Insights & Ideas

Connecting across cultures: My experience as a consultant in a diverse workforce

America’s workplace is more culturally diverse than ever before. According to the Harvard Business Review, for the first time in history, up to five generations are working side by side—one-in-three workers are millennials making this age group the largest share of the workforce. Not only is the workforce generationally diverse, it is also racially and ethnically diverse. Census data tells us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country.

Businesses that fail to foster inclusive workplaces see higher turnover rates than those that value workplace diversity. In one Forbes study, senior executives report that they believe fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed believe the success of diversity and inclusion programs within an organization lies with the CEO.

With all of this diversity, how do we effectively build relationships and lead teams that cross cultures and generations? As a Salo finance consultant working primarily with large-scale ERP implementations for Fortune 500 consumer packaging and healthcare organizations, Maureen de Chaud, has had the opportunity to work with teams across the globe and generations. The following tips are what she has seen to be the most successful in creating an inclusive workplace and building relationships among team members.

Understand differences and develop awareness

The first step to creating an inclusive environment is to learn what biases your team already has. You can discover these by benchmarking your team’s cultural biases through a cultural assessment. (See “The Secrets of Facilitation, The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Getting Results with Groups” by Michael Wilkinson for an example of a cultural assessment.) Or, you could also take a simpler approach—ask team members what values are important to them and what their expectations of the work place are. Don’t be surprised if your team has more similarities than differences!

Identify a common ground

Common ground is a key connector. Typically, it is created through a team goal or deliverable such as closing the monthly financials, producing financial plans, or implementing a new system, but I have seen employers succeed in finding common ground around holidays, food and historical events. The event might be celebrated, prepared or experienced differently, but it can be used as a tool to build new connections within the team. Another successful strategy that many teams use is to create opportunities for bonding through team building events.

Practice empathy

With a better understanding of the cultural biases and generational differences that make up a team, you can be more empathetic to another’s point of view, making it easier to remove barriers and inefficiencies within the team. Sometimes this can be done in ways that seem small, but make a huge impact. For example, during a global systems implementation project kickoff, I was a part of, we were working with people from multiple countries. The project sponsor asked a member from each country to present their portion of the meeting in their language with a translation to English. This experience gave all team members a better understanding of how we needed to work together as a team to accomplish our goal regardless of our backgrounds, culture or language and went a long way in helping us to be successful.

Applying these three steps and embracing our cultural and generational differences is key to our success as leaders of our increasingly diverse teams. Open up the conversation to open the minds of team members. The result will be increased communication and a more cohesive and effective team.

human resource consulting firms chicago
human resource consulting firms chicago

Maureen de Chaud

Senior Finance Consultant