Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Hello beautiful humans!
What happens when cultures collide in the work place? With the growing understanding of culture equalities comes the obstacles of integrating these very different cultures into our work places, but what happens when these cultures collide?
When mentioning culture what comes to mind for most people are cultures related to ethnicity. Culture, as it is most commonly defined, can include any social group and their common customs, traditions, beliefs, etc. For instance, I grew up in the country around a lot of farmland. This could be considered a rural culture. Generations, such as the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millenials also have different cultures and there are even cultures in different businesses of the same industry. They're everywhere!
Blending these cultures, particularly in the work place, can be a challenge, but not an impossibility. The first thing to remember is that we are all different and unique in our abilities and skills, even apart from our cultural similarities. Any good leader understands that harnessing such diversities into a cohesive team can maximize the teams potential.
Think of a baseball team (or any sports team). If all the players were the same (I.e. catchers) and there were no specialized players (like baseman, pitchers, coaches, outfielders, etc), how effective would the team actually be? The team relies on the specialties of each individual player's area of expertise in order to function at it's maximum potential.
The same can be said for cultural differences. The more diversity, the more we increase perspectives, ideas and abilities that can further the growth and potential in the company.
When I put together a team in the workplace, I always want to include individuals with experience who can help identify possible obstacles that they have experienced in the past, but I also want to include those with little or no experience who can help provide a fresh perspective and new ideas. I like to include those from rural locations with those from metropolitan areas. They have a different pattern of thinking. Where one is resourceful with what they have, the other is able to provide for what we don't. The same for age, gender, race, etc. In other words, I want as many unique points of view as possible to create a well rounded team. The more variety of people, the more variety of ideas and solutions.
What happens when these different cultures collide?
If we have learned anything from the last few years we now know that not addressing these differences, be they ethnic, age, location, social status, etc, can create conflict and resentment between staff and even towards the organization. (We won't even talk about what it has done to us as a society.) It creates a division which works against the common unity and goals of the company. We all know that our quality and productivity are what suffers the most when this disengagement of employees occurs. In a nutshell, it plummets!
Instead of allowing these differences to create a greater divide, we need to create a safe place of interaction, inclusion, education, etc. where these differences can be discussed openly and honestly and the experiences and beliefs of these cultures, all cultures, can be shared. Heidi Lynne Kurter has a great article in Forbes called 6 Ways To Cultivate A Workplace Culture That Inspires Diversity And Inclusion (cited below).
More than just opening the door to opinions and beliefs
The best way to bring people together, no matter what cultures they may represent, is to find a common goal. When Leadership and upper management take the time to recognize the differences in culture, provide the time and safe place to express these differences and help everyone involved to understand that they are all in the same boat fishing for the same fish, people can start to look past and even appreciate their differences and uniqueness. They can begin to recognize the value of those differences and work together understanding that the success of one is the success of all.
After all, people want to find things in common with each other. They want to be able to relate to each other. If there is one thing that everyone on the planet has in common, it is that we are all unique.
Ideas for helping staff to learn about other cultures:
Culture Day - Ask staff to where outfits and decorate their office or workspace with items from their ethnic culture.
Potlucks - Host a potluck on a regular basis where employees bring something made from a specific culture or geographic area.
Share It - Start a program where each staff member brings a different activity that builds a special skill to your team meetings each month.
Employee Wall - Designate an area of the workplace and feature a new employee each month. Post their answers to questions that other staff members ask or just their background experience in the company, favorite quotes, personal profile, etc.
Newsletters - Create a newsletter with columns that introduce innovation in your industry, interviews with others in similar businesses and column just for fun. Have the staff contribute.
Kaizen - Introduce Kaizen or other idea provoking programs that encourage participation from everyone in the company.
Team Building Workshop - Have a team building workshop that helps staff understand all of the aspects and parts of the team.
Community Day - Participate in a volunteer program in the community to encourage staff to get to know and understand the obstacles and needs in your local area.
Any exercise that will help your staff to create a bond of understanding and acceptance is a move in the right direction, but don't limit yourself... or your staff.
Having an open mind
One of the big mistakes that is made in integrating cultures is the assumption that you have to change or modify your beliefs in order to accept the beliefs, practices, knowledge, etc. of another culture and this is just not true. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples are various religious cultures and the alternative lifestyle cultures aka the LBGT+ communities. Being aware of someone else's beliefs and practices is not the same as accepting the culture as your own. That's not what integration is about.
Integration is understanding and accepting that we are different and celebrating our uniqueness, not conforming to one way of thinking. When introducing activities like the ones above, we need to be sure to stress this to our employees. We are not asking them to become a part of a different culture. We are not asking them to change their opinions or beliefs. We are asking them to understand that not everyone is the same or will ever be the same. We are asking them to respect and appreciate those differences and work together towards a common ground.
Awareness, Acceptance, Inclusion and Engagement
The 4 main moving parts of integrating cultures in the workplace are Awareness, Acceptance, Inclusion and Engagement.
Awareness - Create an environment of awareness where each individual recognizes that every person is unique and can contribute in different ways with a different approach and perspective.
Acceptance - Accept that we are all different and allow each individual to be themselves without judgement or persecution of who they are, what they think and believe and how they choose to live their lives.
Inclusion - Provide an open and safe place that encourages participation with their own knowledges and experiences in a constructive and positive manner.
Engagement - Provide programs and platforms where everyone can contribute and learn from each other in a way that demonstrates the organizations encouragement and support to promote and achieve the common goals of company growth.
When you can create an environment where these actions can take place, then you have been successful in cohesively developing a strategy for a powerful and complete team that will work together towards the growth of your company.
Morals of the Story
Understand that each of us is from many different cultures and that cultures sometimes collide.
Address the issues of cultural collision in a way that celebrates both the uniqueness and the similarities of everyone involved.
Re-enforce the standard that although there are many cultural differences present, everyone is working towards the same common goal.
Integrate a culture of Awareness, Acceptance, Inclusion and Engagement.