Last week, I talked about some of the experiences which have helped me figure out How to Manage Different Cultures in the Workplace. Today ‘ll get into details about exactly what you can do to help people from various backgrounds gel together into a well oiled machine. So from my experience, this is what works in facilitating a diverse group of nationalities:

Build A Relationship

Spend one-on-one time with people prior to getting them all together. This helps you understand their perspectives and learn how they see the world. Build a relationship in which individual members trust you so you can utilize that trust during group sessions.

In China, amongst other things, I was responsible for trainee recruitment. For that purpose I had a senior professor from one of China’s Fudang university work with me as a consultant. In one of my conversations we spoke about China’s past in the ’60-’70 and the professor shared his horrifying experiences as a university teacher in the re-education camps of that time. His career and his life completely changed as a result. With my individual western perspective I could not understand how he could have endured and still look so positive towards the regime and his homeland. He replied saying: “My personal hardships are insignificant to the future of the country”. You can understand my awe of a person of his stature making his individualism completely less important than that of the collective. Ever since then, I was able to connect with him on a different level.

Create A Shared Need

Spend a considerable amount of time on creating an equal playing field in which all participants agree what the issue is and create a shared need of what changes are required. Your ability to create a shared need has to be submerged in this realization of the cultural difference between east and west.

The difficulty in this comes when you start talking about the implementation and the consequences of these principles. Clearly there is a different way of thinking as so beautifully articulated by Reg Bull: “The big difference is because of two dead guys: one called Socrates (“Speak truth to power”) and the other Confucius (“Honor your betters”). The way those two fundamental belief systems have permeated everything in their respective societies from politics, through education, through family, through ‘everything’, is without doubt the cause of the greatest difference between occidental and oriental managers.

Build A Safe Environment

Most Asians, (except my Desi brethren) feel uncomfortable in speaking up in large forums, certainly if the ‘big bosses’ are present. It’s therefore important to create smaller groups in which people can share their thoughts and opinions.

I took a large team of a dairy company for an Outbreak. During one of the community sessions the situations got a bit tense as team members were voicing a number of concerns that clearly upset the boss of the boss of the team. Energy levels dropped and people retreated into their shells when the boss showed his emotions. It completely destroyed levels of trust that we carefully built up over the past few days. It was one of these now or never moments as I publicly asked the boss to open up to the feedback voiced, not to respond (verbally or emotionally) and just listen with an open heart to the feedback given. The boss kept quiet and slowly people found there nerve to continue giving feedback that at the end was embraced by the leader.

Give Equal Talk Time

Stop people that speak too much and allow the less talkative individuals to express their views. Give everyone an opportunity and you’ll be surprised to find that pushing people to speak will help them gain confidence and may also produce some fresh ideas and perspectives.

I facilitated a session in Thailand a couple of years ago and it was virtually impossible for them to speak up with the foreign CEO in the audience. They basically repeated all the platitudes and politically correct answers that the boss wanted to hear. Nobody wanted to point out the ‘white elephant’ in the middle of the room. Only when we created a few breaks in which people could discuss the issues and list them on a flipchart that I as a facilitator had to present to the whole audience were we be able to get to the root of the issue.

These really are some real-world, implementable ways that you can use to simply complex environments. If you implement any of them, please let me know by commenting below.