No one enters today's workplaces with preconceived notions. It can all go horribly wrong if they don't. Image Credit: Supplied

Digitization meant the world has gotten smaller and great talent can be found and accessed from anywhere. Working internationally with different cultures can present unique opportunities - and challenges of their own. In fact, adapting to different work cultures can add another layer of complexity for people-first leaders.

It doesn’t have to be so.

Teams that can do this successfully will have a much easier time making the world their office, with all the benefits this brings. We will be sharing some of the essentials to help you, or others you lead to adapt to a new culture or working environment.

Avoid assumptions

Just because countries may be together geographically doesn’t mean they are going to have the same business cultures. So, when relocating don’t assume your previous approaches are transferable, or appropriate. Take Denmark and Finland - they are both Nordic countries but sit quite far apart in how they handle decision-making in the boardroom.


With the internet at your fingertips, ignorance is no longer an excuse. Research the culture, as well as the business. Where possible, also have meetings with the HR managers to discuss culture and expectations. This prevents any immediate faux pas and can make sure you get off on the right foot. Observe, ask questions

We all know that sometimes things, in theory, don’t match reality. So, one of the most important things you can do is observe and ask questions. In a new environment, be curious, look around and take in the culture.

Look at how people do their work and communicate. Do they engage in small talk or is it a serious environment? Are they highly respectful of the managers? Do they take midday breaks?

Doing your research, observing, and asking questions will help you see work culture in action. While it isn’t the only way to help you adapt, it’s a good place to start.

Communication is key

Any leader worth their salt knows that communication is the backbone of any team or work dynamic. And this is where particular cultural challenges can arise. Going back to our Denmark example, Danes are direct and to the point when it comes to business communication.

However, this can be perceived as rude in other cultures, especially in areas like Asia or other places in Europe where patience and courtesy are highly valued.

To avoid misunderstandings or frustration on both sides, be willing to be open-minded about communication and step out of your comfort zone. Explore different approaches and listen to feedback from your peers and colleagues.

Appreciate differences

Diversity is excellent for teams to improve productivity, new perspectives, and ideas. So, make sure you appreciate the differences being brought to the table. While you’re trying to adapt to the team, make sure to take a pause and appreciate the different cultures you’re working with, rather than trying to change everyone to work in the same way.

After all, if working abroad you’re the guest in their country.

You can do this by appreciating the other cultures and styles, adapting to some of their customs, or even something as simple as being open-minded enough to try local delicacies.

Learn from mistakes

As long as mistakes made are coming from a place of authenticity and you are genuinely trying to adapt, then this is all anyone can ask. The number one thing to remember is that you have to own these mistakes, accept and acknowledge them and be willing to move on.

Taking a ‘people first’ approach to building teams is always going to be good for business. So, make sure you’re helping your teams adapt, learn about other work cultures, and actively seek to bring new work cultures into your mix.

Thomas Jensen

The writer is CEO of Milestone Systems.