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Diversity: same same but different

These days it’s hard to avoid discussions around diversity – whether it’s gender or culture-based. Working as a consultant in a global environment, the idea of a diverse or multicultural team can seem quite appealing…on paper. What to do when good teams go bad?

Growing up in a multicultural melting pot/rainbow nation, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine a scenario where cultural diversity gets in the way of performance delivery. We have many faults but that is something we pride ourselves on. I was raised in a world where the cultural difference was continually highlighted (apartheid) but we found a way to make things work despite our differences…and sometimes even despite our similarities (post-apartheid globalisation).

We’re currently involved in a project in China with a German project manager, a Taiwanese team member and a South African, just to make things interesting. Every member of our team brings their own expertise and experience. The client has a Dutch General Manager and a completely Chinese management and workforce. Already sounds like fun! Each culture brings its own work ethic, cultural predispositions and rules of engagement. Where do you begin when some members of the team have never engaged with each other or our respective cultures, much less visited each other’s homeland to understand the context?

Sounds simplistic, but in my opinion, it all begins with respect. We are all to some extent victims of cultural stereotypes. It begins with getting to know each other as individuals and our respective strengths and weaknesses. We need to accept that not everything will take place in exactly the same way we are accustomed to back home and to make allowances for this. There is no point in isolating yourself. Use the time to learn, engage and open your horizons.

It doesn’t make sense to create a clone of your world but use the time instead to help create solutions that make sense for your new context.

What would you do if you had the opportunity to forge solutions in a global context? Do you see it as a one-size-fits-all or is there room for diversity at your table?

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