for leaders who are planning an important meeting or workshop.

To address those issues and build understanding, it does help to know something about colleagues' cultures. But knowledge about cultures must be translated into actions that consider the needs of individuals within the culture.

A tool useful in accomplishing this translation is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; its description of what motivates human behavior can help improve multi-cultural team functioning.

Suppose you've been assigned to conduct a workshop to help a project team in England establish a more effective partnership with its counterpart in California. With only two weeks of lead time, you have some time to read and ask questions about English business culture, but most of what you learn will be conceptual.

Maslow's structure can help you translate those concepts into concrete actions and generate plans for a successful meeting.

Level 1: Physiological Needs

The basics essential to survival such as food and shelter. For Maslow, these needs are fundamental.

To meet them, arrange the logistics of your meeting in line with local expectations and practice. The location should offer comfort in terms of space, set-up, and atmosphere. Set appropriate start times, breaks, and meals. Finish early enough for participants to complete work that might otherwise keep them in the office beyond work hours.

Level 2: Security Needs

Feeling safe and protected – physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Plan to develop trust early so that team members feel safe with you. Prepare examples or stories to create confidence that you are a person worth heeding. Conduct the workshop in ways that won't put individual team members on the spot. Show respect for team structure and emphasize ways members will benefit by improving their relationship with the Western team.

Level 3: Social Needs

Feelings of belonging or affection. Family and work relationships, friendships, and involvement in social, community, or religious groups help fulfill social needs for companionship and acceptance.

Demonstrate enthusiasm for getting to know the team and show that you want to develop a respectful and genial relationship. Be mindful of the goals members share with the Western team and create exercises that emphasize local and global teamwork.

Level 4: Esteem Needs

The need to possess, increase, or deepen feelings of personal worth and social recognition.

Develop activities that allow team members to demonstrate their expertise. Take care to acknowledge their capabilities; stress their importance to the project's success.

Level 5: Self-actualizing Needs

Concerned with personal growth and attentive to fulfilling personal potential, this level can drive learning and performance.

Construct opportunities for participants to stretch, to grow. Use your comments and workshop activities to encourage and reinforce participants' efforts to explore and fulfill their potential. Show them how what they're doing can translate into personal and professional growth.

Considering the needs of the individuals in your audience demands some cultural awareness but relies mostly on your ability to see them as people with definable needs. Doing so may help you form a perspective and structure to guide you not only when working within another culture but within your own. We are, after all, only human.