Working Across Borders

working across border, Ascend in the Middle East, an article by Ascend - leading boutique talent strategy and leadership development consultancy based in London, England.

I am one of those lucky people who really enjoy their job and get to go to interesting places and work in diverse cultures all over the world.

Late last year, this was brought home to me as I voluntarily got out of bed at 4.30am to meet some of my clients at the foot of a mountain before sunrise in Muscat, Oman. Four hours later, I was sitting with my new friends, by the sea, drinking Omani coffee and eating omelet and beans, learning more about Oman’s colourful history and being laughed at for my pathetic attempts at mastering the Arabic language. 

Ascend started working in the Middle East in 2006 and not long after, my family and I moved full time to the region for a three year stint. Basing myself in Abu Dhabi, I had a remit to work across the whole region and when occasion arose, in India and sub-Saharan Africa too.
I had some pretty hairy assignments in the early days in both Lebanon (to which I have been back to many times since) and Libya (which, alas, I have not). On one occasion in Tripoli, security decided to not let me out of the airport, but did let my client in. We didn't let that stop us. We ran the workshop in Arrivals and then I disappeared to departures and they went home. 

Working in the Middle East can sometimes be frustrating but is always rewarding. There are a few things you can do to prepare you for the differences which will make your relationships and business as successful as possible:

  • Research the history and customs
  • Learn a sprinkling of common phrases
  • Ask about cultural differences
  • Make allowances for prayer times
  • Listen, ask questions and be interested
  • Be patient with last minute changes, cancellations and administrative delays
  • Take time to build relationships, it will be worth it in the long run!
  • Be respectful of other people’s generosity

 I am always struck me by the generosity of spirit and the eagerness to learn. I also think that because, in many cases, people have had less access to development earlier in their careers, it is possible to make bigger shifts in capability, mindset and behavioural change. Ten years ago, during one of the first high potential programmes I ran in the Region, a bright-eyed participant came over to tell me that this was the best development he had ever had. For a moment, my chest puffed out with pride, before I asked him how many workshops he had attended previously. “This is my first’, he replied.

I am often asked how I alter my facilitation or coaching style when working in the Region. In the main, most clients want to be given the full ‘Western’ experience, however, there are definitely some nuances around how to give and receive feedback and linked to that, getting people to tell you what they really think.

We are fortunate to have worked with a range of international clients in the Region, such as PwC, HSBC, Eversheds, Schlumberger and Arup as well as some wonderful locally headquartered companies, including Bank Muscat, ENOC, ADIA, Mubadala and Dubai World Trade Centre on projects relating to talent strategy, developing leaders, executive coaching and working with executive teams. We are also getting some traction over our specialist programmes: Resilience; Strategic Stakeholder Management and Relationships; and Strategic Career Planning - for both groups and senior executives.

I am heading back to the Arabian peninsula twice in February to work with talented, collaborative people in fascinating cultures and two weeks of undiluted sun in the middle of the British winter. What is not to like?!

If you would like to know more about the work Ascend does in the Middle East (and further afield) or to meet when we are back in the Region, please contact us.

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