Cross-cultural teamwork is an integral part of the FSD experience. Are you up for the challenge?
Teamwork Breaks Borders, Builds Relationships
Spannning a broad range of sectors, FSD’s international programs span a broad range of sectors are designed to advance community priorities and to facilitate teamwork in a cross-cultural setting. In an international context, teamwork can advance breakthroughs and help team members surmount challenges – an experience that prepares volunteers and interns for success in a variety of fields. The processes of mutual learning and teaching are stepping stones to meaningful teamwork in any organizational setting, be it cross-cultural or within a culturally homogenous group.
Teamwork is crucial to success in international development work. What’s more, engaging in impact-driven projects directly alongside community partners is a reciprocal process that allows for deeper learning among these organizations, interns, and community members.
International volunteers and interns immerse themselves in high-context cultures in which interpersonal relationships and collectivism are highly valued. As such, trust is at the core of many interactions. Establishing a strong base of trust that is cultivated through common interest and mutual learning can create a shared sense of responsibility and project ownership. Participants learn to develop trust with their host communities; this aids in establishing a common foundation that encourages creativity and learning while producing effective solutions as a team. Agile teams result when members build on complementary strengths while simultaneously embracing differences. Teamwork may not always lead to a direct path, but is nonetheless a crucial component when working across cultures and identities.
Among many of our program alumni, Erin McClintock, who interned in Salta, Argentina, offered this reflection on teamwork: “With the help of my project team members...I discovered my ability to lead and have confidence in myself and my ideas. I also learned how to work as a team and have empathy for my other group members. I was able to create a project with my original ideas, but also with the ideas of each of my teammates who really helped to elevate and make my project unique.”
This teamwork also leads to the sustainability of FSD volunteer and intern projects. Using the asset-based community development approach emphasizes the need to engage the community and mobilize local resources to develop solutions to community issues. Without teamwork and trust, this approach is ineffective and can lead to failed results.
Flexibility Bridges Cultures and Work Styles
FSD’s programs deliver collective impact and the experiences are communal. Achieving this impact demands flexibility. Volunteers working as a group may encounter differences in personal value systems, in communication and leadership styles, as well as in identity and culture. Successful collaboration requires a flexible approach, process, and response from the participant. Despite everyone’s best intentions, ambiguity (and resultant information gaps) may lead to biased – or even faulty – assumptions, especially in a cross-cultural context. It is important to recognize that flexibility is also a mutual undertaking and suspending judgement during moments of ambiguity can deepen perspectives.
These collaborations allow FSD participants to be flexible and take on new roles. While working alongside their supervisors or host family, interns and volunteers learn how to be a facilitator, a collaborator, a mentor – and, often, a leader. Participants come to realize where their biggest strengths lie, and how they can most meaningfully collaborate with their community partners. This flexibility also allows participants the opportunity to step back and assess areas of their personal and professional growth, and even introduce them to new opportunities for learning.
FSD alumna Reilly Brooks described how her internship experience in Kakamega, Kenya taught her how to be more flexible. She said, “I learned how to communicate and build relationships across cultures and social conditions. I also learned about resilience and exposed myself to what it really means to give people opportunities in order to fulfill their full potential. Specifically for Kenya, I have learned how to be flexible and work in a slow-paced environment. Dealing with the cultural difference in the work environment was more challenging than I expected, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn from a different way of social interaction. I also learned what it really means to listen, how to ask the right questions and the importance of hearing as many voices / opinions before attempting to create social change. However, I also learned that I cannot fear innovation and action is more important than talking about it.”
At FSD, we appreciate the dynamism of teamwork and flexibility among our participants and acknowledge how this process can lead to a richness of overall experiences. Working collaboratively in a cross-cultural setting not only ensures an optimal volunteer experience, but prepares participants for their future endeavors, be they in development, academia, or the corporate world.
To learn more about our individual international internships, professional volunteering opportunities, or short-term group programs, please visit our Programs page.