Is Your Team Culturally Intelligent?

  • 08
  • May

We are working in an increasingly culturally diverse world. Innovations like affordable air travel and the Internet coupled with economic and political Globalisation have meant that people from all corners of the world have begun to interact like never before. The world’s expatriate population is growing by 5% year on year, and 80% of millennials want to work abroad in their careers.

In our work coaching work teams across the Middle East, we have known this to be the case for a while. Our region perhaps more than most places in the world is a melting pot of people from practically every continent and culture you could name. Every time we walk into a room to coach, you expect to hear that there are multiple nationalities present, and this is increasingly becoming normal for people in other regions too.

The paradox within teams we work with often is that where you would think this rich cultural diversity could offer the team a wealth of complementary experience and knowledge that would support it’s growth, instead it creates the opposite – misunderstanding, a lack of trust and hesitation, leading to an inability to achieve results.

Why is this the case? Essentially, we are all human animals who are conditioned to fear the unknown or the simply different. When faced with someone from a different nation, race, culture or background, we think ‘you are different to me’ which creates a guarded response, when we should be thinking ‘you are just different like me’.

When we identify an intercultural issue within a team, we encourage the team members to develop the mindset of being an intercultural learner (as opposed to being the opposite – an intercultural critic). We help them to develop a greater acceptance of the differences on the team, to be able to consciously override the outdated hard wiring in our brains that fears difference, and become curious about the possibilities if we understand, trust and connect with the other people around us.

Cultural learners get to understand that we all view the world through a combination of three lenses that drive our behaviour. These are ‘guilt/innocence’, ‘shame/honour’ and ‘fear/power’. Some people have an even balance of these three and others will be strongly conditioned to fall under one of them. We learn them through our life experience from our parents, our community, schooling, and nation. One is not better than the other, you cannot say one is right and one is wrong, they are just different.

When we raise this level of awareness within teams and get them to work through their own world views as individuals and a team, the understanding it generates can be transformational. Appreciating that the reason they have a lack of trust or destructive relationships is simply down to the way each other sees the world can quickly take them to a place where the problems can be repaired.

As the world grows ever more connected, and the need for talent to cross borders rises, the need to work in teams with different people you may not understand at first glance will only increase. It’s important that teams recognize this and work towards being cultural learners rather than cultural critics.

What You Can Do Next…

Here are three things your team can do to become a more interculturally intelligent team:

Have a Conversation
Sit down as a team with the specific aim of sharing information on each other’s cultural background and beliefs. This can be a light-hearted discussion, or as serious as you want and are ready for. The aim is to generate an understanding of each other’s cultural lens and be aware of the differences. Remember – you are different like me, not different to me.

Create Your Team’s Own Intercultural Cultural Space
Once you have recognized each other’s own cultural background and beliefs, it’s time to create your team’s own cultural space This is not my space or your space, but our space. One where we agree to co-exist in harmony. You will need to discuss, define and agree on what this looks like.

Create a Charter
Once you have discussed this, then you might like to create a physical charter where you record your commitments around your team’s shared culture. This then becomes something that everyone can refer to and live by, that they commit to and guides your actions and decisions.

If you feel you need help with this process of creating your team’s intercultural space and agreement, let us know – it’s what we do for teams every day!