Are you doing your best to develop cross-cultural effectiveness in your organization, and want better results? Quicker results? Longer lasting results? Or, maybe even just results—heightened productivity and satisfaction? Our clients have achieved amazing increases in cross-cultural effectiveness—their people improving two stages on the DMIS (the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) in a few months, and customer satisfaction increasing 30%—using Cultural Detective developmentally. How did they do that?…
Index for This Post (jump ahead if you’d like)
The DMIS and Cultural Detective
How Customers Successfully Build Intercultural Competence
Let me start by telling you about the DMIS. First published by Dr. Milton Bennett in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations in 1986, and more fully developed in Education for the Intercultural Experience in 1993, the DMIS has proven to be a key milestone in the intercultural field. It provides a roadmap for those of us who aim to develop intercultural competence.
A developmental model is a conceptual framework that helps us better understand a progressive process, as well as providing guides for continued development. Examples of a developmental model with which most parents are familiar are those charts that track the major milestones of an infant’s growth. Such models help us anticipate when our baby will smile, sit up, crawl, or distinguish right from wrong, and they can help us ready our children for their next big challenge. There are abilities our baby generally must develop (e.g., roll over) before being ready to accomplish tasks at a higher stage of development (e.g., crawl). At each stage, the baby needs to be appropriately encouraged, while also feeling safe enough to take the risk to try something new.
Similarly, the DMIS is a conceptual model of six stages of the development of intercultural sensitivity, from ethnocentrism to ethno-relativism. The IDI, or Intercultural Development Inventory, is a psychometric instrument that assesses one’s stage of development. Its origins are based in the DMIS, though it uses a slightly modified version of the model today, called the IDC (Intercultural Development Continuum). The DMIS and the IDI enable us to track where we are in the development of our intercultural sensitivity, and ready ourselves for enhanced sensitivity or effectiveness.
The DMIS and Cultural Detective
The beauty our clients have found in the Cultural Detective Method is that it challenges and supports, stretches and comforts, learners at each stage of their development of intercultural sensitivity. While the DMIS and IDI indicate where one is on the developmental continuum, Cultural Detective assists in the learning and development of the skills needed to succeed in cross-cultural interactions.
The process works organically. The designer must make the case for diversity and inclusion in developmentally appropriate ways, and debrief learning in ways that comfort and challenge the learners. However, the Cultural Detective (CD) Method itself need not vary, no matter the developmental stage. Learners, depending on their abilities, will naturally use the CD Method differently at different levels of development.
- Learners in ethnocentric stages of development will easily and fairly quickly solve a Cultural Detective mystery—they will be eager to complete the Worksheet, solve the problem, give the participants in the critical incident advice on what they should have done differently. Facilitators will observe, however, that learners at earlier development stages will suggest Cultural Bridges that are naïve or unrealistic, though of course possible. They might suggest, for example, that “the Japanese person just needs to speak up more assertively,” or “the Mexican manager needs to be more considerate of others and trust that his and his company’s welfare will be looked after.” Both of these recommendations are within the realm of possibility, both are achievable by Japanese and Mexicans of certain personality types or personal discipline, but such Bridges are not realistic for the majority of people from those cultures. Learners in ethnocentric stages feel good that they are able to solve the problem, which encourages them to try another and, with practice, learn what really works and what doesn’t when teaming across cultures.
- When completing that same Cultural Detective Worksheet, learners in ethno-relative stages of development will enjoy pairing Values, Beliefs and Cultural Sense with the Words and Actions they motivate. They will invest effort into discerning the commonalties, as well as the differences, between the participants in the critical incident. They will develop ways to build on shared interests, while also leveraging diverse opinions and abilities, so that all players more fully contribute and the organization or community benefits. They will, without prompting, compare themselves, their values and beliefs, to the players in the incident—constantly learning, discovering, and refining their self-understanding. They will, in an organic way, explore and cultivate their cultural (or multicultural) identities, their understanding of and empathy for others, and their abilities to collaborate across cultures.
