Melbourne is a proudly multicultural city. Leveraging cultural diversity requires the ability to  navigate differences within the organisation and across multiple communities make Melbourne the vibrant city it is.

Context

The City of Melbourne partnered with Polykala to design and deliver cultural competency training for its staff in 2019. 

Previously, the council had made it a requirement for all frontline staff that are interacting with members of the public to complete the SBS Cultural Competency online training modules. The content in the training was full of valuable information and ideas but the team at the City of Melbourne wanted to explore the ideas in a more practical and applied way. We were excited by the brief; bringing ideas to life is what Polykala does best.

The project expanded in 2023 to include a separate training package focussing on the internal skills and conversations to improve the cultural competency of all staff members at the City of Melbourne.

Approach

We took the best of the SBS Cultural Competency training and built a training package that enabled participants to have real conversations about cultural differences while developing the communication skills that help deal with dispute, misunderstanding or mismatched intentions and impacts. To achieve these objectives, we begin by giving participants the opportunity to learn from each other. This is fundamental to any Polykala communication skills training. This non-hierarchical learning approach enables participants to determine their own learning and to do so in a highly context specific way. We offer a set of practical tools that participants try out and grow competence in through dynamic role play, coached fish-bowl sessions and detailed peer-led discussions. Sitting alone at a computer completing multi-choice modules does not produce the kind of felt experience and insight cross-cultural communication training really needs. 

We ground the training in the values and principles of the organisation. The City of Melbourne has a robust set of organisational values that clearly set out its expectations of its staff. Included in those values are the commitment to take responsibility for the organisation’s culture rather than leave it to someone else.

We use Edward Hall’s distinction of high context (collectivist) and low context (individualist) cultures as the key idea to help participants recognise the needs of community members in terms of how they like to communicate, relate and interact with others. This can include anything from observable forms of communication like eye contact or shaking hands to more complex and less visible features of interaction like cultural responsibilities or a willingness to engage with authority figures. An integral aspect of the training invites participants to recognise and appreciate their own cultural context (we all have one or more) and the way in which their life experience informs their approach to interpreting the values and behaviour of others. 

Our training concludes by offering practical principles and approaches to working with people from different cultural contexts to one’s own. Participants recognise the limitations of simply, ‘treating people as I’d want to be treated’ or ‘I just treat everyone the same’. While it’s impossible to know everything about every ethnic or cultural community in Melbourne, using high and low cultural context theory helps staff understand why some folks need to be engaged with, say, directness and written communication whereas others might need more interpersonal and relational context before they can contribute in the same community consultation session. 

“It has been a pleasure to work with Polykala. After identifying a need for cultural awareness training across the organisation, we were able to get monthly sessions set up very quickly, which were tailored to our organisation’s values and our learners’ needs.”

Jennifer Dickson – Learning & Development Coordinator, City of Melbourne

Outcomes

We’ve now delivered 10 sessions to over 250 staff members at the City of Melbourne. We have been heartened with the response and have particularly enjoyed the working relationship with the team at the City of Melbourne. During the roll out we have engaged in a rigorous feedback and review process to ensure the training sessions remain up to date and respond to the needs of the participants. We enjoyed the unpredictable learning that comes when you have people from heritage and planning, recreation, open spaces, social policy and libraries all in the same (virtual) room nutting out how they might best serve this diverse and vibrant city. Participants leave our sessions with a more sophisticated understanding of their role and new tools to connect with the public and their colleagues with greater ease.

“Polykala easily understood our requirements and the direction we were going in and ran each session in a professional and respectful manner, helping our learners navigate complex topics and scenarios through engaging support, imparting their knowledge and experiences along the way. We recently surveyed all staff in the workplace, and found a significant increase in people feeling that they have access to development in the organisation. I have no doubt that our cultural awareness sessions, and the expert facilitation, contributed greatly to this.”

Jennifer Dickson – Learning & Development Coordinator, City of Melbourne

Client

City of Melbourne

Year

2019 – Present

Number of participants

250

Number of sessions

10

Location

Melbourne (Victoria), Online