Working with Culturally Diverse Teams

By January 12, 2016Learnings

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
Henry Ford

Working in a culturally diverse team can be simultaneously stimulating and frustrating. The stimulus comes from multiple perspectives, practices and new ideas. Yet this can also create misunderstanding or conflict as we may not at first appreciate the nuance of the different thinking, values and practices. Indeed we may be dismissive of the different way of doing things without recognising that what we regard as the “right way” is conditioned by who we are as Observers.

Communication Styles
Partnering with business leaders in London, a melting pot of many cultures and nationalities,I often find that one of their greatest challenges is handling the different communication and working styles of their team members. Each team member may have different ways of interacting.

For example, some are deferential and respect hierarchy. So they may be hesitant to speak out of turn. Some may be circumspect and use tentative language, which others see as lacking conviction or unreliable.

Some may have what Dr. Carol Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset.” It is important to them to demonstrate their intelligence or command of the situation. Others may have what Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” They tend to view interactions as learning opportunities and will readily modify their approach.

For some, what they consider appropriate and how to speak to their colleagues differs based on gender.

Others are more direct. They believe that they add value by expressing their opinions and demonstrating their initiative.

Working Styles
Julie Hay describes 5 working styles and the drivers or motivators of people with these styles.

  • “Hurry Up” enjoys having a lot to do and thrives on urgency
  • “Be Perfect” focuses on accuracy and likes order
  • “Please People” tends to be intuitive about other’s feelings and views
  • “Try Hard” is motivated by the early stages of projects
  • “Be Strong” welcomes pressure and demonstrating how they cope

Based on Hay’s description is it easy to see these different working styles can lead to miscommunication and frustration.

Meta Programmes
We all have unconscious patterns of making sense of information. These patterns or Meta Programmes affect what we notice and what we filter out that is not important to us. Ian McDermott and Wendy Jago discuss several that affect how we work and engage with others.

For example, people have different attitudes to risk; some being motivated by “moving towards” risk others “moving away from” risk. Some people are driven by what they see as “necessary” and what has to be done. Others are driven by what might be “possible” and what is new. Or some people assess a situation by looking for “similarities” and others focus more on “differences.” Some people need to analyse the finer detail. They focus on “small chunk size”. Others are inspired by the big picture and prefer “large chunk size.”

What can you practise to improve your interactions with multiple stakeholders?
If your message isn’t being understood or you are experiencing conflict you are likely to be getting signals from your body e.g. you may feel a tightness in your throat or a pain in your shoulders. You are also likely to be getting signals from your emotions of frustration, resentment or anger.

Don’t simply “solider on” ignoring the pain or burying your emotions. Take a deep breath, acknowledge what you are feeling and calm yourself. This may mean that you shift how you are standing or sitting. You may need to unclench your jaw and unfold your arms. You may need to take a break in the conversation and go for a walk or get a refreshment to clear your thinking.

Next consider:

  • What do I know about the other person’s values, standards and norms?
  • What assumption might he or she be making that is different from mine?
  • If I looked at the issue from his or her perspective how might I handle it differently?
  • How could I have a conversation to learn more about his or her preferred styles of working and communication?
  • If I presented the information in a different way would it make more sense to the other person?

Resources
To further explore different styles and motivators see the following books.

Dweck, Carol. (2012). Mindset How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. UK: Robinson
Hay, Julie. (1993). Working it Out at Work: Understanding Attitudes and Building Relationships. UK: Sherwood Publishing
McDermott, Ian and Jago, Wendy. (2002). The NLP Coach. UK: Piatkus
Tannen, Deborah. (2001). Talking 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. US: Quill

Photo Source:
Courtesy of Digital Willow

If you would like to become a more effective leader contact me at sylvana@sylvanacaloni.com  or call me +44 (0) 20 7226 3611 or +44 (0) 7952 068133 to arrange a conversation.

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