Thus, in a very natural way, learners at all stages of development receive the support as well as the challenge they need to continue their developmental journey towards intercultural sensitivity. There is very little stress on the facilitator to adapt the CD Method for the learner’s level of development, freeing the facilitator to focus effort on answering questions and dealing with resistance in ways that are both appropriately challenging and supportive to the learner.
And such a flexible process can be a blessing when we work with groups from mixed developmental levels. I often compare the Cultural Detective Method to the Montessori approach, because learners at all developmental levels can gain from helping one another.
So, How Do Customers Do It? How Do They Successfully Build Competence?
1. Research shows the development of intercultural competence requires ongoing, structured learning. That is precisely what a subscription to Cultural Detective Online (CDO) provides. So, first, get a subscription. If you want to build competence in your team or organization, if you are an experienced interculturalist, or if you are new to the Diversity and Inclusion space, a CDO subscription is a small investment with huge potential. The subscription agreement allows you to project CDO contents onto a screen for group viewing in any work you personally deliver, as long as you explain to your learners that Cultural Detective Online is a tool that anyone can subscribe to. Our goal is to get these materials used!
2. USE the system, regularly. Cultural Detective Online isn’t an entertainment system; it isn’t passive; it won’t give you intercultural competence through osmosis or by using magic dust. (That’ll be version 2! Just kidding.) Log onto the system once a week, and spend 20-30 minutes debriefing a critical incident, and using Values Lenses to supplement what you see. Respond to the prompts asking you what you’ve learned. Review your notes.
3. After a few weeks using your subscription, once you feel comfortable and competent with the Cultural Detective Worksheet, upload your own incident. Choose something from your real life: perhaps an interaction with a family member, friend, or colleague that puzzled you. Once you write the brief story, link the participants in your incident (yourself and others) to the Values Lenses in the Cultural Detective Online system. Think about why you behaved the way you did, and reflect on the influence that national, gender, generational, and spiritual values had on your behavior. Think about these same influences on the other people in your incident.
4. Then, you can discuss the incident with the real people involved in the situation. Having worked through a CD Worksheet, you will be able to move beyond judgment in your discussion. You will have already thought through the possible positive intentions of the other person, so your dialogue will proceed constructively. You both can learn, and collectively develop strategies to collaborate, or cohabitate, more enjoyably.
5. If you are a team lead or an organizational facilitator, gather your learners together regularly (monthly, quarterly), to discuss what skills they are acquiring using the CD Online system, questions they have, and the challenges they’re experiencing in developing intercultural competence.
6. Remember, Cultural Detective need not stand alone; supplement the tool with your favorite activities: simulations, exercises, videos, role-plays, etc. The core Cultural Detective Method dovetails smoothly with just about any other intercultural tool or technique, because it is a process.
7. If you want to track your progress, be sure to use the IDI to get baseline measurements of participants in your group. I’d then recommend participants take the IDI again, after three months of structured learning using CDO. You will be amazed by the results!
8. Cultural Detective Online is a tool. It doesn’t replace skilled facilitation; it supplements and extends it. You may already use the MBTI, the IDI, dimensions models, etc., in the training or coaching you do. Add CD Online to your repertoire and you will be delighted at how it transforms what you are able to achieve with your learners.
9. Be sure to share your Cultural Effective success story with us, and get your organization some positive kudos!
A few years ago, two very experienced and well-regarded intercultural facilitators, Heather Robinson and Laura Bathurst, wrote an article explaining what I’m talking about.
I am also happy to share with you one of the handouts I prepared for a session at a recent IDI Conference (be sure to scroll down to view all three pages). This handout is a table showing the needs for challenge and support at each stage of development, and explicates the ways in which the Cultural Detective Method meets those needs. You are most welcome to download and print this handout. Note that in the handout you will find the five stages of development that are currently used by the IDI (slightly different than those of the DMIS, above).
Please let us know how you have used Cultural Detective in your teaching and training to facilitate your learners’ intercultural development. I would also like to invite any researchers or graduate students who are interested in conducting research on this important topic to contact us.