We’re thrilled to welcome global leadership expert Karen Cvitkovich as a faculty member at our Women in Leadership Institute™, kicking off November 13 in Dallas, TX. Karen’s passion is collaborating with clients and partners to ensure successful business results between international counterparts, leaders and multinational teams. In this post, she shares the power of diverse perspectives and the importance of creating a team where every member feels listened to, understood and respected.
As I hung up the phone from a diagnostic interview with a member of a virtual global team, I had a pit in my stomach. I had agreed to facilitate a face-to-face team-building session for a US/Israeli team that had recently been brought together after an acquisition. Things were tense. I knew this, and that was why the team building was happening; yet, I was still struck by how angry they seemed to be with one another. I heard the following more than once from those I interviewed: “Some of these people I have known for years, and they just are not acting like themselves… Everyone seems unhappy and we just are not meeting our goals because of it.”
After working for more than 20 years as a consultant for global teams, I believe firmly that diversity of perspective can drive innovation and have a positive impact on a team’s ability to reach their goals. In general, diverse teams are more innovative and creative. I have seen many examples of this in multiple industries and yet, when teams do have a high degree of conflict that is not managed well, the opposite effect can happen. Multicultural teams can be even less productive than homogenous teams.
So what was getting in the way of all that great innovation and productivity in this team I was working with? Everywhere I go in the world, I find that people want three things:
- They want to be listened to
- They want to be understood
- They want to be respected
The challenge is that the behaviors people look for to feel these things tend to vary by country and culture. When people of different cultural groups do not feel listened to, understood or respected by each other, it impacts how they act and “show up” at work. Taking this thinking into account, I began my facilitated session with this team using a simple exercise:
“Think of a person whom you feel really connected to. Someone who listens, understands and respects you. Picture that person in your mind. Now tell me, how do you act when you are around that person?” People responded with sentiments such as, “I act like myself. I am confident. I am free to be who I want to be.”
Then I asked them the opposite: “Now, as painful as it may be, picture a person you work with whom you feel does not listen, understand or respect you. How do you act with this person?” With this scenario, I was met with comments like, “I feel I need to protect myself. I am defensive and I doubt myself.”
Bottom line, the Americans and Israelis did not feel respected by each other. The key for this group was to help them to understand the cultural differences that were the root of this disconnect—the gap between “intention” and “outcome” in their interactions. In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer outlines key areas in which cultures tend to be similar and different. She reviews a variety of scales of difference, but two stood out as I worked with this team:
The team collectively agreed that their goal was to improve their teamwork and ability to meet successful business outcomes. However, there was an important distinction—the Israelis I spoke to felt “better teamwork” meant “more conflict”—if the team has good teamwork, they should be even more able to express disagreement openly. For the Americans on the team, “better teamwork” meant less conflict, and many commented on how uncomfortable they felt with the level of open conflict.
The Americans also felt offended when the Israelis were either late for meetings or accepting calls or other interruptions during meetings. This made the Americans feel disrespected, and as though their time was less important. On the flip side, the Israelis felt that the Americans needed to be more flexible. For both groups, understanding that the differences in their work style were “cultural differences”—not intended to be offensive—was important. This dialogue also created valuable space for them to really listen to each other, which was essential.
We need to recognize the power of diverse perspectives and the importance of creating a team where every member feels listened to, understood and respected. This means different things to different people based on their culture. Through this recognition, the power of perspective can be fully realized, and we can all accomplish more together!
Bridging the differences to gain perspectives—Through our work with multinational teams and over 100 interviews with individuals who were identified by their organizations as successful global leaders, we have developed a process that can help teams achieve their full potential. 
- Listen: The first step in collaborating across different perspectives is to set aside your point of view for a moment and listen!
- Relate: Does everyone involved in this process know one other, and how can we develop a foundation of personal trust and mutual understanding across cultural differences?
- Inquire: What do each of us not know about this situation that we need to know, and how can we work together to fill in these gaps? What are the indisputable facts and what are the perspectives? Are there aspects of my style or strategic approach that I should consider changing to better support our work?
- Co-Create: Who are likely to be key players in influencing the decision and implementing the outcome—even those who haven’t previously been decision-makers—and how can I involve them in creating the solution?
- Commit: Does each person who participated in the process feel that the final outcome is his or her own? Do they have some pride of authorship? Have we fully leveraged the different perspectives represented in the groups working toward the change?
Diverse teams have amazing potential for innovation and creative thinking. By understanding and really listening to each other, their potential can be realized.
View Karen’s recent webinar: Culture Map: Leading Successfully in a Global Business World.
1. Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. Public Affairs, 2014.
2. Gundling, Ernest, Cvitkovich, Karen et al. What Is Global Leadership?: 10 Key Behaviors That Define Great Global Leaders. Nicholas Brealey Pub., 2011.