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13 Facts about Culture and IT Service Management

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13-Facts-about-Culture-and-IT-Service-Management-smallThe best conference talks are often not talks, but discussions. Ola Källgården (from itSMF Sweden) led one of the most interesting discussions at the itSMF Sweden conference, on cultural differences and why understanding the impact of culture is vital for global businesses.

As a Finn who works within ITSM and is also based in the UK, I found this discussion highly beneficial especially since I travel to many different countries for work. Culture not only affects our surroundings but also the way we think and act. When I moved to the UK, I found myself complaining about everything from the rain and the overcooked vegetables to the British bureaucracy, but now, to my surprise, when I travel abroad I really miss steak-and-ale pies and ‘polite’ British queueing.

At the itSMF Sweden event, the audience for this discussion was very engaged, and together with Ola, we filled a white board with a mind map discussing:

  • What do we mean by cultural differences?
  • How does culture impact IT service management?
  • What are the benefits of understanding cultural differences, and how/where do you learn best practices?

Based on the discussion, I am sharing below my list of 13 takeaways about culture and IT service management.

  1. Culture can be both geographical and industry-specific. Some industries, such as healthcare or banking, have strong similarities, regardless of the country.
  2. The means of communication between the customer and the service desk vary between countries. Self-service portals are not popular in Norway where people prefer a ‘human touch’ and therefore phone the service desk instead.
  3. The history of a given culture or country impacts the way we work today. Aspects such as language, religion and personal value do play an important role.
  4. Organizational cultures contain ‘unwritten rules.’ Companies where staff seek consensus, interact differently from ‘controlling’ organizations.
  5. You don’t need to travel to learn about other cultures. Multicultural and multinational teams demonstrate cultural understanding and can provide ‘cultural bridges.’
  6. Stressful situations can reveal cultural differences. Often in stressful situations, people behave in a way that is the most natural to them. This may explain how a priority one outage might change a service desk analyst’s behavior.
  7. Find the best way to work together as a team. Try to understand each team member’s underlying ethics, values, and attitude towards risk.
  8. If you need to travel for work, learn about cultural differences in advance. Read a book and once in the new country, concentrate on observing and listening to people.
  9. Language is more than just about words. Understanding the hidden meaning of words takes more than an online translation tool. For example, did you know that ”yes” can mean ”yes” in Finland but ”maybe” in Estonia?
  10. The ITIL® framework mentions culture too! Most members of the audience were surprised to hear this. A great example of adopting a process was where case routing had different SLAs in the Nordics, which (apparently!) demand quicker service.
  11. Design your feedback mechanisms to fit the culture. How do you know you’re doing the right thing? In some cultures, a survey might be a best way to gather anonymous feedback whereas others may prefer to provide direct feedback.
  12. Culture is changing. Culture is a dynamic entity shaped by the people within the environment. As younger generations enters the workplace, we may need to re-think the ITIL framework and ‘linear processes.’
  13. Mind the culture gap! Be prepared for cultural differences both inside and outside your organization.

Do you have any tips or stories to tell from your experience working within a multinational team or doing work in a country that’s not your home country? Curious about how Cherwell Software thinks about international cultures?