Cultural Understanding “Down Under”

Elin Hultin

Doing a rotation abroad is about much more than simply changing time zone, surroundings and languages; it’s about getting to know another business culture in a way you don’t have access to as a tourist. It presents a great opportunity to pick and choose all the “cherries” of the culture you are visiting and bring them back to your home department. I’ll be bringing a lot of cherries back to Sweden!

I am Elin Hultin, and for me, a great part of the Saab Graduate Leadership Programme is the chance to go abroad for rotations, usually with at least one extending over two months. When preparing to go on a 13 week rotation to our offices in Adelaide, Australia I got in contact with a previous graduate that had done a rotation at the same office. We talked about people to meet up with, the best gym to sign up to and what the dress code of the office was. But besides “people are really friendly and nice”, we didn’t really discuss the business culture.

Having been to Australia once before and knowing a few “Aussies”, I didn’t believe that the culture, or business culture, would be all that different from Sweden. And don’t get me wrong, nine weeks into my rotation I still haven’t found anything huge. But I think that’s the thing; that culture is in the little things.

For example, I like giving compliments to people, but I didn’t really find that people necessarily appreciated or accepted them here. And not in a semi-real-attempt-to-be-humble type of way, more in a “oh, it was really all of us” type of way.

Reading up on it, the business culture in Australia is apparently one of team spirit that values the team’s efforts more than the individual’s. Which probably meant that my frequent compliments and words of appreciation possibly didn’t make people feel appreciated but rather a little bit uncomfortable. Lesson learned! I now try to compliment teams and groups of people rather than individuals.

Another thing that I have found, and absolutely love, is that my Aussie colleagues are quite direct. Almost daily, I hear comments such as “I think I found an error in your document that will cause X to happen, when do you think you have time to look at it?” I would have thought that a person saying this was a bit annoyed; using no small talk or softening words whatsoever. But I have found that here, direct communication is used without any other intent than being clear on what is being communicated.

That is one of the cherries I’m definitely looking to bring back in some shape. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes in life, for example in school, I’ve gotten feedback in the form of “Hey, great job on fixing X, it looks really good. I think it’s just what we need. Someone was saying how maybe Y could also work. I don’t know, maybe Y could. One could have a look at Y, but I also like X the way it is. Anyway, good job!” Now, being familiar with the Swedish culture, I know that this probably means that someone found a change that would improve the work I’ve done, but they didn’t want to step on my toes. And even though I do not expect feedback that is quite this blurry in the workplace, I still think we can learn to be more direct and try to leave any underlying meanings out of the communication as it risks getting misunderstood.

I’m also bringing the friendliness I’ve encountered here back to Sweden. The colleagues here have been just great at making me feel part of the group and I’ve been invited to weekend activities, sports activities and more or less bombarded with links to restaurants, national parks, vineyards, museums, botanic gardens, parks, etcetera to visit. Such things really make a difference in how welcome you feel. I thought we were generally good at taking care of guests in Sweden, and maybe we are, but not compared to my great colleagues here in Adelaide, that’s for sure.

At the Adelaide Oval watching Port Adelaide beat Collingwood at a game of Australian football. Thankfully, we were sitting next to people that explained the very complicated rules to us.