Name Meanings

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It is useful if individuals can introduce their names and the names that they prefer

to be called (and their pronunciation). Many people from South, East and

Central Asia, South America, and Africa have names that have a meaning, so you

can help them feel at ease by asking them to tell the group the meaning behind

their names. The names of some Westerners have meanings, but for those who do

not know their name meanings, you can add an alternative request: explain how

their parents chose their names.

Singing Songs

In many Asian and African cultures, singing songs is a pleasant way to start a workshop.

Not only is singing an integral part of many of these cultures, but the rise of

karaoke in many cultures has increased the popularity of singing in public. (For

an in-depth discussion on using music with groups, see Hogan, 2003b.)



This section focuses on a three-stage model and processes to enable multicultural

groups to focus on diversity and maximize the potential of individual members of

the group.

Research by Adler (1997) and Distefano and Maznevski (2000) concluded that

diverse teams tend to perform either better or worse than homogeneous teams,

Successfully Facilitating Multicultural Groups 261

with more of them performing worse than better. Distefano and Maznevski divided

multicultural teams into three categories:

• Destroyer teams. These teams were dysfunctional because the formal leaders

made decisions without genuine discussion among members. As a result, they

destroyed the potential value of these multicultural teams.

• Equalizer teams. These team members smoothed, compromised, and

suppressed any differences in ideas and perspectives. Distefano and Maznevski’s

research led them to believe that most culturally diverse teams that thought of

themselves as doing well were equalizers.

• Creator teams. These teams did more than use platitudes like, “We value

diversity.”They actively explored their differences and took advantage of their diversity

like a jazz ensemble. Brenson-Lazán (e-mail to the author, Dec. 14, 2003) calls this

the “humongous paradox of synergy,” that is, the greater the diversity, the greater the

potential for synergy and the greater the difficulty in achieving it. The less diversity

there is, the lower is the potential for synergy and the greater the ease of achieving it.

Distefano and Maznevski concluded that the key to being successful was

the quality of the interaction processes rather than the team membership. As a result,

they developed the mapping, bridging, and integrating (MBI) model as shown

in Exhibit 16.2. In their research they observed that creator teams actively mapped

and tried to understand their differences, bridged their communication and took

differences into account, and integrated team-level ideas by carefully monitoring

participation patterns, solving disagreements, and creating new perspectives.

The MBI model is a set of principles for helping teams to develop their own best

ways to perform well. It may be applied to debriefing a meeting or for analyzing a

videotape of a team meeting. A facilitator may take a group through each stage in

turn; if there is confusion, it may be necessary to revert to a previous stage:

• Mapping to understand differences. The important aspect of mapping is identifying

which differences will affect interactions and decision making, for example,

cultural values, thinking styles, and ways of achieving goals.Most multicultural teams

do not take the time to map cultural differences openly; they instead rely on broad

generalizations (stereotypes) that they have heard (Distefano and Maznevski, 2000).

There are many different methods that use different senses that may be used to

map cultural differences. Among them are learning basic words in the languages

of group members (Reese, 1997), discussing the cultural iceberg (after Brislin,

1991), developing cultural suitcases, and playing the cross-cultural card game

(Abdullah and Shepherd, 2000):

• Bridging to communicate across differences. This requires trust building, development

of ground rules, and motivation and confidence to discuss differences

openly. Team members need to learn decentering, a skill similar to empathy and

role reversal, which requires individuals to suspend judgment and value differences

using the information from the mapping stage as a “translation key” (Distefano

and Maznevski, 2000).

• Integrating and leveling differences. Participants need to recenter and build

new ground rules and processes based on what they have learned during the mapping

and bridging stages in order to manage participation, resolve disagreements,

and build on ideas.

Exhibit 16.2

Mapping, Bridging, and Integrating Model

for Creating Value in Diverse Teams














and level






and ways

of doing


Source: Distefano and Maznevski (2000). Used by permission.

People with different cultural backgrounds often have very different norms for

participating and turn taking, so Distefano and Maznevski (2000) provide some


• Rotating a process leader or observer, provided this is not a threat and is culturally

appropriate. In very hierarchical societies, it may be almost impossible

for a participant of low rank to take the role of process leader.

• Varying modes of meeting and sharing information—for example, solicit ideas

by e-mail before a meeting, talk to staff in hallways to gather ideas, have pairedgroup

discussions during meetings, and have frequent breaks in meetings.

