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Cultural Diversity


Best practices for managing a culturally diverse team

Your culturally diverse team brings a plethora of strengths, innovative ideas, and points of view to the table as you work together toward common goals. However, the cultural diversity that brings strengths to your organization can also pose challenges in the areas of communication and cohesiveness.

The ability to manage a culturally diverse team is a prerequisite for success in the workplace of the future, including in recruiting and hiring talent. Creating an environment in which colleagues from sometimes radically different backgrounds can harness their unique skills and work together effectively is key to achieving the high performance that is a hallmark of diverse teams. Take a look at these best practices for managing a culturally diverse team.

Acknowledge Language Differences & Establish Policies

Speaking in a common language helps ease communication barriers. When you manage a team that speaks multiple native languages, establishing clear policies about language use can deflect potential tensions, misunderstandings, and embarrassment.

For starters, normalize the practice of asking people to repeat themselves or asking for an explanation of individual words. Disseminate procedures and safety rules in multiple languages if needed. You may also want to establish a policy that says that if anyone enters a room who doesn’t understand the language being spoken, everyone in the room should switch to the default language (in most cases, English, if the company is global).

Create a Psychologically Safe Space to Work In

Studies out of Northwestern and Stanford Universities have shown that teams function best when team members take turns speaking and exhibit social sensitivity to one another. Google’s Project Aristotle took this idea even further, discovering and demonstrating that the key factor underlying successful teamwork is psychological safety, which incorporates factors such as conversational turn-taking. Encouraging emotional honesty within a team helps all sorts of diverse team members to work together better.

Hire a Diverse Workforce

You can’t foster diversity in the workplace if you’re not hiring diversely. This may involve overcoming some implicit bias surrounding talent assessment and changing some of your recruiting methods.

Choose your interviewing team for their diversity as well as their expertise, and reach out beyond your tried-and-true recruiting sources to find candidates who might not otherwise apply. Post job listings and actively recruit with professional organizations that support women and people of color in your field to expand your hiring horizons.

Celebrate Inclusivity

It’s easy to fall back on what you’ve always done when you’re planning work-related events such as holiday parties. But following the traditions of the majority usually means that people whose cultures don’t incorporate those traditions feel left out. Don’t promote one holiday over others. Encourage diversity as well when you plan work-related lunches and dinners by exploring new ethnic cuisines and traditions.

Don’t Tolerate Mistreatment of Diverse Employees

Establishing a zero-tolerance policy regarding mistreatment of diverse employees is key to letting those employees see your commitment to diversity. Shut down any bullying, name-calling, or even jokes based on gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or religion immediately, with clearly established and implemented policies. Take employee complaints seriously to create a safe place for the reporting of unwanted conduct.

In addition to these best practices, cross-cultural and sensitivity training can help open the minds of employees who have not been aware of issues surrounding diversity in the past. Managing a diverse team can be challenging, but it also provides you with often untapped talent that can lead your organization into innovation and give you the competitive advantage you need in today’s crowded marketplace.

By Octavio Lepe

By Octavio Lepe

Director, Executive Search

Octavio is the search practice leader for Sales & Marketing, Agribusiness, and D&I in the Americas.

About Barbachano International

Barbachano International (BIP) is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Latin America, & Canada) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets.  Outplacement and Executive Coaching services are provided by our sister allied company Challenger Gray & Christmas. Since 1992, BIP and its affiliates have impacted the profitability of over 50% of Fortune 500 Companies.  BIP has been recognized by Forbes as Americas’ Best Executive Search Firms and currently ranks #27 and #3 on the West Coast.  Headquartered in San Diego, California with satellite offices in Florida and Mexico.  As member-owners of NPAworldwide Recruitment Network, we are supported by partner offices in over 50 countries.


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