Danish managers must have the courage to say no Management: A group of Danish Managers exercises in five days to cooperate with Kenyan Managers and walk a tight rope between their own values and the values of a Muslim influenced culture. BEILE GRÜNBAUM Jyllands-Postens' 'reporter on-site' email@example.com First training day Mombasa In a fashionable hotel out side Mombasa Mombasa are three Danish, female managers and two Kenyan, male managers having supper while they are doing a group work. The women are drinking wine and talking constantly, the Kenyan males are primarily observing. One of the men are wearying the traditional, white Muslim dress. The team must in five days develop a strategy plan for an educational project for disabled women. The Shanzu Transitional Workshop for disabled Women. Different cultures It's the first evening and the participants are trying to distribute roles among them selves. One of the women is leaning a cross the table, pointing at one of the men and asserting: 'Okay, so you are our spokesman, right?'. The man is looking down. The woman is repeating her question and adding his name and waiving her fingers. The man looks up briefly looks at his fellow countryman and whispers very silently 'yes'. The woman lean further a cross the table places her hand on his shoulder and asks: 'It's okay with you, right?'. The man whispers very silently yes, still looking down. Shortly after, he excuses him self, rises and leaves. A group of nine Danish and 10 Kenyan managers met in the beginning of July for the first time in Mombasa to learn about each others cultures. On the surface level they should over four to five days in four sub-teams develop a strategy plan for The Shanzu Transitional Workshop for Disabled Women. Different cultures The main task though was to experience how to cooperate efficiently with a culture having a completely different set of values than what the Danes are bringing in from back home. From the very beginning the Danish participants noticed some characteristics about the Kenyan culture. The men didn't look the woman directly in the eye, which was considered rude among the Danish women. But according to Kenyan common practise - partly influenced by Muslim traditions - it is impolite for men to look too long time at a woman. Therefore they would rather choose to look down or at another male present. No, is a bad word No is a bad word for the Kenyans. They will walk an extra mile to avoid offending another person by saying no, explains the Kenyan facilitator. Kenyans can easily encode a hesitant reply or a 'maybe' and translate it to 'no', but such sup tile nuances aren't easily perceived by the straight forward and outspoken Danes. - Many would take the Kenyans words for face value. (but) The Kenyan would often say yes out of politeness, even when they actually only means 'I hear, what you are saying and I'll look at it', says Twalib Ebrahim Hazara, manager of the consultancy company ODCL, which in cooperation with the Danish Human House A/S are the companies behind the training programme, - the other way around perceives the Kenyans Danes as being very direct, what quickly can have an offending effect on the Kenyan. Projects running off track 'If you for instance ask why a Kenyan is late or not is sticking to an agreement, it will be received very gravely. Cooperation will crash', says Twalib Ebrahim Hazara. The Danish Embassy in Kenya is supporting a number of business co operations between Danish and Kenyan companies. The so called business-to-business projects under DANIDA. (Danish International Development Agency). Presently almost 80 projects are running between Kenyan and Danish companies supported by DANIDA. Unfortunately the projects are often running off the track due to cultural problems. That is the reason why the embassy has been actively pushing the development of the training course. Danida is co-sponsor for the first pilot project. - Things are often going wrong already in first contact phase or in the pilot phase, because the partners misunderstand each other. The Danes lose patience with the Kenyans and they don't have any consideration for the challenges in bureaucracy the Kenyans have to deal with. When a Kenyan initially says 'yes' he is in reality just saying 'yes, we will try to solve the problem, tells Ambassador Bo Jensen from the Danish Embassy in Kenya. A genuine network Among the Danish participants are e.g. managers from the water pump group Grundfos, the Tele communication giant TDC, the Ministry of Environment, the Cooperative Bank of East Jutland and city councils. Manager of product development at Grundfos, Mogens Meyer is convinced that Danish companies need this type of training. In every day work he touches often upon problems, coursed by differences in culture. - Earlier on all research and development took place at Grundfos' factories in Bjerringbro, Denmark, but today we have expanded a genuine global network in research to e.g. China, India, Hungary, Finland and USA. In this way we are closer to our market and we are gaining access to all the best brains. We are sending Danish employees out, and we are receiving foreign employees in Denmark. We are doing projects together globally, but it's certainly not free of complications, says Mogens Meyer. He has experienced misunderstandings between Danish and Chinese colleagues. - In Denmark it is a totally normal and polite way to end an email by telling the receiver to let one know if further assistance is required. The Chinese perceive this as the sender assumes that they cannot solve the task themselves and becomes deadly offended, explains Mogens Meyer. Second training day The Imam is a small, slender person with round glasses, what gives him a likeness with Mahatma Gandhi. But in the moment he starts his power point presentation any similarity with the Indian peace negotiator disappears. Fazle Abbas Datoo is a disappointed imam. He states that the West is treating Muslims and Islam with big injustice. Therefore the title of his speech is plainly 'Islamofobi'. - When my daughter is going to the dentist, she can't sleep the night before, because she is afraid. Then we explain that the dentist just is trying to help her by caring for her teeth. Then her fear disappear and she sleeps calm and restful, says the Imam and hesitates a moment as to let the picture of the daughter being comforted sitting on his lap be visible to the audience. - It's the same way with Islam. Many people are afraid of Islam after 9/11, and therefore there is a need for us to explain to people what Islam is, so they can get rid of this illogical fear - just as my daughter, who's afraid of the dentist even when he wants' the best for her, he says. The first so called illogical fear, that shall be unburdened from the listeners, is the fear of a connection between Islam and terrorism. - To talk about Islamic Terrorism is like talking about a quadratic circle. It is a mathematical impossibility, asserts the Imam. Wide spread fairy stories The ball is catched by one of the Kenyan participants who diverts with a story of conspiration - commonly spread in this neighbourhood - telling that in reality it was a group of Jews who stood behind the terror attack on the USA on September 11th 2001. - 3.081 Israelis were working in the World Trade Center and none of them were at work on 9/11. Something quite different was at stake, reveals Ali Mohammed, manager at the printing house Lake Printers and Stationers. The Imam is nodding approvingly. Neither Danish nor Kenyan participants interrupt or question the assertion. And maybe here is the core of the Danish managers' mutual problem. Many Danish managers loose their speech when they meet perceptions that are so far from their own values. In Kenya even well educated managers will make very firm negative statements about other ethnic groups or about for instance homo sexuals, which was demonstrated several times during the training sessions. 