Better collaboration takes cultural competence

Today’s team leaders are increasingly managing more diverse groups of people and people who interact virtually. One special challenge for modern team leaders is building a sense of community and inclusion among team members. Ensuring that all members feel a sense of community and trust in each other, as well as in their team leader, requires frequent attention and outreach.

Modern team leaders need to take deliberate steps toward creating a sense of community to support their team members and make them feel involved in the group’s work. This starts with reaching out to the members as individuals and as a group to learn about their backgrounds, their preferences and their visions for the team.

It is advisable to do hold a project kickoff meeting in which all the team members can gather face-to-face. If that is not possible, a synchronous virtual session is an effective alternative. Regardless of the format, it is important to give enough time and opportunity for everyone’s opinions and needs to be considered while establishing the vision for the team and making agreements about functions and processes.

At the project kickoff, team leaders can hold a facilitated discussion of each member’s Cultural Orientation Indicator (COI) assessment, in which team members explore their cultural preferences using the Cultural Orientations Approach’s neutral, non-judgmental vocabulary. By comparing COIs, the team members can spot cultural gaps and create strategies to leverage these differences for the project’s success.

The kickoff meeting is essential part of the process of creating a sense of community in a team. Indeed, it is the base from which to build a united, inclusive and effective group. From the kickoff meeting, the leader and team members can establish working agreements, discuss structure and set ground rules for how the team will function.

Over the course of the team’s work, the team leader can take actions that continuously promote a sense of community and inclusion among the group members. The team leader should try to:
• Be an example of all behaviors expected of team members
• Give everyone an opportunity for input
• Respect preferences for type and frequency of communications
• Maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others
• Show respect for differences in interaction and thinking style of members
• Encourage all members to participate fully
• Focus on the situation during a conflict, not the team members involved
• Maintain constructive relationships with all members and support constructive relations among them
• Keep commitments and admit mistakes or failures when they occur

It is also critical to be sensitive to any action or behavior that can be perceived as biased or culturally insensitive. If some team members perceive unbalanced treatment, they could react negatively or become disengaged.
It is difficult to lead a team, much less one in which members are diverse or dispersed. But when team leaders make a concerted effort to create a sense of community among the team’s members, productivity and efficiency go up, to everyone’s benefit.

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