How the Best Teams Succeed: Working Cohesively in a Multicultural Environment

Career Guide October 15, 2018

How the Best Teams Succeed: Working Cohesively in a Multicultural Environment

Many people underestimate the impact of communicating effectively. In personal affairs, politics and especially in the workplace, the ability to communicate can be the ticket to creating a successful team. In a highly competitive and ever-changing marketplace, organisations can survive if they have high functioning teams.

But how do you form one?

How to build a successful team

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Leaders and employees need to understand that they operate within environments driven mainly by differences: race, gender and generation, among others. These differences can never be diluted, and they may even be more prominent in the years to come.

In the same way that the marketplace has changed, workforces aren’t the same as before. Teams can’t be the same as they were a generation ago. More importantly, it is tricky to assume that people will act the same despite being under the same company.

To build successful teams, there must be proper inclusion. This means going beyond diversity – to see contrasting views/ideas as the “new normal”. Inclusion refers to an approach that ensures that the organisation stays welcoming to every type and level of individual.

According to Glenn Llopis in his Forbes article: “Inclusion is about diversity of thought – about finding like-mindedness in our differences”.

Companies stand to benefit more if they explore inclusion such that when they embrace the difference, they can explore opportunities and possible ways to support values and unite them to push the company’s competitive advantage for growth. According to Llopis, creating new marketplace opportunities require focusing on the individual – an actual concerted effort to understand the different realities and values of the people making up the organisation.

This wasn’t the case before. Companies strived to achieve like-mindedness – stripping away the differences and individuality for conformity and uniformity of thought. Simply put, it was the businesses that defined the individual. This left many employees with the constant struggle of being “clones” within the organisation despite their individual identities. However, throughout the years, this structure proved useful mostly when managing growth.

With the disruption from tech companies like Apple, Uber and Amazon, people defined what the business is in the marketplace. Llopis again emphasises: “But today teams are being held accountable to recreate growth and like-mindedness slows progress on that front. Inclusion and individuality – embracing not diversity but diversity of thought – create environments that promote constructive disruption that fuel new ways of doing things and enable opportunities previously unseen”.

Paint a Mosaic instead of a full picture

Now that we have established the importance of inclusion and diversity, it pays to look at why despite the awareness, many companies still fail on this end. Most initiatives fail because of “sincere ignorance”. Often, the initiatives sound and look good, but the problem is that they are not hinged on the right basis.

As workplaces progress, the policies and initiatives in some companies remain outdated despite their inclusion goals.

“What they struggle with, it turns out, is not solving problems but figuring out what the problems are,” Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg said in the Harvard Business Review. Wedell-Wedellsborg suggests reframing the problem is the way to solve this. Diversity should not be packaged as a “problem”. Diversity and inclusion should be framed with “opportunity”.

How do we achieve this?

  • HR initiatives to foster an organisational mindset focusing on diversity and inclusion
  • Moving away from a generalist approach – create a plan that really solves or addresses specific issues or concerns in the organisation
  • Prioritise respect over recognition – companies who wish to truly improve their culture must get to the bottom of it instead of just getting the workplace award

Lastly, we must think about the “mosaic” instead of the “melting pot”. Go for putting the differences into a mosaic that can fuel growth, innovation and opportunity that utilises the full potential of people.

According to Llopis: “Diversity and inclusion requires diverse and non-diverse leaders to work together to create a culture that embraces diversity of thought and deploys the required best practices, development tools, and resources to maximize talent engagement, advancement, workplace performance, and overall satisfaction”.

How then can you make these teams work? We set the norms.

Practicing the right kind of norm

It might sound contradicting to diversity and inclusion but creating the right norms is still important when managing people and their differences. According Ted Leonhardt’s piece in the Fast Company: “Teams can have strikingly different social behaviors and still produce exceptional work”.

Norms in this sense means “a certain set of behaviours that bind the team members together”. This can keep the team broadly in sync despite having different approaches to tasks. Generally, the norms should accomplish the following: guide people on how much sharing they can do, check sharing of critical feedback and the use of praise, prevent group from developing factions or cliques, set inclusivity as the binding agent and be strong enough to guarantee that despite divisive opinions, people still respect every idea and encourage their discussion.

Leonhardt sums up everything this way: “You’ll notice that these norms and guidelines don’t have much to say on the question of personality type–and that’s by design. Rather than managers or team members adapting their approach to the personality of whoever they’re working with at a given moment, norms set a common baseline. This way, everyone knows how to behave to be a “team player”–even though they may be a proud individualist at the same time”.

Fostering team work is tricky because some companies still practice the conformist mindset instead of the mosaic one, but it shouldn’t be impossible as well. As with Orbium, we operate with the “One Orbium” mindset while celebrating diversity.

Although we operate in many different countries and offices, we work seamlessly together, and everyone respects and accepts local cultures. Each person brings her or his own personality to the team, and every new joiner is welcomed warmly. We share a desire to continually improve and promote a culture of knowledge sharing in which people can talk to their colleagues openly and have healthy discussions, regardless of their position or geographic location.