How to Attain Cultural Synergy
Dr. Deirdre Mendez, the director of the Center for Global Business at UT Austin, teamed up with Human Resources Today to give a talk on how to achieve cultural synergy in the workplace. She emphasized the different cultural norms found all over the world and generalized them to two main ways people perceive time and organize tasks: schedule orientation and flow orientation.
Schedule oriented people plan things out well in advance and prioritize being organized, reliable, and timely. Flow oriented people are focused on the end goal but slot in tasks as opportunities present themselves; they prioritize flexibility and adaptability. These are both positive skill sets and perspectives on work, and in her research Dr. Mendez has discovered that well-managed diverse teams (a combination of schedule and flow oriented people) can be slow to get up to speed but over time will out perform well-managed homogenous teams (teams made up of one orientation of people) because they are constantly innovating. When utilized and managed in tandem correctly, thus creating cultural synergy between the two groups, they can generate a more productive workplace.
Here are her tips on how to achieve cultural synergy as a manager:
1. Recognize the values of a diverse culture. Take the time to identify the orientations (schedule and flow) as well as the strengths associated with them. Make sure to separate tendencies from personality, and deconstruct problems that come up as you go along.
2. Identify the different priorities and sources of pain between different groups of people. Schedule oriented people value timeliness while flow oriented people will be unconcerned about being late to a meeting if they’re working on something important. Discuss your diverse team members needs and concerns throughout the project.
3. Design supportive conditions. Have people of both orientations propose accommodations to help the needs of the others so that everyone is able to prioritize their skills while still accommodating their team members’ needs. Share concerns throughout so everyone can be reassured and action can be taken more easily.
4. Establish goals at the beginning of the project so that everyone is on the same page.
5. Design policies and systems to establish standards and expectations about how the team will be communicating, planning, working with vendors, or anything else relevant to the project.
6. Reward and celebrate all successes.
When dealing with conflict on the team:
- Refer to the goals established at the beginning and work back towards achieving them.
- Make sure there is no preference bias and that all team members are able to work to their fullest.
- Deconstruct misunderstandings among your team members about the different orientations.
What to do when you inherit a team:
- Ask questions of your new team members to identify their priorities and general approach. Give prompts like “I do my best work when…”, “I feel stressed when…”, “To design a sound plan, I think people should…”.
- Make sure everyone is heard. We tend to hear people the most if they are in our proximity, so if there are any members which are remote, actively spend more time with them.
- Probe for problems anonymously, instead of singling out individual team members. Prompt team members with statements like “One thing that would enhance our productivity is…”, or “One thing that would enhance our communication is…”.
You can watch the whole talk below!