With increased connectivity across all companies and individuals, and with global collaboration becoming increasingly instrumental for business success, cultural intelligence - or cultural quotient - (CQ) has taken on a new significance.

This is a positive change for all companies, as it means greater access to more resources, knowledge and talent, offering a dynamic working approach that isn't relegated to a single location. However, this also means that knowledge gaps in terms of different cultures and customs are now being exposed a lot more regularly.

This can lead to divides that affect staff morale, work environment, working relationships and other aspects of business, all of which impact the quality of work being produced. This is why it is important to foster CQ within a global organization.

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence is more than just cultural awareness and sensitivity, which are also vital within a corporation; it is the ability to relate to culturally diverse situations, as well as work effectively in them. Individuals with high levels of CQ are better able to accomplish goals in a respectful and effective way no matter what the cultural context.

No matter how culturally diverse a workplace environment is, people can still forget that not all experiences, perceptions and perspectives are the same, which can lead to issues with the work being done and relationships, as well as causing friction in the workplace.

CQ allows individuals to gain a better understanding of cultures enabling them to work in a positive and compassionate way with people from various cultures. In essence, therefore, CQ is developing a more advanced knowledge of traditions, nationalities, corporate cultures and disciplines that could have an impact on a business.

The process of gaining CQ means increasing insight into the ways that different cultures function within business so as to develop language and behaviors in a professional setting that allow for better problem-solving.

Benefits of cultural intelligence

Being able to deal with differences in working methods and behavior that come about through a mix of cultures operating together within one organization can bring a number of benefits to your business.

One of the most important of these is the fact that it adds a competitive edge to a business, as CQ improves communication, cooperation, teamwork and performance. In fact, according to David Livermore, the president of the Cultural Intelligence Center in Michigan, US, 90 per cent of leading executives from 68 countries have said that cross-cultural skills are one of the most vital capabilities in order to remain competitive. This highlights the importance of CQ not just for business, but for individuals within it.

Mr Livermore goes on to explain that teams with low CQ underperform compared to those with high levels when it comes to innovation, engagement, profitability and other key factors. This suggests that CQ is vital for worker efficiency, the quality of service and creating beneficial interpersonal connections between employees, as well as between the business and clients.

One of the reasons CQ improves these aspects of business is the fact that it allows for access to a broader range of tools and resources than a company with low CQ would have. This ensures faster problem solving, as well as understanding of various cultural experiences, which could help to better shape a product or service.

Enhancing cultural intelligence

Working to enhance CQ within a company, both broadly and individually, will help to ensure the business makes the most of all benefits on offer. The development of CQ takes time but it is a process that is well worth the investment, not only because it increases compassion between colleagues, but because it can boost corporate reputation.

According to a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), one of the highest ranked methods of enhancing CQ within organizations is customized programs. Rather than unchanging and boilerplate presentation, the findings recommend an approach that meets the needs and knowledge gaps of individual companies by starting the process with an assessment.

Understanding how CQ could improve the day-to-day activities of a business or department will enable a tailored training approach that closely ties with workers' regular experience. This will help with closer learning, which allows employees to adopt behaviors and attitudes that lead to improved CQ.

However, those in leadership roles can benefit from attending external events that allow them to develop their CQ in an environment that enables them to interact with different people from various cultures. This can inform in-house training programs and provide them with a basis for individual coaching.

While e-learning is fast becoming a go-to option for businesses, the CIPD and SHRM's study revealed that levels of completion among staff when it came to CQ training were low, suggesting that a more interactive approach is the best option. This ensures higher levels of engagement, completion and examples that are relevant to individual office locations.