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All this can happen outside of our awareness. I say that not to make an excuse for my failure, but to point out that as we build diverse teams, trust and effective collaboration will not happen by default. Team members will experience cultural friction rooted in cultural misunderstandings, which may not be easy to diagnose.
But there is hope. Erin Meyer gives us a simple but useful framework to understand how cultural differences show up at work. Meyer suggests that regardless of your role, your work involves some of the following: deciding, disagreeing, scheduling, trusting, giving negative feedback, communicating, persuading, and leading.
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Take, for example, giving direct negative feedback, a critical skill for improving craft and quality. On one end of the scale, Meyer has countries where people value and expect direct negative feedback, even in front of others, such as in Russian culture. At the opposite end of the scale, we have cultures where direct negative feedback is not acceptable and can disrupt the harmony of a relationship, such as in Japanese culture. Looking at where different countries sit on this scale we can set our expectations on how people from those places might relate and behave.
The scale is not a guarantee, but a guide. Take the case of Mathias, a German designer who attended a diversity and dysfunction workshop I ran earlier this year. For his part, Mathias felt that his San Francisco team often beat around the bush and was too touchy-feely with their critique.
It turns out that in German culture, being direct and objective when giving negative feedback shows that you care about the work done. In America, it makes you a bit of a douche. They could also have prepared by having the team agree on a critique framework to use during design reviews. But misunderstandings born of cultural bias are real and can lead to real consequences.
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When we build teams of people with diverse perspectives, we increase the likelihood of creating resilient and adaptive teams that solve complex problems well. Crucially, Lencioni refers to the concept of "vulnerability-based trust". The best teams are those in which members are open with one another — ready to disclose their thoughts and feelings, share ideas, admit their own shortfalls and mistakes, ask for help, give and receive honest feedback.
In Lencioni's words " Trust is confidence that teammates will not slip a knife in your back as soon as you turn it ".
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Having trust in one another is an absolute foundation stone of highly-effective teams, and helps them counter the second dysfunction of a team — Fear of Conflict. If team members don't trust one another, they'll also be reluctant to confront one another. Discussion relating to key issues may be absent, muted or indirect, or not really get to the heart of the issue ie.
In other cases, team members that don't trust one another may well confront the issue, though do so in a competitive, unconstructive, aggressive manner with the purpose of "beating" the other person and promoting individual rather than team interests. Lencioni rightly emphasises that confrontations and conflicts, when they come with the right intention and are effectively managed, are "necessary goods" as opposed to "necessary evils".
Good confrontations provide the opportunity for the promotion of new ideas and the elimination of not-so-good ideas, the improvement of systems and processes etc…. Healthy confrontations and conflicts are honest, open and goal-directed and as such serve to improve the performance of the team, business or organisation. Only with the ability to master conflict will a team be able to effectively address the third dysfunction of a team — Lack of Commitment. Of course, teams work most effectively when every member clearly understands, endorses and commits to the goals of the team. Without commitment, efforts dissipate, the team's work is not true "teamwork" and members may instead focus their attention on individual interests.
A couple of the keys to achieving team commitment are buy-in and clarity. Buy-in occurs when all team members have had an opportunity to share their opinions and ideas which will only occur if there is trust and a willingness to engage in healthy debate , and those opinions and ideas have received genuine and appropriate consideration. Without true commitment, it's highly probable that the team will find itself troubled by the next dysfunction — Avoidance of Accountability.