The Importance of Cultural Awareness when Building an International Team

There’s something delightfully (and a little disturbingly) Australian about the comfort and pride the average bloke feels, when strutting about in a pair of budgie smugglers on a steamy summer’s day.

After all, what’s good enough for our former Prime Minister is surely good enough for the people.


Well, perhaps when you’re in Bondi or prancing about amongst the glitz of the Surfers Paradise strip.

Definitely not when you’re at a Grand Prix event. And definitely not when you’re in Malaysia. Especially if those budgies are emblazoned with the Malaysian flag and accompanied with drinking beer from a shoe and a loud rendition of the unofficial national anthem “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie Oi-Oi-Oi”.

So when nine drunk Aussies recently did just that, the Malaysian Assistant Police Commissioner was highly unimpressed, “adamant the group caused intentional insult” and promptly threw them in jail.

Cue the international apologies and dramatic evidence of the importance of understanding and respecting cultural differences.

“We too have similar fondness and respect to our own Australian national flag, but due to our cultural differences our display of respect and reverence of our national flag is perhaps quite different.” – The Budgie Nine

You don’t say!

Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Almost a quarter of us were born outside of the country, and many more are the children and grandchildren of migrants.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from being culturally-insensitive bogans at times, when it really should prime us for greater tolerance and understanding.

And that understanding is vital if you’re building an international team via outsourcing.

At 5 ELK, we’ve established two offices in the Philippines housing staff that are part of dozens of Australian-based financial planning practices.

Learning about, understanding and accommodating the subtle differences between our two cultures, makes life more comfortable for both the Australian and Filipino staff, demonstrates respect, and ensures there’s minimal awkward moments – both within your team and when dealing with clients.

Let me give you a few examples.

Family time
Family relationships are central to Filipino culture and society. And it’s not just immediate family, but the extended family of aunts, uncles, and second cousins.

That means there’ll be times when your staff are unable to work, because they have to help a family member do something, like visit the doctor. They aren’t trying to get out of work. There’s a cultural expectation that they respect and care for their elders. (And it’s also a reason why there are almost no retirement homes in the Philippines.)

American influence
There is a strong American influence in the Philippines, particularly with their education system, as well as their appetite for coffee, shopping malls, and fast food.

That means their English is excellent, but there are small language differences – from subtle American accents, to the use of “z” in words like “customize/customise”, rather than the Australian English version using “s”. Luckily, spell checking tools and software like Grammarly can overcome those hurdles pretty easily.

Etiquette and formalities
As part of the polite and respectful behaviours that are so important to the Filipino culture, names and titles are typically used in quite a formal manner. That means they will address people using phrases like Sir or Madam, or with their professional titles.

At 5 ELK, we prefer a less formal approach, so we’ve asked and trained our team to use first names with clients. And a little game of ‘10 star jumps if you get it wrong’, adds a bit of fun to practicing getting it right.

Obliging nature
Filipinos are the ultimate ‘can-do’ people. Sounds awesome, but in their desire to please they can find it difficult to say no, articulate a problem or broach a difficult subject.

Building relationships and earning trust will help your team feel comfortable to talk to you openly and honestly. Much like any other staff member, really.

Religious beliefs
The Philippines is 90% Christian, with the majority being of Roman Catholic faith.
That means, you’ll need to allow time for your team to observe religious holidays. Generally, that includes Easter and Christmas but there are a couple of other days to consider. Make it clear whether your team members will be working to Filipino or Australian public holidays (or a combo). They will appreciate the clarity.

Handling cultural differences is a bit like visiting a foreign country (without the drunk bogan mentality and the nations’ flag on your derrière). You do your research. You get to understand the local customs and social norms. You respect the differences.
Ultimately, you try to behave in a manner built on mutual respect. And building a team overseas, is no different.

Click here to learn more about hiring staff in the Philippines, for your financial planning business.

Previous Post
Using a Video Hosting Platform to Spread Your Message
Next Post
How to increase profitability in your financial advice business.

Related Articles