'Stupid' Arabs Other Kenyan participants were asked by the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten if they also believed that the Jews were responsible for 9/11. The answers were: 'Listen, I know the Arabs. They are stupid and they cannot plan such a complicated terror attack.' Other - non-Muslim - Kenyan participants answered: 'But yes, it's a well known fact, that the Jews were responsible.' - Look at the motiv. They had an interest in creating hate against the Muslims. They wanted to shift the World's focus away from Palestine. According to the Danish leader of the course, Jan Hyttel is the biggest challenge for Danish managers to hold firmly on to own values. - Many finds it difficult to take a stand in the dimensions of culture. Some realise there is a difference, but stops there, others go beyond their own limits to understand other cultures and stops there, and develops a self-hatred in relation to own values, says Jan Hyttel, managing director in the consultancy company Human House. He describes the meeting between cultures as a process in three steps. - The last and most important step is to find out what to do. How to relate to the other cultures values without violating your own. The real challenge is buried in this third step. The meeting between cultures also requires the courage to say no, he explains. Not only Danish managers are facing this dilemma. The Danish society as a whole is standing face to face with a discussion about values, a discussion that no longer can be ignored. - It's not just a question about understanding other people, we also have to understand ourselves, so we are not shifting course every now and then. During the crises concerning the drawings of the Prophet Mohammed, many Danes said that 'off course do we have a freedom of speech, but we also think that...' and then the 'but' was followed by a lot of softening and smoothing. We have a giant challenge both on the national level and in the companies. One cannot manage global policies or company policies by adding a 'comma-but, asserts Jan Hyttel. Focusing on the tasks So what are you to do in a company if racist or disparaging comments surfaces? Mogens Meyer from Grundfos underlines to all employees that points of views regarding other groups of people doesn't belong at the job. - I tell people, that they can have whatever opinion they like, but at the job they must keep those opinions to them selves. And if it concerns other colleagues it has to be stopped immediately, he says. Among other things he has experienced that one of the Danish employees wanted an employee from another ethnic group moved from a project team because the other person in his opinion didn't fit into the team. - In that situation I asked the employee whether or not he thought that it was in accordance with the values of Grundfos to discharge another person on such reasons. The next day he came back and said that he realised it would be better to upgrade the other person's competencies so he could match the team better, says Mogens Meyer. Last day at the course The Danish Ambassador plants a tree, is handed over a present by singing girls and is given a three quarter of an hour tour round the Shanzu Transitional Workshop for Disabled Women's' three buildings. This is the day when the 19 Danish and Kenyan managers must present their proposal for a strategy for the disabled girls. First the participants are given a word to carry with them from the Ambassador: - I have done all I could to come here today because cultural meetings of this kind are very important to the job carried out by the embassy. There are big challenges when the two cultures meet, which you will realise along the road. You may find it easy now, but in two days or two months you will experience how difficult it actually can be, says Ambassador Bo Jensen. This is setting the scene for the four teams, each team having works intensively for four to five days to create better living conditions for the 80 disabled girls connected to the project. Speech of thank The crows are screaming and the wind is rattling the participants' papers and somewhere in the background a man is cutting down grass with a machete. (a Panga). Damu Shah, head of the Shanzu-project, is leaning forward to capture the management phrases despite the noise in the background. When the four teams have presented their proposals for the future strategy, marketing, finance and HR-management, Mrs. Shah is paying her thanks to the group 'sent by God' for their proposals. She ends her speech of thanks by saying: 'Mmmm, Okay. We have already tried many of the things you are suggesting, and it didn't work. Mmmmm. But I assume that it will do no harm to try again', she says. Whether this means that Mrs. Shah will actually put the many suggestions into action, will presumably depend on if it's Danish or Kenyan ears that are translating the message. In a box below picture: Headlines Danish managers don't focus enough on cultural differences and the challenges these creates in a Danish company trying to act in a Global context. Danida (Danish Aid organisation) is in a pilot project in Kenya trying to teach Danish managers how to tackle the challenge of getting different cultures to cooperate in a global company. Right side top beside photo 'To talk about Islamic Terrorism is like talking about a quadratic circle. It is a mathematical impossibility' Fazle Abbas Datoo, imam, Kenya Beneath photo - Danes loses patience with the Kenyans. The Danes doesn't understand the problem with bureaucracy that the Kenyans have to cope with. Bo Jensen, Danish Ambassador, Kenya Box in photo: Cooperation Danish and Kenyan culture are wide apart. This experienced a group of Danish managers in a management course in Kenya. Here among others Birgitte Jahn, managing director in Danish Crafts, (with sunglasses) in a practical team exercise on the beach in Mombasa. Foto: Beile Grünbaum Left side, next to photo - If you for instance ask why a Kenyan is late or not is sticking to an agreement, it will be received very gravely. Cooperation will crash', says Twalib Ebrahim Hazara.