What’s the #1 Conflict on Diverse Teams?

davidlivermore | November 16th, 2017 No Comments

Eighty percent of team conflicts can be attributed to unclear goals (Tichy). That’s true across any team but the potential for misalignment goes up exponentially on diverse teams. In fact, most intercultural challenges begin with clashing expectations. What one group views as honest and straightforward, another views as disingenuous and myopic. What an individual from one culture sees as “efficient,” another sees as “shortsighted.” The same can be said about clashing expectations around appropriate ways to express respect, sincerity, responsibility, and more.

Consider how these clashing expectations influence your diverse team:

Who’s in Charge?

Who calls the shots, and where does the responsibility ultimately lie? Clashing expectations around how a leader should lead and what leadership entails is often the first point of confusion. The operating assumption across most Western leadership models is “leaders are made, not born.” Leadership is not inherited by simply putting in your time or receiving a title—you become a leader because you’ve produced results and taken responsibility.

Take Facebook for example, arguably the poster child of Western, Millennial-led corporate culture. Facebook describes itself as anti-hierarchical and title-agnostic. Becoming a manager at Facebook is a lateral move because Zuckerberg wants leaders who are driven by the mission of the company, not power or title.

For most of the world, leadership takes a far more command and control approach. There are clear lines between leaders and followers and the most senior leader in the room should have the final say.

Dr. Becky Heino, one of our certified facilitators at Columbia University, tells the story of being asked by a group of Chinese executives why President Obama wasn’t sitting at the head of the table during a pinnacle moment of his presidency—the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

In a hierarchical culture, the leader should be at the head of the table, even if others have more expertise on the situation at hand. This isn’t necessarily an ego trip on the part of the senior leader. The respect offered a leader sends a message about the values and respect of everyone on the team.

What’s the Purpose of a Meeting?

Or, how about all the time teams spend in meetings, virtual and face-to-face. What’s the purpose of a meeting? Is it to share updates and exchange information, make a decision, develop trust? Even homogeneous teams may have clashing expectations surrounding the purpose of a meeting. But culture socializes us to have some default expectations for why and how to conduct a meeting.

Last week, an African American leader told me his black staff members recently asked him whether an upcoming meeting was a place where they were going to “go there”. He instantly knew what they were asking. Was this a meeting to directly address some underlying conflict on the team, or would it simply be a diplomatic discussion that ignored the friction and just moved forward with the task at hand?

In Japan, a meeting is usually meant to publicly confirm decisions made in smaller groups. The participants explore alternatives privately before the meeting to save face by avoiding conflict publicly.

Meetings in many Mexican organizations are as much meant to build relationships and trust as they are to cover an agenda. Once you trust someone, decision-making is relatively easy and fast.

In most U.S. contexts, a meeting is meant to gather information and input from the participants. Individuals are expected to come prepared to compare and constructively analyze the alternatives.

If you’re participating in a meeting in a Dutch organization, be prepared for the possibility of harsh critique. From the Dutch way of thinking, there’s little need to spend time talking about what’s good. A meeting is meant to identify all the weaknesses and criticisms of a particular approach or plan.

These are generalizations, but the point is—something as simple as “why meet” has a whole set of expectations attached to it, most of which are usually unspoken and quite possibly unconscious.

Who Makes the Decision?

Team conflicts often come to a height in the midst of decision-making. The cultural norms associated with many groups’ decision-making styles are often counter-intuitive.

An outsider may come into the flat, egalitarian culture at Facebook and assume that decision-making will be highly collaborative and consensual. But that’s not the case at all. Decision-making in egalitarian contexts is usually vested in the individual closest to the situation at hand to allow for quick, flexible decisions. In fact, despite an inordinate emphasis on teamwork and collaboration across organizations like Facebook, “consensus” is usually avoided at all costs, lest it lead to “paralysis by analysis”. A team leader in this kind of organization confers with the team before making the decision but then makes the final determination independently, with people knowing not everyone will get their way.

In contrast, the norm for teams in hierarchical cultures is that a lot of people are involved in the decision-making process. One might expect that hierarchical cultures would be places where the senior leader just makes the decision. But that’s not usually the case. Reaching agreement usually takes a long time and involves many individuals; even once the decision is made, it often continues to evolve as new information comes into view.

Other clashing expectations I consistently observe include different assumptions about whether small talk and informal conversation are a waste of time or an important part of building trust. Or, what about the level of details and analysis that are needed? Does presenting a highly detailed analysis demonstrate that you can’t see the big picture, or prove that you’ve done the necessary due diligence to get to the big picture?

