6 Suggestions To Inclusion On A Culturally Various Workforce
“Simple” tips for complex changes
To strengthen inclusion in your culturally diverse team, repeat after me: “Make yourself clear, speak, ask questions, think ahead, don’t freak out and get professional help.”
That’s perfectly clear, isn’t it? Okay, come after!
Was just a joke! You need more than buzzwords to incorporate into daily behavior. Let’s see how you can put these 6 tips into action.
1. Put your mind in order by setting a clear intention
Setting an intention here means being clear about what you want. This is more about values than measurements. (SMART goals are great, but they have a different function.) Use your statement of intent to guide your decisions, so that they are aligned with your values and desired outcomes. Examples:
- Our intention is to increase psychological safety for all team members in order to increase wellbeing and engagement.
- Our intention is to hear each team member’s perspective in order to come up with more innovative solutions.
If a situation arises where team members at Choice A feel more confident about expressing an opinion, and Choice B prevents them, one of those declarations of intent would lead your team to Choice A.
Setting your intent is most effective when you:
- Keep it short and simple. Use language that everyone on your team understands;
- Construct your intention around behaviors you want and benefits you want, not behaviors or outcomes you should avoid;
- Communicate your intention explicitly and repeatedly;
- Let the statement of intent develop. Make it strong by keeping it alive and relevant, not by having it set in stone; and,
- Talk to your team about how your interactions and practices might change to better align that intent. What do your team members want? What ideas do you have?
2. Go on the conversation
Intentions are of little use to a team if you “set it up and forget it”. To turn your intention into more than so many fine words, take a look at your practices, habits, language, and guidelines. If you see something that contradicts your intention, ask, “How can we improve this?” If something comes up that supports your intention well, ask, “Where else can we use this?”
Note: If you find yourself in a vacuum brainstorming, use this as an opportunity to see how you can make your team’s brainstorming more inclusive. For example, you can ask a question where anyone can come up with ideas asynchronously and / or anonymously. Or you can brainstorm in several small groups rather than all together in one large group.
For instructions on structuring virtual team meetings, including inclusion and equity, click here
3. Ask questions
Even if you know a lot about different cultures, don’t assume you know all you need to know. People differ from their cultural norms. Your preferences and perspectives can change over time. If you don’t know something, ask. If you think you know, use that knowledge as a foundation for asking, rather than replacing, well-informed, curious questions.
Asking questions not only helps you avoid harm, it also starts conversations where you and your teammates get to know each other better. Asking with sensitivity and genuine curiosity, and then listening to the stories and conversations that follow, is an effective inclusion practice.
4. Thinking ahead
Don’t wait for a meeting, event, or interaction to go wild and emotions run high to ask how it could be better organized. Instead, make a habit of thinking about how a situation can be improved before it occurs (or before it occurs again).
Some basics to consider are cultural and religious prohibitions and requirements related to scheduling, diet, and clothing. The specifics will vary depending on the cultures represented on your team, but here are a few examples:
- When you schedule meetings and deadlines, avoid team member holidays.
- When having an after hours party, don’t focus on alcohol.
- When serving a meal or snack, include decaffeinated drinks and vegetarian options. Think of Lent such as Lent and Ramadan.
At least as important are the intangible cultural elements that guide human interactions. Three big areas to look out for are:
- Value on the individual vs. on the group
- Respect and how it is shown
- How to deal with disagreements
If meetings and interactions are structured in a way that is counter to a person’s culture, they may not feel able to participate constructively. If you notice someone seem insecure, tense, or anxious, reach out to them (i.e., ask a question). Even if they prefer privacy or deal with this particular situation on their own, they will appreciate it when they trust you to notice and care enough to ask.
Note: To create an inclusive and healthy culture, set up multiple ways to accomplish important things (such as asking questions and providing feedback). Establish these paths in advance and let people choose which path will best suit them.
5. Don’t freak out
How you react to differences sets the tone for the entire team. With inquiries or suggestions, and especially with friction, it is extremely helpful to remain calm and open.
If you stay calm, you will avoid an emotional escalation yourself and serve as an emotional anchor for other team members.
If you stay open (as opposed to entrenching, defending, or ending discussions), others will be encouraged to respond in a similar way. This creates space for people to feel heard and seen, which is the essence of inclusion. Feeling heard and seen is often more important to team members than the outcome of a conflict.
When you view differences – and people – as beneficiaries rather than problems to be solved, your people will feel the difference.
Here are various techniques for managing team conflicts in a constructive and integrative way.
6. Get professional help
Few managers have superficial training to promote inclusion. It adds complexity when the team is virtual or hybrid, or when the team members are mostly new. Adding inclusivity to managers’ already full plates is not a recipe for success.
Consider using professional team building facilitators to move the needle towards inclusion in your team (s). Seasoned professionals can consult with you to tailor standardized programs to meet your team’s needs and help you and your reports make inclusion a daily practice. In detail, experienced professional moderators:
- Avoid wasting time and effort by going straight to what works;
- In each session, build trust, skills, healthy norms and positive behaviors in the team;
- Focus primarily on team building and inclusion (not distracted from the 497 other responsibilities managers face on a daily basis); and,
- Help your team successfully manage conflicts that could otherwise destroy relationships so team members emerge with more confidence than ever before.
Here you can find more information about what experiential learning led by professional facilitators could look like on your team.
Building inclusivity means changing attitudes, building skills, and teaching new behaviors – both for yourself and your team members. Professionals can help you, your team and your company go further and faster down this path.
Obsidian creates custom, interactive learning programs that engage learners, accelerate skill development, and improve overall company performance. We are a team of professional learners with a passion for creating effective learning experiences.