Bridge the Culture Gaps by Robert Gibson

Bridge the Culture Gaps, by Robert Gibson is positioned as a "toolkit for effective collaboration in a diverse, global workplace". It aims to "help you optimize your performance when working in an intercultural environment". It also touches on diversity and the challenges of unconscious bias.

Having lived and worked in various parts of Europe, Asia, as well as North and South America, I recognise the struggles, but also the huge opportunities, when dealing with international teams and cultures. 

The book is extremely informative and covers a very wide array of topics, but in some cases it lacks depth. To alleviate this, Gibson has provided a list of sources for further information at the end of each chapter. Unfortunately, I didn't have all of those other sources easily at hand, so I couldn't dig deeper. 

In the first two chapters, Gibson is setting the scene and is looking at the impact of culture and how we need to be aware of the differences between, but alos within, various cultures. He uses the term culture in the meaning of "a shared system of attitudes, beliefs, meanings, values and behaviour". He also points out that there are different levels of intercultural competence; starting with acceptance and ending with gaining synergies and bridging cultures. 

Chapter 3 focuses in the power of difference, in a world where "Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) are no longer considered to be ‘nice to have’ but are ‘need to have’". If you need something done quickly, monocultural teams are recommended, but they are less likely to provide any innovative solutions. Multicultural teams, on the other hand, typically will bring more diverse ideas and solutions, but may need longer time to complete the task.  

Chapter 4 focuses on different types of bias and how we should use our intelligence to make better decisions, rather than just assume B, because of A. This is where Gibson mentions the "flip it to test it" approach; just swap the gender of the person in question and see how that influences your point of view. "'He is a strong and assertive leader' and, ‘She is a strong and assertive leader'." What does your gut say?

The next chapter looks at ways of navigating different cultures and situations; taking into account the individual, situation, culture and context; the intercultural cocktail. He also reminds us that the "biggest culture gaps are within countries, not between them".

As we see in Chapter 6, intercultural communication is challenging as the message received can be very different from the message sent. A message consists of the actual, factual information, but e.g. the relationship between the sender and receiver will influence how the message is received. 

We learn that virtual teams are impacted by three things: space, time and culture. The younger generation has grown up with remote working and collaborating, and it may even be their preferred way of communicating, whereas many still prefer face to face discussions. 

Chapter 8 deals with inclusive leadership, how the the result can be more than the parts put together, but also how different levels of technical skills are expected from managers in different cultures. We get a quick introduction to forming, storming, norming and performing (plus adjourning and swarming).

The next chapter deals with how to successfully build trust, influence and deal with conflict in different cultures. 

Chapter 10 touches on managing change and how people are likely to react, including the early stages of shock, denial, frustration, and anger.

The penultimate chapter deals with the often over looked problem of returning to the home country after an assignment abroad; the reverse culture shock. Gibson mentions "third culture kids" in this section; children who has grown up in a culture rather than that of their parents; speak several languages, but lack a clear main language. These children will have a head start in working with and leading multicultural teams later in life.

The final chapter, Chapter 12 looks at practical ways of coping with culture and turning differences into competitive advantages in a business context. He covers topics like be curious, observe (don't judge), empathise, be mindful and celebrate differences. To be successful in the VUCA world, it's important to be open-minded and consciously build bridges across cultural divides.

Bridge the Culture Gaps: A toolkit for effective collaboration in the diverse, global workplace by Robert Gibson is available now. Click to order on Amazon UK.

I was given an advance reader copy of this book back in 2022, so thanks go to NetGalley (where the original review was published) and Nicholas Brealey Publishing.