Aligning Expectations

Culturally intelligent leadership is so much more than being cultural sensitive or knowing the do’s and don’ts of specific cultures. At the crux of culturally intelligent leadership is aligning team members’ expectations so that the diverse perspectives can be used to develop more innovative solutions.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Have an explicit discussion about expectations

Any team would be well served by taking time to clarify objectives upfront but this is all the more important on diverse teams. Stating an outcome like, “to reach a decision on which vendor to use” is probably adequate on a homogeneous team but much more deliberation is needed for an outcome like that on a diverse team (e.g. what critieria are being used to reach a decision, how will the decision be made, by whom, how binding is the decision, etc.)

  • Test understanding

Check in with each team member to get their understanding of the stated outcome and expectations. Many personalities and face-saving cultures are not going to say, “I don’t get it.” They may even nod that they understand or are in agreement. But you need to ask each individual to paraphrase their understanding of the intended outcome or expectation. Or, ask how they might communicate the outcome to others on their teams—not as a way to put them on the spot, but instead to learn from the different perspectives surrounding the same outcome.

  • Debate Expectations

In order to benefit from the diverse insights and expectations on your team, don’t move too quickly to a “shared” expectation. Encourage debate and deliberation about the ideal outcome and the most effective way to get there. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business says, “Argue as if you’re right. Listen as if you’re wrong.” I love that. Encourage each team member to confidently share their perspective with conviction. And then promote active listening to each other.

  • Practice perspective-taking

A diverse team creates a built-in opportunity for perspective-taking, one of the critical characteristics of culturally intelligent teams. I’ve written previously about how diverse teams can use Jeff Bezos’ practice of using an empty chair at meetings to visually remind the team to take on the perspective of diverse customers or constituents. Use your debate about expectations to help you see how others see this rather than just waiting to defend your position.

  • Remember that in stress, people will resort to default expectations.

Stress and time pressure are when we’re most susceptible to unconscious bias and frustration. The reason clashing expectations create so much conflict on a team is because it requires more time and effort to get something done and most teams are already stretched for time. So be particularly on guard for how you and others on a team are functioning under high-stress.

As I reflect on my own life and work, I think clashing expectations are the driving source of conflict in most any relationship—business partnerships, friendship, family, and marriage. Some deliberate conversation, reflection, and effort to address our otherwise unspoken expectations goes a long way toward gaining the benefits that come from working and living with people who see the world differently from how we do.

Building a Culturally Intelligent Organization: Starting a Movement

davidlivermore | September 14th, 2017 No Comments

Guest Post By Kristin Ekkens, MA

Developing a diverse, inclusive, and culturally intelligent organization is not easy – and the work is never done. It takes time, tenacity, courageous leadership, risk-taking, positivity, and resilience. It’s a team effort from across the organization involving HR, legal, finance, marketing, communications, and community relations (and more). Every department, as well as each employee, has a stake in the game.

How do you create enough momentum that it becomes a “pull” rather than a “push” system?

START A MOVEMENT

In the beginning of August, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with a group of sales executives from a multi-billion dollar furniture company. Together we examined how unconscious bias shows up on the sales floor, in the hiring process, and in everyday decision-making. After recognizing that bias exists everywhere, and that each of us in the room has the ability and responsibility to manage bias, one participant asked: “Kristin, how do we get more people in our organization engaged in this conversation? How do we change behaviors not just in our sales organization but throughout the entire company?” My answer was simple to say, yet complex to carry out. “Start a movement!”

What does it take to start a movement?

  • Determine your and your senior leadership’s motivation. Do you have the drive and confidence to do what needs to be done? Is this an authentic effort or a check-the-box requirement? What will it cost the company if it doesn’t do anything?
  • Understand the culture and climate of the organization. Is now the right timing? Would a pilot with a few target audiences work best to start or do you need to bring everyone together for an “all hands meeting” so everyone can hear the same message? Is there budget for the work this year? If not, is the company committed to providing resources?
  • Identify the key influencers – many times not distinguished by title – to develop a stakeholder map and strategy for engaging
  • Take action by defining and communicating the business case, key drivers, project scope, and projected impact. And lastly, begin to build your network of champions.

Simply put, to start a movement you need to infuse cultural intelligence (CQ Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action) into your process from the start.

THE WHY

When you begin to involve other stakeholders, they will want to know, “What’s in it for me” and, “Why should I care about this movement?”  Whether you are a consultant, a D&I leader, or manager in your organization, the organizational needs stay consistent. This is what I consistently hear:

  • We need to scale these efforts across 4 regions, 3 shifts, and with large numbers of employees
  • We need to be able to measure progress over time and show the impact of our efforts
  • We need a way for leaders to hold people accountable to using CQ in the hiring process, succession planning, performance management, etc.
  • We need to help diverse teams work more effectively together

HOW? 

