The Cultural Liasion

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Do you know what’s in the picture? Chances are you know that this is what people in Mexico call a Traje de Charro (Charro suit). What you probably don’t know is that a nice, elegant charro suit like this can be pretty expensive, up to over a thousand dollars (the real deal, not the ones you find on Amazon).

Anyhow, I’m trying to tell a story here: A long time ago, my then sister-in-law, who is originally from Mexico, was getting married to a guy from Spain, and as part of their wedding plans, he had this idea of getting married wearing one of these suits.

“Those are very expensive,” she replied, surprised.

“Well, maybe I can borrow one from your father,” he retorted, wondering how this wasn’t an obvious solution.

“You cannot do that!” she exclaimed, and before she could further clarify, her fiancé countered, “What? We are about the same size!”.

The point here is that nobody owns a Charro suit in Mexico (no one I know of, anyway), but he thought every Mexican has at least one in their closet, likely based on learned stereotypes (no wrongdoing intended).

Today, we work more and more in an intercultural environment, and you can bet that we will find a lot of minor misunderstandings like that. Remember how culture is “what is” and doesn’t need to be explained?

So, here’s an idea: how about we designate a cultural liaison?

What’s a cultural liaison? I’m glad you asked.

The cultural liaison could be a team member, project manager, or executive who knows the key stakeholder sites (probably travels back and forth). The liaison’s role is to facilitate the cultural, linguistic, and organizational flow of communication, bridge cultures, mediate conflicts, and resolve cultural miscommunications.

The liaison’s goal is to reduce national and organizational culture distance and overcome socio-cultural tensions within projects.

Choosing the right person is essential, and chances are you already have someone suitable for this role within your teams. The cultural liaison is familiar with the cultures and languages involved and is a good communicator, helping the rest of the team manage the communications needs that may come up. Usually is an expatriate, repatriate, or a well-traveled individual with broader global perspectives.

The cultural liaison should be identified as best-suited for the role and not necessarily a team leader or someone in some position of power.

One of the most critical undertakings of the cultural liaison is to create awareness of cultural differences. You’d be surprised how many conflicts are avoided by adding a cultural awareness component. This awareness can be made by doing cultural training or orientations.

Usually, and this may come naturally, the cultural liaison encourages socializing between team members from the different sites.

So, what do you think? Do you have someone like that in your global team? Great! Now here’s a brief document describing the role. Enjoy!

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