· 3 min read · Features

Masterclass: Look at diversity as an asset

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Robert Day offers guidelines on creating an environment where a diverse workforce can work together harmoniously to maximise the contribution of each member of the team.

Robert Day - Senior consultant, Farnham Castle

The way staff handle cultural differences can have a significant impact on how people of different national or ethnic backgrounds approach the day-to-day issues of business and how they conduct themselves within a group or team. The effective management of a multicultural team is crucial to maximising the productivity and input of each member. The following are some guidelines for meeting this challenge.

Before Look at how cultural diversity is currently handled

Analyse the way your organisation handles cultural diversity. Many adopt a defensive approach, treating cultural differences as issues. They acknowledge there is a great potential for misunderstanding, conflict, mistrust and even resentment and so implement policies and procedures to avoid giving offence to groups or individuals, prevent harassment, and manage grievances. They also assume certain people are inherently culturally insensitive to others.

A more positive way to manage the diversity of a multicultural team is through what can be described as a 'developmental' approach. This initially sees cultural differences for what they are: potentially different expectations, assumptions, values and behaviours which people bring to a situation or workplace environment as a result of their differing collective experiences. This approach also recognises that these collective tendencies reveal themselves as individual differences. In this way then, members of a team do not represent a 'culture' or particular ethnic group, they simply represent themselves.

During Start with a team and work to improve communication

To move an organisation to more of a developmental approach it is necessary to encourage an environment where differences, where they exist, are acknowledged.

Start with an individual or team and work to improve the way people communicate and prepare for wider international responsibilities. This works best when training is driven by business needs and people are faced with actual situations rather than fixed policies or procedures. Training should be interactive, involving exchanges of impressions, experiences and problems among learners. An important point is to ensure that perceived differences are recognised as being just as important as 'real' differences as it is perceptions of others that actually give rise to reactions and judgments. People learning to handle cultural differences will discover a great deal when they become aware of how they are culturally viewed by others.

In addition to awareness, information briefings increase people's knowledge of possible differences between cultures. That insight helps them see how 'strange' behaviour has its own cultural logic as a way in which a group of people have solved universal problems. With increased mutual awareness mistrust tends to evaporate.

Training that strengthens the skills required to handle difficult situations and to communicate effectively in inter-cultural settings will be particularly effective.

After tips for managers

Individuals facing the prospect of working internationally often need additional support in areas of personal development on an ongoing basis. In this context, a competency-based tool, such as the International Profiler (see box, below), is likely to be useful to help people understand what personal skills and qualities they need to develop.Farnham Castle itself has adapted a well-tried model used by multinational companies in sales training to create Farnham Follow Through, which reminds course participants of their personal objectives set as a result of the training workshop.

See also www.farnhamcastle.com

www.sietar.org

www.cipd.co.uk

Riding the Waves of Culture by Fons Trompenaars

Culture's Consequences by Geert Hofstede

Breaking Down the Culture Shock by Elisabeth Marks

ONGOING PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

The International Profiler is a competency tool aimed at individuals who need to build skills that will adapt them to working in a multinational environment.

It is a psychometric questionnaire based on a competency set that defines the special capabilities required to transfer professional managerial skills to an international context. The structured feedback that it provides helps raise individuals' awareness of potential areas in which they may need future development, and suggests action to take to fill the gaps.

It comprises an online questionnaire, a printed competency profile,and a feedback report. Individuals are required to complete the questionnaire, which is distributed and completed online.It consists of 80 questions and is based on a cross-cultural competency set of 10 competencies and 22 associated skills, attitudes and areas of knowledge

Once completed, the competency profile can be sent to the participant in the form of a PDF file prior to the feedback session or given to them during face-to-face feedback.

See also www.intercultural-training.co.uk/intman_profiler.asp.