Establishing guidelines for work in a diverse team

In their book Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance, which certainly is a book worth reading, Gibb Dyer, Jeffrey Dyer and William Dyer 6 guidelines for work in a diverse team.  While most of them are fantastic advice, two of them are also dangerous when dealing with people from a collective culture.

1. Team members who have experience in a certain issue should also share their thinking about similar issues

This is fantastic advice, because  in diverse teams, where some people might either have a personality that holds them back from sharing their points of view, or who come from cultures that do not encourage direct feedback to people in higher power positions, team members are therefore encouraged to give input. If you make everybody feel like sharing their knowledge is encouraged, and participation becomes a group value, no valuable expertise is lost.

2. Before a final decision is made, the group should as itself whether or not every idea, or negative feedback, about the proposal has been stated

Often team leaders assume that when nobody says something against the proposal, that means that everybody agrees. But maybe the issue was simply that people didn’t feel like it was their turn to speak up. Therefore, asking once more before a final decision is made whether or not there are any additional ideas which haven’t been stated yet.

3. When someone disagrees with somebody else, the first thing that should be done is to make sure that both of them have the same understanding.

What this really means is that the person who disagrees (Person A) should state in her own words what the other person’s idea (Person B) or argument really is. Then Person B should say whether or not the meaning of what Person A has said is congruent with what he or she really meant. This process continues until both have a shared understanding. Only when this common agreement is reached, should Person A describe in detail what his or her disagreement is. In doing so, you ensure that you do not create an argument where none exists.

4.  Conflict or disagreement can, when handled correctly, lead to higher levels of information sharing, and the integration of opposing views

This is one of the most important points everybody should keep in mind about conflict resolution. Conflict isn’t something bad. Innovation, for example, is defined as bringing two different ideas together to create something new. And so, if two parties have different views and conflict emerges, this is an opportunity for the team to move forward, change the status quo, and ultimately be more innovative and productive.

5. Make time to provide feedback and critique within the team

A friend of mine once told me of a team he was advising in regards to improving team performance. When he asked them whether or not they give feedback to each other, and they said no, of course he asked why. They then went on to explain that they don’t think their boss would pay them for the extra time they spend on discussing how to improve performance. And because  they were so busy with their tasks, they had no chance to do this during their normal operation hours. My friend then went to the boss, who immediately said that of course, if it improved team performance, he would be happy to pay for the extra time spent.

What gets rewarded, will always be prioritized.

6. When a team members disagree with each other, they should share their views with the group

The last two guidelines are the one’s which I think can potentially be dangerous in diverse teams. In collective cultures, disagreement in front of everybody should often be avoided, because there is the danger that the person whose idea is disagreed with feels like he or she is loosing face. It is, of course, a good idea to encourage team members to state disagreement, though. So what is necessary is a process that allows for stating disagreement in a way that still maintains group harmony. One way to do this is by dividing the group into smaller subgroups, where each subgroup should state their opinion on the whole issue. That way, the development of a heated argument can be avoided, but all positions can be still be heard.

7. “Discuss and listen to  problems with your team members as you would like them to discuss and listen to these problems with you”

As you can see, this is an adaptation of the golden rule “treat others as you would like to be treated”. However, when diversity is an issue, this is a very dangerous thing to do. The expectations of others on how they would like to be discussed with-, or listened to, may be completely different from your own. In fact, and this is something the authors of “Team Building” point out themselves, different expectations of different people are the most common reason why conflict develops. One of the most important things of building effective teams is therefore to make sure that everybody’s expectations are always out in the open.


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