I recommend a few key steps for starting a movement to develop a culturally intelligent organization:

  • Make the business case. Explain “the why” in various ways to various audiences. Just stating it once or posting it on your intranet is not enough.
  • Obtain executive sponsorship and engagement.
  • Create a systemic approach, rallying the troops and weaving cultural intelligence into the DNA of your organization.
  • Share success stories. Celebrate the wins.
  • Establish accountability.

Again, easier said than done. Let’s break this down and focus on Step #3: Create a systemic approach. In our Building a Culturally Intelligence Organization chart from Level 2 CQ Certificationyou see five phases described:

Each phase builds on the next. It’s critical to help your organization or client move along the maturity model – not skipping over phases. To make efforts scalable, you may be tempted to jump to Phase 4: Training 2.0 – Everyone. However, without leadership commitment and engagement, you soon find yourself back at square one wondering what went wrong. Some clients choose to engage everyone from the beginning to set the tone for the movement through a motivational kick-off keynote.

WHAT NOW?

The first step toward building a culturally intelligent organization is sitting down to develop your own systematic approach. Use the steps recommended above and customize them based on the needs of your organization. Create tangible goals based on your available budget. Set project deadlines and assign the responsible person. That way, the large task at hand becomes manageable.  Connect with a mentor or partner that will hold you accountable, keep you motivated, and will inspire you throughout the journey!

Charlottesville, Google, and why some need CQ more than others

davidlivermore | August 18th, 2017 No Comments

From the Google engineer who attributed inequality in tech to gender differences to the U.S president’s soft response on white supremacy groups, our commitment to the work we’ve been called to do has never been stronger. Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is most often lauded for its academic rigor and the emphasis on developing skills for working effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. But at its core, cultural intelligence is a deeply human pursuit. It’s about how the 7 billion of us get along together.

WHO NEEDS CQ?

 

  • Families need CQ
    Anthropologist Oscar Lewis says children form their basic values by the time they’re six or seven. CQ begins at home. Conversations about people who look, think, and behave differently begin on the playground and over the dinner table.
  • Peers need CQ
    Our friends are the ones with whom we’re most unfiltered. And for many of us, the opinions of our friends matter more to us than anyone else. Most of us don’t know a single person who would be caught anywhere near a KKK rally. But comments about “those people” or the questions about “safety” when seeing certain groups need to be addressed. Don’t be a bystander. Speak up when discrimination and bias rears its ugly head.
  • Schools need CQ
    School is one of the first places many individuals enter a more diverse world. Some of our partnering universities in the U.S. tell us they have incoming students who never had a conversation with a person of color before they arrived on campus. Yet as students begin to be bombarded with messages about privilege and bias, these programs can further marginalize underrepresented students and embolden white students to feel like they’re the ones experiencing discrimination. A strategic approach for building a culturally intelligent campus is essential.
  • Workplaces need CQ
    Companies have cultures of their own that dictate what kind of behaviors are deemed appropriate and acceptable in the workplace. Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work. Effective training programs are an important part of this but the bigger need is creating an overall environment where meaningful conversations can take place about how to understand and effectively use differences in the workplace. Don’t roll out an unconscious bias program or diversity initiative too quickly. If not done well, these programs backfire and perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce biases.


WE ALL NEED CQ. BUT SOME NEED CQ MORE THAN OTHERS!

  • Leaders
    The words, actions, and decisions of leaders carry more weight than others’. What Trump, Netanyahu, and Larry Page say in these moments of truth matters more than what the average person says. Leaders play a critical role in responding with clarity, vision, and compassion for all. These aren’t the times to defend yourself or protect your personal image. It’s about owning the weight of leadership and calling people to something more transcendent than nationalism or the bottom line. The CQ needed in how you use 140 characters is directly tied to the scope of influence you have.
  • Dominant Group
    Language is never neutral. Two people saying the exact same thing carries very different meaning. A Muslim comedian making fun of white guys or an African American mocking the way white people dance is not the same as me making jokes about Arabs or people of color. What’s up with that? Our words happen within a long history of inequality and oppression. Therefore, the dominant group needs to weigh the impact of our actions and words more carefully. In reality, most underrepresented groups feel like the greatest onus of responsibility for CQ is on them. Everyone needs CQ but dominant groups need it more.


NO ONE IS BORN HATING

Despite the heartache that can come from watching the news, I’m incredibly hopeful. The most “loved” tweet of ALL times was the Mandala quote posted by Barack Obama last week. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”

Hate crimes and racism live on all across the planet, but that’s not the trajectory of the people I encounter across the globe. The incoming MBA students I met at University of Michigan last week voiced their desire to be culturally intelligent leaders of the future. The executives I was with at Goldman Sachs earlier this summer talked at length with me about how they can promote cultural intelligence across all levels of the firm. The special forces officers I talked with a few weeks ago owned the very real struggles they have to view certain groups with dignity and respect.

Who needs CQ? I do. And so do you. So let’s get to work.

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