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Working Across Cultures

Category : CDC related topics

As a new member of the Capgemini Consulting team, I was recently given an asset of great value. My intake, having joined in April, was sent to Berlin, Germany to develop core consulting skills during a three day intensive workshop. These skills will allow us to approach and solve client problems through methodologies which have enabled Capgemini to become an industry leader in strategy and operational consulting. A question is immediately raised, however, by sending a cohort of consultants across national borders to develop fundamental skills. Could these young minds not complete their learning in their own office for a fraction of the cost? With the answer to this question being obvious, it would then seem to suggest there was another reason for sending Capgemini’s newest employees overseas.

We even had time to do a little sightseeing

The logic underpinning the decision to collect consultants from all over Europe in one place was revealed as soon as we arrived. On our first morning, all members of the workshop were asked to join groups consisting of colleagues from different European nations; we were encouraged to temporarily abandon our newly found friends from our own offices and the comfort zone they afforded us. In these new groups, we were to assemble a quick presentation for a hypothetical client.

This task appeared simple enough; it was one we had all done many times before in our recent induction. However, in this instance, a new and unexpected challenge arose: the different national cultures within the groups all had different ways of approaching and working through a task. This test was not insurmountable, and all the presentations were eventually given to a high standard. However, the speed and efficiency with which Capgemini consultants usually work was noticeably hampered.

From that point on it was clear that the workshop had another, less explicit, but just as important objective: to overcome national and cultural divisions in a professional context. My team consisted of a German, a Frenchman and Frenchwoman, a Briton, and me, a Jamaican. Socially, this dynamic presented no problems. We shared stories and cultural experiences – and even found time to share a few beverages in the evenings. However, the contrast of our professional approach immediately emerged when we were set the main task of the workshop: to analyse data and present a new strategic direction for our hypothetical company.

Consensus was split on how to approach our problem. Members hailing from different offices insisted on different ways of approaching our presentation. Each distinct culture within the group would place emphasis on different elements: some wished to spend our time analysing the data; others demanded we focus on preparing a storyline and agenda; and others still wanted to polish the PowerPoint slides we would be using to present the information. Though this may paint a destructive picture, I would like to assert that this environment of conflicting cultures was the valuable asset I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. In order to move our presentation forward, our team collectively realised that egos would have to be put aside, and sacrifices made. Each team member considered his or her working methods and decided which could be dispensed of, and which added value to the team. In short, each team member took a step back from managing the presentation in front of them and began managing their own behaviour. We decided roles and individuals were allowed to complete their work without the interference of others. The final review of our presentation became a collective effort of tying together each of our individual parts into a unified whole. I feel fortunate to be part of an organisation that offers such an opportunity to experiment with a variety of cultures and ways of working in a safe environment, at any level. It is difficult to overstate the value of gaining this experience as a graduate.

The Reichstag Building

So there is a small insight into one of the many authentic learning experiences on offer at Capgemini.

I have developed my core consulting skills during my visit to Germany. However, the most important thing I take away is the ability to recognise the value of team members from different places with their own individual ways of working. To be able to manage my own behaviour so as to bring out the best in others, for the benefit of the company we both work for, is a lesson I will hopefully heed for the rest of my career.

About the author

Freddie Pragnell
Freddie Pragnell
On the 4th of October, I will have spent 6 months within the CDC. I sit within the Financial Services, Performance Improvement Competency, which falls into OpeEx. Outside of work, I am an avid reader and play some football at the weekends for UCL old boys. A fun fact is that, while working out at my gym in Jamaica, Usain Bolt spotted me on the bench press. I was a political journalist and working my way to qualify as a commercial solicitor, before I saw the light and decided to consult for Capgemini Consulting.

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