Picture this for a moment: 5 people from different countries, with different background, type preferences, life and professional experiences, working remotely, wanting to collaborate but not with the same tools! How could this possibly work at all?
It sounds like a joke but it’s not. And it may feel familiar and remind you of your own work environment.
In a previous post I asserted that creating space for diversity in our everyday professional life might be a considerable challenge!
Of course it was an understatement: it’s actually a nightmare!
A few months ago, these 5 people decided to establish a not-for-profit association with the purpose of working with organizations and support them on the implementation of mission-critical EQ-related “soft skills” such as:
Staying in a healthy dialogue when it feels “impossible”;
Collaborating with people whose attitude and behavior you hate;
Continuing to work with people when you don’t feel respected;
Staying with people that simply see life very differently;
And the list goes on.
We all experience these difficult and frustrating moments even if we’re perfectly aware that diversity is both necessary and beneficial. We all know how interpersonal differences are irritating and difficult to accept. We may at times dream of a world only populated by clones of ourselves: there would be little arguing, a resounding “yes” to all our ideas, which would all be considered great and timely! The real world is evidently built differently!
Let me re-acquaint you with how things work on earth by introducing you to our team, where you find slightly different cultural perspectives: French, Swiss-French, German, Swiss-German, Swiss-Italian and Hungarian. To spice it up, national, regional and individual cultures combine somewhat unpredictably with various personality preferences like introvert/extravert, detail/big picture thinking, flexible/structured style and actually a whole host of other factors: gender, values & beliefs or cognitive biases. Apologies for likely missing out on other differences!
In sum, a perfect example of what not to do when assembling a team, isn’t it? Think about it though:
Can the effort of forming and managing such a team ever pay off?
In other words, is it worth the hassle ? How can you make sure it will ever be productive?
Just a quick example of a work session:
Person A comes up with a “great” idea, person B starts to criticize it and explains why and how it will not work, person C is wondering if the background color and layout of the presentation are appropriate, person D feels sidelined because sitting in another country, connected by Skype, but not sufficiently involved in the discussion as initially planned, Person E seems to believe that the “great” idea can only come from a masculine perspective, Person F now revisits A’s idea and Person A’s great idea is now off the table!
What a challenge, wouldn’t you agree? That would put any team to the test.
In our example and because no one wanted to right away renounce our shared purpose despite the nasty surprise and the frustrations we decided to move one and resolve our issues. It became obvious to all of us that our diversity was great only if you could harness it!
We knew that “storming” and “norming” before “performing” were natural phases of team work but “Gee!” how painful would that be and how long would that take to come out OK!
We leveraged the opportunity to fine-tune and apply our models: how to seek alignment and manage differences.
What did we do?
Firstly we checked our own individual alignment and alignment with the team: going through purpose/intentions, identity, values, beliefs and behavio
rs/habits. Am I, are we authentically committed and engaged.
Then, we decided to tell/confirm each other our types and preferences to ensure mutual understanding and clear the air!
As a third step we agreed to stay in a healthy dialogue whenever we would feel annoyed by someone else in the team (Refer to “Crucial Conversations” from VitalSmarts), really helpful.
Periodically we check each other for possible biases (!) and try to become aware of our own stories.
We also stay focused on what we really want to achieve and listen rather than argue.
We commit to express our thought and ideas to each before evaluating them
We tone down the judging of others and make an effort to just accept them as they are, including their darker side!
If you wish to know how to specifically handle these situations successfully call us: we know how to survive them effectively and productively!
Let’s build a new story together and remember
“History is made by all of us”!