It’s easy to praise diversity. We have good intentions because we know it’s the right thing to do. Celebrating diversity is good and it should work.
But imagine this:
You’re working with a culturally diverse team. You need to meet a deadline next week. But what if you believe the team should make a beeline to the goal, getting there as quickly as possible, while your team mates prefer to take a different route? It might be a more relationship-centered route that takes longer because you spend more time socializing. It might be a route that involves more debating and communicating to build consensus – rather than just implementing a decision and getting things done. What if these different ways clash with your deepest values?
Time for you = money, a resource to be carefully “spent” – goal first.
Time for them = relationships, being and working together – people first.
What if it’s the other way around?
Cross-cultural team members have a lot to gain from one another precisely because very different people will make very distinct contributions. However, these teams will experience Culture Shock: small, international battles at the most local level, that must be resolved not just to reach the goal, but to keep morale high and passion flowing.
¿What are the keys to success?
There’s no magic solution, but here are a few ideas:
- General Culture – Team members need to understand basic, universal, cultural differences and their roots. They must understand the role these can play in any conflict.
And why reinvent the wheel? Anthropologists and sociologists have created practical tools for analyzing cultural differences and the impact they have on our cross-cultural encounters. Learn about them. Learn to use them!
- Personal Culture – Team members need to understand their own personal cultures. Your cultural training began at birth and continued at school and later at work. Culture is like the water in your fishbowl or the air you breathe. You need to know how it affects your world view, beliefs, values and behavior.
- Other Cultures – Team members need to understand each other’s cultures in order to be sensitive to when, where, how and why they might clash at times.
When Culture Shock strikes, the easiest way to solve the problems is to impose the dominant culture of the company or host country. That’s also the easiest and fastest way drain the passion out of the losing team members – and as they leave, the team will lose its diversity.
It’s just too easy and comfortable to resort to the old “When in Rome…” solution.
- First – Look at general cultural issues. Discover amazing tools for studying and understanding cultural differences and use them to identify the the cultural roots of your situation.
- Second – Look closely at your own culture and analyze the role it’s playing as you act it out and contribute actively or passively to the situation.
- Third – Be generous as you look at your team members’ cultures. Look for a solution that accommodates everyone’s culture.
Teamwork under normal conditions, with people from your own country, is like hiking in the mountains. If you’re in good shape you can probably handle even a strenuous trek. You might even enjoy the challenge.
Teamwork with a multicultural team can be like climbing Mount Everest. You need to know what you’re doing if you want to reach the summit.
Your best bet?
Get the cross-cultural training you need to meet the challenge!