There is a widely used cross-cultural simulation called BaFa BaFa in which participants are randomly assigned to be touchy-feely go with the flow alphas or organized, rule oriented betas. Within an hour, you can see people taking on the attributes of their assigned culture and even feeling unnerved when sent to visit the other group. We sometimes forget that schools and businesses both have particular cultures that we become accustomed to and accept without much thought.
Business-School partnerships require the participants to recognize their own cultural norms as well as those of their partners, and this is one of those hidden pieces of work that can sabotage a potential partnership. In our own experiences partnering with the Academies of Nashville, we have run into cross cultural misunderstandings in several forms. Here are three examples.
- Teachers sit in a hierarchy with principals above and students below and it is rare to find situations where those below are encouraged to question decisions made higher up. Business partners don’t fit neatly into this hierarchy and we have found that we have to work with teachers, administrators and students to define a new type of collaborative relationship.
- A related challenge has to do with giving and receiving formative feedback. Sustainable relationships must be win-win, which means that schools and business partners have to be able to present their needs and limitations, as well as sharing what is working and what isn’t. Developing the needed level of trust to make this open communication happen takes time and effort, hidden costs that if not recognized can lead to frustration on both sides.
- Finally, in dealing with students, one of the challenges for speakers coming into the schools can be the classroom environment. Setting expectations with the teachers and the students in advance can help along with business partner flexibility. Exposing students to work environments and workplace culture through field trips and internships is one of the most rewarding aspects of partnerships. The student who is not engaging in the classroom may markedly change their behavior when transported to this new workplace culture.
In cross-cultural training we often show a picture of an iceberg to illustrate the fact that most of culture is below the surface and it is those unseen elements that can cause a cross-cultural interaction to crash and sink. Going into a partnership with the expectation that there are bridges to build will ensure that partnerships not only form, but are able to develop new, shared norms for long-term success.
Susan A. DeRiemer, Ph.D, Professor
Meharry Medical College
Academies of Nashville Partner
The Academies of Nashville are members of the Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) network of communities. Ford NGL assists communities with designing and implementing community-connected career academies by providing a framework, process, facilitation, and tools to engage community stakeholders to support the district in the development of career academies.