International exchange is a valued opportunity for many students at schools or universities to experience new and diverse cultures. Students are frequently offered the opportunity for short or long-term trips abroad, as well as exchanges in co-operation with other institutions, with exchange programmes such as Erasmus having become widely popular amongst the European and global community. However, in work life we are offered international opportunities for an exchange on a professional level much less frequently. Business trips and visits to other work-related settings are, of course, quite common in certain fields, but they rarely provide profound insight into work, life, and culture outside of hotel and meeting rooms.
But why does such exchange of knowledge between different countries and organisations seem to be less valued in our work life, whilst at the same time it has become an integral part of an increasingly globalised community? Spending time abroad may be perceived as a deficit in work hours, but that neglects the fact that valuable insights gained from mutual exchange can help to shape a more productive work environment for both parties involved.
Knowledge exchange that works
There are plenty of ways in which professionals can learn from the work practices of others – whether from internal knowledge-sharing and shadowing, or during projects with clients and customers. Learning about different work cultures, how their people think and operate can provide invaluable insights, also for our own home market. Therefore, I consider myself lucky to work for German Public Affairs Agency navos, which is, together with PLMR, a founding partner of the Global Communications Alliance (GCA). The GCA’s international network of agencies shares the belief that we can benefit from each other in many more ways than profit. A driving force within its scope is the desire to learn from and work collaboratively with international peers, enabling its members to provide extensive local knowledge as well as global reach for clients.
As part of the GCA, young consultants like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a work placement with other member agencies. The benefits are obvious: knowledge sharing, increased skillsets, and improved networks for employee and agency alike.
New insights and ideas for practical implementation
Together with my colleague Mattis from navos’ Berlin office, I embarked on what was going to be a very valuable experience both for professional and personal development. During our two weeks at PLMR, we were introduced to the different teams and their projects. Finding ourselves in a comparably fast-paced and lower-distance political environment, it was an intriguing experience to follow the UK local elections and explore the implications of the results for client work. Getting a glimpse of the work carried out by our London-based colleagues and gaining an understanding of the cultural setting they operate in, has provided us with new tools to address local as well as international communications. And while some areas of work were familiar, others were completely new and less embedded into our day-to-day business in Germany.
The opportunity to compare and contrast internal structures and workflows was especially helpful to identify useful applications for own internal processes. New ideas and formats on how to collaborate and share knowledge amongst colleagues were some key takeaways from the exchange that will shape the path for some change at our own organisation. Likewise, an exchange on how our agencies approach the ongoing war for talent on the job market is another example on how organisations can learn from and inspire each other.
Professional exchange definitely has the potential to expand knowledge, spark new ideas and inspire practical solutions on how to tackle communication within different settings. By providing a new point of view that will shape their approach, international exchange enables young professionals to think outside the box, and understand how to apply cultural insight to their own practice.