RCA Flag
RCA Flag
Connecting Africa’s Skilled Professionals
RCA Flag

ReConnect Africa is a unique website and online magazine for the African professional in the Diaspora. Packed with essential information about careers, business and jobs, ReConnect Africa keeps you connected to the best of Africa.

Library of Articles


Culture or Competence?

Image 'How do you know if a colleague or team member from another culture is failing because of a cultural issue or simply because they do not have the necessary competence to manage a role? ' asks cultural management expert, Richard Cook.

Within our own cultural environment we can usually manage to assess a situation and judge why a target isn't being met or a role being filled adequately. The feedback loop between the various parties is clear, open and, in most cases, everyone is using the same language as native speakers.

When the same set of circumstances occurs between parties from different cultural backgrounds and in a virtual business environment then it is far less easy to make any assumptions about performance, communication or abilities.

So what can we do to manage situations in which it is unclear if the issue is culture or competence?


First of all what is really going on? What is the apparent issue or problem and how is it manifesting? Is it a case of missed deadlines, or poor productivity, or a lack of ownership of roles or tasks?

Each business role and activity is performed in a culturally defined manner - wherever we are and each culture works to a set of values and priorities that can operate exclusively within that culture and which may be at variance with other cultures in the team or organisation.


The second thing to consider is the power issue. Where exactly is the power to achieve results and movement to be found? Are you putting pressure on the right person to get the information or result that you want? In some cultures there is a high sense of individuality and people take on roles that clearly establish the power boundaries in which they can achieve specific results. In other cultures a much more collaborative culture exists and roles may overlap and many more people's approval and agreement may be required to move things forward.


Thirdly, what is the quality of the communication like? If counterparts are all using English as second language then variable levels of English usage may be causing miscommunication between members. Get native speakers to slow down and reduce their use of idiomatic language. Arrange for language classes for other team members that need them. Make sure these language classes are highly tailored to the team or organisational needs - general English is no use here. Agree on a process to manage video conferencing and tele-conferencing that will ensure greater participation on non-native speakers.

Once you have processed the situation in the above manner you should be in a better position to decide where the issue or problem is more about culture or is simply a case of poor competence. When you know that you can then determine a remedy to resolve the situation.

Taking responsibility

Finally, working globally, as we are increasingly doing requires all of us to change so let's become clear about what we as individuals can do to make the whole process more transparent and accessible - regardless of the cultural background of the team.


Richard Cook, a fully qualified language and cultural management consultant, has been working at organizational, managerial and personal levels for international clients for the last twenty-one years. He has lived and worked in North and South America, Japan, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. This has provided him with a full understanding of the complexities of communicating across cultures and disciplines. He is also a qualified Master NLP practitioner. richardcook@global-excellence.com
Welcome to the new, upgraded ReConnect Africa website.
Please help us provide you with information relevant to your needs by completing the fields below (just this once!)