• Map ideas on flip charts as lists, mind maps, or drawings.

If conflict occurs, go back to basics to understand more fully what cultural

perceptions and values are underpinning problems. (For further exercises on crosscultural

conflict resolution, see Blainey, Davis, and Goodwill, 1995, and Brenson-

Lazán, 2003.)


This section describes a variety of processes that facilitators may use at the various

stages in the MBI model.

Learning Basic Words in the Other Languages of Group Members

This exercise is based on the work by Reese (1997) to encourage face-to-face active

engagement between participants in multicultural groups by encouraging everyone

to make the effort to learn basic greetings of their coparticipants—for example:


How are you?

What is your name?

Can I help you?

Can you help me?

Thank you.


Excuse me.


In addition, it is useful to learn the meanings and differences in usage or nonusage

of a term (for example, in some cultures, “thank you” is used only for a major gift,

not for a basic service in a shop) and other aspects of communication, such as tone

of voice, body language, types of eye contact, and interpersonal space. It is useful for

facilitators to develop a basic vocabulary of these key phrases in the languages of

people they work with. Participants are usually very appreciative of these efforts.

The interactions that result give an advantage to the bilingual participants who become

teachers. It does not matter whether participants develop perfect pronunciation;

it is the attempt that counts. Indeed, it is the mistakes that generate laughter and

are the hooks that encourage further dialogue. During the learning process shown in

Exhibit 16.3, participants start to engage with one another: one person is teaching and

another is being taught, and everyone is engaged in the dialogue of learning (Reese,

1997; Burson, 2002). Laughter and humor develop, which is productive provided that

participants are laughing with and not at each other, and participants can learn,with

guidance, to give one another positive as well as constructive feedback.

Successfully Facilitating Multicultural Groups 265

Exhibit 16.3

Two-Way Conversation During Paired Teaching

Participant A


Participant B


a. Teaching key words b. Trial and error

c. Cultural


and explanations d. Questions

Discuss the Cultural Iceberg

The cultural iceberg model is a useful tool to stimulate discussions and map similarities

and differences. The iceberg as a metaphor is useful since only a small percentage

of an iceberg is seen above the surface. This is similar to cultures, in that

we can observe some food, ceremonies, and dress codes, but there may be many

attitudes and beliefs that underpin these customs that are not obvious at first (and

that we may not learn for many years, if ever). As depicted in Exhibit 16.4, the level

of the water line varies from culture to culture, and what aspects of culture appear

above and below the waterline will vary between cultures and individuals.

Exhibit 16.4

The Cultural Iceberg







Festivals patterns









Use of space


roles/relationships Eye



Rights and


Attitudes to



Concepts of how

to think, do and



Body language

Attitudes and Language





hair styles

Source: Based on Brislin (2000). Used by permission.

Develop Cultural Suitcases

Another cultural mapping exercise is to ask participants to join groups of similar

cultural background and discuss what participants from other countries should

pack in their “cultural suitcases” to enable them to live and work in their respective

cultures. The suitcase can be packed with basic do’s and don’ts, as well as songs,

sayings, and proverbs. Issues and contradictions that arise may then be used as

starting points for developing bridges and integrating the views of participants

from different cultures who are present.

Learn About Your Own and Other Cultural Dimensions

Scholars in the area of intercultural communication have advanced many different

classifications or dimensions in order to help us make sense of other cultures and

our own (Hall, 1990; Hofstede, 1980, 1991; Trompenaars, 1993; Trompenaars

and Hampden-Turner, 2000; Abdullah, 2001). Different cultural dimensions or patterns

may affect the values, attitudes, learning, and thinking styles of participants

and facilitators.We should be careful not to stereotype one another, as within

each culture there are subcultures and individual variations that vary widely.

The dimensions, however, do help us to be more aware of the assumptions that

underlie both our own and conditioning and that of others, and provide us some

vocabulary with which to analyze diversity.

One exercise is to invite participants to show where they fit on the continuum

shown in Exhibit 16.5. Quickly you will find that there is great diversity and also

that people often say, “It depends on the circumstances,” that is, styles of behavior

are “situational.”

Successfully Facilitating Multicultural Groups 267

Exhibit 16.5

Eight Cultural Dimensions and Explanations

Culture A Culture B

1a Harmony with nature and society 1b Control over nature and society

Disagreements must be overcome. Harness and challenge nature and

Politeness, respect, and emotional society to achieve own goals.

restraint. Show initiative.