Two years ago, I decided to organize an event at my children’s school. I asked a friend of mine to help me with the event. And she invited another friend of hers. And two more people joined the team. So we were five of us. The team was very diverse. Five people with Seven different cultural backgrounds.
One day, we had a meeting and one suggested an idea. I thought it was an interesting idea to discuss if it was worth trying. But one of the members immediately said that it would not work and it would be a waste of time even to discuss. So we had to discuss if the discussion would be worth our time.
Have you encountered a situation like this?
You might have a similar experience even with people from the same culture, however, it might happen more if you are in a diverse environment. Diverse does not only mean “different cultures”, but also “different genders”, “different generations”, “different religious beliefs”, and more. But if you live overseas, you might experience diversity from “different cultures” in your daily life.
Isn’t it tiring? Don’t you wish if everyone shares the same values as you do?
On the other hand, an article from Harvard Business Review says a research shows that “companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean”.
Another article from Inc. tells that you can expect better performances in diverse teams, but you also experience discomfort in the teams.
In general, people feel comfortable with similarity. Similar fashion, similar taste, similar languages, similar culture, similar values, and more. And we feel distance and discomfort with unsimilarity. When you see someone who wears clothes which are not in your taste, you might say “aargh” and probably not “cool!”. And if someone says “friendship is not valuable” when you do not believe in it, you would feel a big distance from him/her. And it is understandable even if you feel you’d not want to work with him/her.
There is an article from Harvard Business Review focus on this uncomfortable feeling in a diverse team. In this article, it says “On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive”.
This uncomfortable feeling can be also explained from the brain’s point of view. In one of my blog posts about homesickness, I explained our brain system. There are two parts of our brain that we are affected by in those conflict situations, one is the limbic system and the other one is the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system which is a more primitive part of our brain tells you how to survive. Actions which more likely bring comfort used to link directly with our survival. For example, you would feel comfortable when you return home because a house can provide you protection from weather and/or your enemy and it is built in our limbic system.
It is the same when you are in a team. A homogenous team can create harmony easily and usually, the harmonious team has less tension among the team and it promises your safety. On the other hand, if you are in a diverse team, you might experience more disagreement which causes higher tension, therefore, you’d feel uncomfortable. Your brain (the limbic system) urges you to fight or flight.
However, as you have seen, there is huge value in diverse teams.
What can you do?
First of all, tell yourself that disagreement will happen, also be aware it is your brain which tells you that it is something you need to worry about. If you know the disagreement will happen, then you won’t be surprised. And if you know your uncomfortable feeling is only caused by your brain (the limbic system), you would be able to accept the uncomfortable feeling.
If you have that in your mind, do you think you can handle the situation a little better?
Also, if you are a team member, share what you learned about the advantages of being in a diverse team. And probably you can discuss what everyone can behave when a disagreement is recognized BEFORE seeing one.
If you are a team leader, spend some time to get to know individual ideas and experience. Probably you can discuss each other’s ideas regarding the disagreement. Also, share everyone’s experience in those situations as well as lessons they learned from the experience. Have a discussion with using a case study might be helpful as well. Then if you share the values of diversity and encourage them to spend time to discuss within the team when they have questions. You might feel it’d be a waste of time to sit down and discuss rather than just giving an order or remind them to focus on speediness. However, remind yourself which you would like to value, speed or quality.
It is inevitable that there are multinational and intercultural teams in this current world. So it is wise to get used to be in and manage these teams.
As for my school event, it was a huge success. Everyone who came to the event enjoyed it and the bond of the team members has strengthened.