6 Tips To Inclusion On A Culturally Diverse Team
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"Easy" Tips For Complex Change

To build inclusion on your culturally diverse team, repeat after me: "Get your mind right, walk the talk, ask questions, think ahead, don’t freak out, and get professional help."

That's totally clear, right? Okay, get after it!

Just kidding! You need more than catchphrases to make inclusion into daily behavior. Let’s look at how to put these 6 tips into action.

1. Get Your Mind Right By Setting A Clear Intention

Setting an intention here means getting clear about what you desire. This is more about values than measurement. (SMART goals are great, but they have a different function.) Use your intention statement to guide your decisions so they align with your values and desired outcomes. Examples:

  • Our intention is to increase psychological safety for all team members in order to boost wellness and engagement.
  • Our intention is to hear every team member’s perspective in order to create more innovative solutions.

If a situation arises where choice A would have team members feel more safe to voice an opinion, and choice B would discourage them from that, either of these intention statements would guide your team to choice A.

Setting your intention will be most powerful if you:

  • Keep it short and simple. Use language that everyone on your team understands;
  • Frame your intention around behaviors you want and benefits you desire rather than behaviors or outcomes to avoid;
  • Communicate your intention explicitly and repeatedly;
  • Allow the intention statement to evolve. Make it strong by keeping it alive and relevant, not by writing it in stone; and,
  • Talk with your team about how your interactions and practices might change to align better with this intention. What do your team members want? What ideas do they have?

2. Walk The Talk

Intentions don’t do much on a team if you “set it and forget it.” To make your intention more than so many pretty words, take a look at your practices, habits, language, and policies. When something stands out that goes against your intention, ask “How can we make this better?” If something stands out that supports your intention well, ask, “Where else can we apply this?”

Hint: If you find yourself brainstorming in a vacuum, take it as an opportunity to look at how to make your team’s brainstorming more inclusive. For example, you might post a question where everyone can contribute ideas asynchronously and/or anonymously. Or, you might brainstorm in several small groups instead of all together in one large group.

For guidance on how to structure virtual team meetings and for inclusion and equity, click here

3. Ask Questions

Even if you know a lot about different cultures, don’t assume you know everything you need to. People vary from their cultural norms. Their preferences and perspectives can shift over time. If you don’t know something, ask. If you think you do know, use that knowledge as a foundation to ask well-informed, curious questions rather than as a substitute for asking.

Not only does asking questions help you avoid doing damage, but it also starts conversations where you and your teammates get to know each other more fully. Asking with sensitivity and genuine curiosity, then listening to the stories and conversations that follow is a powerful inclusion practice.

4. Think Ahead

Don’t wait until a meeting, event, or interaction is off the rails and emotions are running high to ask how it could be set up better. Instead, get in the habit of considering how to improve a situation before it arises (or before it arises again).

Some basics to consider are cultural and religious prohibitions and requirements around scheduling, diet, and clothing. The specifics will vary according to the cultures represented on your team, but here are a few examples:

  • When you’re scheduling meetings and deadlines, avoid team members’ holy days.
  • If you’re having an after-hours event, don’t center it around alcohol.
  • If you’re serving a meal or snack, include caffeine-free beverages and vegetarian foods. Consider fasting periods such as Lent and Ramadan.

Intangible cultural elements that guide interpersonal interactions are at least as important. Three big areas to pay attention to include:

  • Value on the individual vs. on the group
  • Respect and how it is shown
  • How disagreement is handled

When meetings and interactions are structured in ways counter to a person’s culture, they may feel unable to participate constructively. If you notice someone seems unsure, tense, or anxious, check in with them (i.e., ask a question). Even if they prefer privacy or to handle this particular situation on their own, if they trust you, they will appreciate that you noticed and cared enough to ask.

Hint: To create an inclusive and healthy culture, set up multiple ways to accomplish anything important (such as asking questions and giving feedback). Put these ways in place in advance and allow people to choose which way suits them best.

5. Don’t Freak Out

How you respond to differences sets the tone for the whole team. When people make requests or suggestions, and especially when friction arises, it’s extremely helpful if you remain calm and open.

When you remain calm, you avoid emotional escalation yourself, and you serve as an emotional anchor for other team members.

When you remain open (as opposed to entrenching, defending, or shutting down discussion), it encourages others to respond similarly. This creates space for people to feel heard and seen, which is the essence of inclusion. Feeling heard and seen is often even more important to team members than the outcome of a conflict.

When you regard differences—and people—as bringers of benefit rather than problems to be fixed, your people will feel the difference.

Here are several techniques for navigating team conflict constructively and inclusively.

6. Get Professional Help

Few managers have training beyond a superficial level in how to foster inclusivity. It adds complexity when the team is virtual or hybrid or if team members are mostly new. Adding inclusivity to managers’ already full plates is not a recipe for success.

Consider using professional teambuilding facilitators to move the needle on inclusion on your team(s). Experienced professionals can consult with you to tailor standardized programs to your team’s needs and support you and your reports to make inclusion a daily practice. Specifically, experienced professional facilitators:

  • Avoid wasting time and effort by getting directly to what works;
  • Build team trust, skills, healthy norms, and positive behaviors in every session;
  • Are focused primarily on teambuilding and inclusion (not distracted by the 497 other responsibilities managers deal with daily); and,
  • Help your team successfully navigate conflicts that might otherwise blow up relationships so team members emerge with higher trust than ever.

Here is more information on what experiential learning led by professional facilitators might look like on your team.

Building inclusivity means changing attitudes, building skills, and instilling new behaviors—both in yourself and in your team members. Professionals can help you, your team, and your company get down that road farther and faster.

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Obsidian Learning
Obsidian develops custom, interactive learning programs that engage learners, accelerate skills development and boost overall business performance. We're a team of learning professionals with a passion for creating effective learning experiences.
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