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How to make cultural differences work for your team

Writing for Fortune, Annie Fisher points out that diversity in your team won’t spark innovation automatically – you have to draw out cultural differences to make them to work.

Jane Hyun, co-author of Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences, tells Fisher: “Most of the business world has done a pretty good job of recognising, and increasing, diversity. But in many cases, the differences people bring with them are just supposed to magically produce new ideas, and that’s not really how it works.” Hyun makes the following suggestions:

1) Meet privately with the quietest people. Cultural differences can mean contributions vary between team members. Sit down in private with quiet individuals before the next meeting and offer them some carefully worded feedback. Identify why that person’s thoughts are important and emphasise what you would like to hear from them.

2) Set ground rules for disagreements. Innovative teams should always be asking, “Why are we doing it this way?” and “Can we do this better?” However, cultural differences can mean some people are reluctant to challenge team mates. Therefore, the leader should make it clear that arguments are expected. But set limits, such as banning ad hominem attacks.

3) Keep ideas flowing. Ask people to defend or evaluate each suggestion on its merits, in a way that’s both constructive and direct, suggests Hyun.

Anne Fisher