I can recall the first project I had in a foreign country. I did what a lot of people did, I learned what you should do and shouldn't do in that country. For example, in an Arab country, it is considered impolite to shake hands with someone using your left hand (a "don't"). Similarly, in India, where it is common to eat with your hands, using your left hand to eat is also considered impolite.
So while learning the do's and don'ts will keep us from making a fool of ourselves, we need to go further to work effectively with these cultures. Some areas to focus on include;
- Problem solving - does the culture you are working in put more emphasis on facts or on logic/reasoning? Do they come at the problem from different angles or try to focus in on just one solution?
- Governance - how is power shared or controlled? Are people punctual or not? How do they approach risk?
- Relating - are tasks more important or relationships? Are individuals or groups more important? Are communications explicit or implicit?