September 2, 2021

Unity in Diversity in Your Organization

How do we create and maintain a truly multicultural Organizational Culture?

Creating and cultivating an organizational culture that capitalizes upon all the cultural strengths of its contributors is no small task. We believe the secret is found it using the personal cultural preferences of the people in the organization as the foundation for building a healthy organizational culture. It is possible to build a culture where people have a voice and feel they belong; a place where they thrive and experience relational success.

Difficult? Yes. Dangerous? Likely.

Attempting to identify and solidify a link between corporate culture and ethnic culture is difficult and can even be dangerous. Someone has posited that, “Every organizational culture has embedded in it the blueprint of the ethnic culture in which it was founded.” The ethnic-cultural roots of a company do bear significantly upon the eventual formation of its company-wide culture. A link certainly exists—a line can be drawn between the two—but it is important to keep in mind that this link is tricky, and why.

A broader but sharper perspective

With over a billion employees engaging interculturally around the globe, and 280 million expatriates in the world (a number that is growing by 5+% annually), it is increasingly difficult to map out the “origins” of a company’s ethnic culture. The lines we attempt to draw between national/ethnic and corporate cultures become increasingly blurred.

To create a corporate culture that also embraces ethnic culture conscientiously and consistently, it is important to broaden and sharpen your perspective on your entire organization. If an organization is owned by someone from one country, managed by someone from another country, with a staff of 20 people from 10 countries serving customers for 50 countries. Which ethnic culture blueprint is embedded in that organization? Obviously, all these people bring with them a variety of culturally influenced thinking speaking, and acting when they join the organization.

How should you define the parameters of the ethnic culture in which your corporate culture originated? How would you approach creating, modifying, or continually cultivating a corporate culture so that it takes into account the diversity of cultures involved in your organization?

How do you create a “third space” environment where everyone feels free to participate, contribute, innovate, and where they feel at home? Some companies think it is enough merely to “diversify” their staff systematically and expect multicultural teaming just to sort of evolve of its own accord. Or they “diversify” corporate communications with stock photos depicting what the company might look like from the outside looking in, or how they would like for their company to look.

Bringing together a diverse staff to function positively and productively is more complex than commissioning a colorful mural for the lobby. It is not enough to circulate brochures with a list of your company’s branch locations and the average (stereotypical) snapshots of an American, Turkish, Chinese, Nigerian, or German professional. We need something new.

Self-culture, not ethnic culture

What do we need in order to create a corporate culture that acknowledges and capitalizes on the strengths of many ethnic-cultural backgrounds? Our answer to this question, borne out over the last 2 decades of working across 70 countries in every sector of society, is a paradigm shift from an ethnic-cultural perspective to a self-cultural perspective.

We first need to change the conversation and start recognizing that we all are uniquely wired cultural people. In the world of psychology, we have recognized more or less universal frameworks of thinking about human behavior and those frameworks are used to create a unique picture of your personal behavioral wiring. It is about time that we do the same in the cultural space!

With the Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture, KnowledgeWorkx has created a rich framework for structured dialogue to help people discover their personal cultural preferences and to further think through the potentialities and possibilities for their organizational culture. The framework is called the “Inter-Cultural Intelligence Framework” (ICI Framework).

Our definition of organizational culture was born out of decades of working with teams and organizations all around the world using personal cultural preferences as a foundation to create thriving team and organizational cultures.

“Organizational culture is the sum total of the expression of the thinking, speaking and acting of its contributors.”

This definition requires us to understand what each person brings to the ‘cultural table’ as they contribute to the organization. Through practicing self-cultural analysis, the organization gets a broader, yet sharper perspective on the cultural make-up of their entire organization. The language of the ICI Framework provides a rich language to guide the organization to formulate a culture that will work best for and bring out the best in everyone.

Utilizing a collective approach to the development of organizational culture

Historically organizations have defined their cultures based on something the senior leaders decided. In some cases, people still believe that the boss has to define the culture of the organization. Senior leadership will often proceed as though we are able to read our staffs’ minds and determine, “Here is what is/isn’t acceptable behavior for our organization; here is what you need to stick to.” Today, relying solely on leadership-level perceptions and opinions can be a dangerous gamble! In today’s increasingly globalized world, employees are increasingly vocal, smart, and connected!

There is plenty of evidence that this doesn’t work in a global and diverse world, especially with working from home or working remotely being a normal part of our workweek.

