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Embracing Cultural Diversity Can Enhance Team Engagement And Improve Performance

These days, all business is global, or at the very least has the potential to be so.  Even modestly sized businesses often have teams of creative talent working for and with them all over the world.  According to recent research conducted by Deloitte Global in their report called ‘Human Capital Trends,’ a staggering 78% of company executives view diversity as a compelling competitive advantage.

The reason is simple.  When you bring people together from all over the world and with diverse backgrounds that hail from very different cultures, it creates a tapestry of creative thinking that can approach problems from wildly divergent points of view.  Teams constructed in such a way can out think, out-innovate and out-perform highly homogenous teams, ultimately coming up with superior solutions to most any business problem they put their collective minds to.

That sounds amazing, and in practice, it is, but there’s a catch.  Any time you bring a diverse team together that’s influenced by a variety of cultures, you have to take cultural differences into account in order to get the most from your team.

Here are a few examples of the different challenges you might face, depending on the various cultural backgrounds you’re incorporating into your team:

Europe – Not The Monolithic Entity It First Appears To Be

People who live in the United States often view the EU nations as being one “thing.”  Kind of a United States of Europe.  It is that, but only to a point.  Each of the member nations of the European Union have a long history and a rich culture and doing business with people in France winds up being a very different experience than doing business with people in say, Germany or Great Britain.

The French, for example, almost seem obsessed by the notion of work life balance to American eyes, to the point that lawmakers have passed legislation barring work-related emails outside of working hours.  If you’re unaware of that and you’re collaborating with a creative team in France, you could inadvertently damage your relationship with that team.

In Germany, teams tend to be extraordinarily process-oriented.  They’re happy to help, but you won’t get much cooperation from them unless the processes and rules of engagement are clearly spelled out and respected.  Again, knowing that ahead of time will help you have a more productive working relationship with a creative team there. 

If you go in blind, you’re apt to stumble which could have serious implications that may damage your working relationship.  That’s especially true if you tend to take more of a wild-west free-form approach.  It’s going to lead to a serious culture clash that won’t be at all productive.

Every nation in Europe has striking differences like that so if you know you’ll be engaging teams from Europe, it pays to do your homework in advance and not just assume that they’re going to do business the way you’re used to.  They won’t and if you approach things with that attitude, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Asia – Homage Paid To Individual Strengths

In a similar vein, working with teams based in Asia present a very different view and a different set of challenges.  Creative teams in Asia tend to place a strong emphasis on the various strengths that each individual brings to the equation.  The team matters of course, but the team is made up of a disparate group of unique individuals with very different strengths which often leads to what can best be described as deferential collaboration.  If you’re not mindful of that tradition and you try to cut key, respected players and their expertise out of the equation, you’re going to struggle to get anything meaningful done.

The Middle East And The Process Of Trust Building

Turning attention to the Middle East we find yet another very different mindset.  In this part of the world, a lot of time is spent on building relationships, especially as compared to the time spent on such pursuits in the United States. 

Trust doesn’t just happen and without it, business relationships can’t exist.  Building that trust on a foundation of humility and respect takes time.  If you take that time, you’ll find teams from this part of the world to be fantastically productive.  On the other hand, if you’re not willing to take that time or if you don’t even know you should, you’re going to crash and burn.  You’ll struggle to get the team to take you seriously, much less work with you on anything substantive.

As you can see then, even from this brief overview, the process of working with far flung teams made up of a broad cross section of cultures can be a real challenge.  It’s going to require you to do some serious homework and to truly embrace cultures and work ethics that may be markedly different from your own.

It’s as daunting as it sounds but it does get easier with time and experience.  If you’re willing to do that, and if you adopt the role of servant-leader of the team, you’ll find that they will consistently dazzle you.  A diverse, well-constructed, well-led team is capable of solving problems that other groups would be tempted to write off as being intractable or simply too difficult to solve.

Even more interestingly, as you gain this type of exposure, it will undoubtedly shade and color your thinking when it comes to organizing and managing your own company. 

The experience will enable you to pull the best bits from every culture you gain exposure to, creating a wholly unique weave in your own company that will set you apart from your competitors and give you a second powerful advantage that extends well beyond the benefits you gain from working with such a diverse team in the first place.

If you’ve worked unsuccessfully with such teams in the past and found it to be a struggle, our hope is that this article will shed some light as to the reasons why and hopefully encourage you to try again.  It is well worth the effort.

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