Effective: highly diverse teams or more

“Which teams are more effective:
highly diverse teams or more
homogenous teams?” is a question I pose when I begin working with a new a
team. The quick response from the team is always the same: highly diverse teams. The real
answer may surprise you…
Research shows that highly diverse teams and global
teams offer many benefits to organizations, including more innovation in product development and
service delivery, more creative solutions to problems, reduced potential for groupthink, and even
significantly higher financial performance. However, research also suggests that team diversity brings
with it a greater likelihood of relationship conflict,
which, in turn, can lead to poor performance and,
in extreme cases, team dysfunction. To leverage the
benefits of diversity, organizations must prepare
global teams to manage conflict successfully.
Organizations can take several actions to maximize the benefits of diverse teams and minimize
the destructive effects of relationship conflict:
1. Create a culture that truly values differences.
There are several ways organizations demonstrate
their support of differences. The most obvious
way is by designing and utilizing internal systems
that seek to increase employee diversity through
hiring and retention. Once put in place, these systems most often focus on managing differences
in the workplace relating to age, race, religion,
gender, disabilities, and ethnicity.
While hiring and managing workplace diversity is an important starting point, organizations
that have extensive international operations
and employees located around the globe must
exercise care: Age and race issues are viewed
through the lens of national culture, and diversity training developed to address these issues in
one country is unlikely to work well in a country with a different history, political system, and
culture. Organizations must make it a point to
help individuals and teams understand why diversity is important and how to leverage diversity
to help teams make better decisions.
Global companies that truly value differences also
find ways to select and develop the best talent wherever it is found. Colgate, for example, is dedicated
to developing leaders who foster an inclusive work
environment, and the company provides training
for employees worldwide to help them build leadership skills. A leader may begin his or her career in
one country, spend time managing an operation in
the U.S., and later run a regional operation.
Another way organizations can create a culture
that values differences is to help individuals and
teams understand differences and then work effectively to bridge them. Working with global teams
in a number of industries, including food and
beverage, high tech, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals, we have utilized the HBDI (Herrmann
Brain Dominance Instrument) to help teams understand and then leverage differences. HBDI is a
psychometric tool that provides individuals and
teams with a systematic way to look at differences
in cognitive styles. Using individual and team reports, the HBDI works well to help teams quickly
understand and appreciate how differences in cognitive styles can strengthen team performance.
2. Develop a process for forming and chartering global teams. Organizations need to develop
a process for forming new teams or for ensuring that existing work teams perform at a high
level. Organizational sponsors must ensure that
project teams have a clear project charter that
includes the sponsors, overall goals, and details
on the scope of the project.
Organizations also should facilitate the development of a team charter since it has been shown to
increase a team’s likelihood of becoming a highperformance team. Team charters allow team
leaders to work with team members to develop
a purpose or mission statement aligned with the
project charter, a team vision, and team agreements. They help teams establish a safe climate,
16 | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016training www.trainingmag.com
Managing Conflict
in Global Teams
4 keys to leveraging cultural differences in diverse teams.
Curtis D. Curry,
COO of leadership
Quality Learning
International, has
spent the last 20
years helping global
organizations develop
leaders. He speaks
four languages and
served as director
of the World Trade
Institute of the
Americas. Curry
has an MBA and an
MA in international
studies and is a
fellow at the Institute
of Cross Cultural
Management at
Florida Tech. He
can be reached at
[email protected]
www.trainingmag.com training JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 | 17
a requisite for building critical trust necessary for
teams to accomplish their mission.
In addition to clarifying roles and responsibilities, charters include areas related to
understanding how the team will solve problems,
make decisions, communicate with one another,
maintain accountability, and address conflict.
For global virtual teams, the charter also should
address how the team will stay in touch on an ongoing basis, specifying which technology will be
used and how frequently the team will meet.
Ideally, organizations should use trained facilitators who can help the team work through the
chartering process during a face-to-face teambuilding session. Best practice research indicates that
face-to-face interactions help teams develop trust
much more readily than impersonal virtual technology. Involving the entire team in crafting the
team charter creates a high level of buy-in from team
members: The set of shared values embodied in the
charter creates a framework for addressing conflict.
3. Offer intercultural communication training.
Global team members should be skilled in communicating with individuals from different
cultures. The 2015 Global Leadership Development Study conducted by i4cp, AMA, and Training
magazine found that only half of the responding
organizations made developing their global leaders a priority and that fewer than half of survey
respondents believed that leaders demonstrated
understanding of global differences in business
practices or were able to establish sound relationships with diverse individuals outside their work
group. Organizations should offer training that
helps individuals develop the knowledge and skills
to understand and value cultural differences. The
training should provide an understanding of how
cultural factors influence decision-making, problem solving, teamwork, and conflict. It should help
members identify differences on the team, and
explore how they can bridge those differences.
Since there are more than 20,000 cultures in the
world, a cultural-general approach combined with
a deeper dive into the cultures represented on the
team is recommended. Using feedback tools, exercises, video cases, and opportunities to practice, the
Institute for Cross Cultural Management advocates
a four-step discovery learning approach grounded
in both research and best practices:
distance, proxemics, face)
similarities and differences across cultures
knowledge to work for the team
4. Offer conflict management training for individuals and teams. Addressing conflict is a challenge
for any team, but especially challenging for highly diverse global teams. Different languages and
cultures, working across different time zones,
lack of frequent face-to-face interaction, and
heavy reliance on meeting technology such as
videoconferencing and e-mail present additional
challenges for global teams.
Conflict management training is an important
component of preparing global team members.
Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan developed an approach to help individuals understand how conflict
happens, assess their individual conflict responses,
and develop individual conflict competence that enables
them to cool down, slow
down, and engage constructively with conflict partners.
The Conflict Dynamics ProlLE #$0 IS A TOOL USED TO
help team members evaluate their own behaviors
during a conflict situation,
and to maximize their use
of constructive behaviors
and minimize their use of
destructive behaviors. CDP
also helps individuals identify personal “hot buttons”
that tend to trigger strong
emotional responses. Flanagan notes that “our hot
buttons are reliant on our interpretation of the situation or behavior. What’s important is that we are
aware of our individual hot buttons and take steps
to manage them during conflict.”
In addition to understanding hot buttons, it is important to realize that there are cultural differences
in how conflict is viewed and in which responses to
conflict are considered culturally appropriate. DifFERENCESINACCEPTABLELEVELSOFDIRECTNESSHIGHAND
distance, and face all affect how conflict is viewed
and how it “should” be appropriately addressed.
In short, empowering teams to manage conflict
by creating a culture that truly values differences,
chartering global teams, and offering training in
conflict management and intercultural communication can increase your organization’s ability to
develop high-performance global teams. Qt
Global Team Conflict Toolbox
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