Cross-cultural coaching: An emerging practice

INTRODUCTION The world is highly and increasingly interconnected economically, socially and technologically; and, as a result, coaching assignments are invariably and increasingly ‘cross-cultural’ in some way. This interconnectedness is coupled with turbulence. We live and work in a global environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) characterized by constant change, including dangerous ruptures and positive innovation (Johansen, 2007; Bernstein, 2014). The practice of cross-cultural coaching is emerging and shaped by this heightened interconnectedness and complexity.

This developing field of interest has gained growing attention among coaching practitioners and scholars (Abbott et al., 2013) since Rosinski (2003) introduced his book Coaching across Cultures, where he combined coaching with cultural theories. Cross-cultural coaching is descriptive of coaching practice that occurs when ‘the context is somehow “cross-”, “multi-” or “inter-” cultural, with an aim to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the coachee and potentially for other stakeholders’ (modified from Bachkirova et al., 2010: 1). ‘Global coaching’ is a term that is increasingly used to describe the practices of coaches who are globally mobile and who often have international networks that can provide coaching services to multinational companies and in multiple countries.

In this chapter, we consider global coaching under the umbrella of cross-cultural coaching. We refer readers to a related Chapter 24 of this Handbook on ‘Interculturally-Sensitive Coaching’ as it includes more discussion of the key definitions and distinctions. The underlying premise of cross-cultural coaching is a commitment to the sensitive treatment of relevant cultural beliefs, dimensions, preferences, orientations and practices. As a theme, we have noted that most cross-cultural coaching continues to utilize mainstream coaching methodologies, but that adaptation of such approaches is critical. We have also noted that recent developments in management and leadership that draw on complexity theory and systems thinking have particular resonance in the cross-cultural coaching landscape where one salient variable – culture – is increasingly interrelated with other shifting and volatile variables in the global environment.

The focus in this chapter is primarily on emerging directions and practices in cross-cultural coaching. There are some challenges in surveying the field of cross-cultural coaching because it can be conducted in any genre or tradition of coaching where culture emerges in some way as a significant variable – whether in executive coaching, group and team coaching, managerial coaching, sports coaching, and so on. We have mainly examined executive coaching and managerial coaching practices in organizations with cross-cultural and cross-border contexts, primarily because this is where the bulk of the literature and research is focused. The application of coaching as a practice largely rooted in Western culture in other cultures with different traditions and orientations is also addressed. The chapter is offered in five parts: (1) the context of cross-cultural coaching, (2) the application of complexity theory in working across cultures, (3) tools, models and approaches for cross-cultural coaching, (4) recent empirical studies, and (5) concluding words.