To counteract senior management’s tendency to drive the conversation, there is a useful method by which every employee is invited to participate in defining which behaviors are acceptable and which are unacceptable. (You can learn more about this in our article “Vision, Mission, Values… What About Behavior?”) Through discussion with people at multiple levels in the organization, you can accurately delineate what is acceptable behavior and what is not, and then create a “behavioral charter“, which can help to narrow down core values for your corporate culture.

Learn a vocabulary by which to challenge your assumptions

Most organizations simply do not have the vocabulary and concepts necessary to facilitate a collective organizational culture discussion. Such a discussion, properly executed, would utilize questions like these:

“Do you believe that consensus-based leadership is better than hierarchical leadership?”

“Do you believe that public discussion of problems with a ‘transparent, direct communication style’ is a better way to solve problems than a series of one-on-one meetings and ‘quiet, indirect communication style’?”

“Do you prefer to have your individual performance levels measured on every single touch-point, and each target? Or are you focused on team-wide success and preferring to be held collectively accountable for how your team reaches targets?”

“When conflict occurs, how do you attempt to resolve it (or, do you attempt to resolve it)? Would you call a team meeting and say, ‘Hey guys, we have a problem’? Do you yourself ‘tune out’ when people do that? Would you prefer to wait and defer to someone else to take that kind of action?”

Pivotal to dealing with all these issues—performance management, conflict resolution, leadership styles, etc.—and pivotal to anticipating them while you are in the throes of creating a company-wide culture—is the need to communicate effectively. Many corporate leaders find they lack language that speaks in terms of cultural preference. And most of your staff has not been exposed to the kind of language they need to express their cultural preferences accurately.

So KnowledgeWorkx’ first steps in corporate culture development are to expose people to the 12 Dimensions of Culture and Three Colors of Worldview. After that basis for understanding has been established, we use the group reports of the 12 Dimensions of Culture and the Three Colors of Worldview to create a deeper understanding of the cultural ‘thinking, speaking and acting’ of the group. These group reports have embedded in them a structured guide for teams and organizations to discuss issues around a wide variety of topics through a cultural lens.

Here are some of the topics: nurturing trust builders, overcoming communication challenges, making conflict productive, how to celebrate well, what to do if people mess up or don’t do what they promised and how to develop relational strength.

Using the ICI-framework and language makes these conversations less emotional, gives everyone a voice, and creates the structure needed to collectively decide on which behaviors to pursue and which behaviors to avoid.

In larger organizations we have powerful ways to create a snapshot of the thinking, speaking, and acting of the organizational culture today. We use large group engagement methods that are culturally validated, meaning that our approach is more likely to get engagement from all contributors no matter what their cultural preferences are.

This data is then used to start a conversation that will compare the current thinking, speaking, and acting of the organization to who they collectively want to be. This gap analysis then leads to a mid-term “Corporate Culture Alignment” initiative that is largely driven by the organization.

When we work with teams to shape their team culture, we use our “High Performing Intercultural Teaming” approach (HPIT). This is a team journey of anywhere between 6 – 10 months in which we develop the team culture based on the personal cultural preferences of the team members. During the pandemic, this became one of our sought-after programs because teams were struggling to keep the culture of the team healthy. The HPIT program provided them with a structured way to stay engaged, keep talking about important issues and making important decisions about what behaviors the team wanted to pursue together.

From ethnic culture to self-culture to corporate culture

Discerning your corporate culture through understanding its ethnic-cultural roots alone cannot prepare your company culture for global competition. Your stakeholders are unlikely to have the necessary vocabulary to even explain their own preferences—much less the tools they require to hammer out and set effective policy.

Self-cultural analysis not only creates the vocabulary and framework to explore all the avenues that ethnic culture is supposed to address, but it also prepares your stakeholders (across all levels of the organization) for effective change management.

Organizational culture is inseparably linked to ethnic/national culture. But again—it can be tricky to navigate those links. So, it is even more compelling and fascinating to study self-culture and how self-culture analysis can progress fluidly into the development of an effective, diversely representative organizational culture. Our definition of organizational culture has proven to be a helpful way to progress from personal to team to organizational culture development.

Through analyzing your self-culture, you can determine just how much your organizational culture is based on the blueprint of the self-culture of your founding stakeholders. You can decide how you need to adapt that culture to the realities of your current, globalized organization. And then, because of that entire identification process, you will have laid the groundwork for affecting the behavior of your people at all levels of the organization.

Are your ready to start developing your team or organizational culture? Start a conversation today, to begin building a healthy culture.

Take a look at your different options for team development or design a learning journey that fits your team.

Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.