Interculturality: A great strength in the work team


Interculturality: A great strength in the work team

February 27 / 2020

Learn more about the benefit of cultural diversity at work with the interview with Anna Zelno, Interculturalist & Diversity Management Consultant.

Culture is the set of values, beliefs, behaviors, and expressions learned and transmitted by a group. On the other hand, multiculturalism refers to the plurality of cultures that coexist in the same space, for example a workspace, and interculturality is directly the interaction and communication between different cultures to enrich each other, as is the case of work teams.

Do you join or run a company where workers have a different nationality from yours? Working in a place where it is shared with different cultures and traditions can be seen as a weakness in terms of communication, decision making, and teamwork. However, have you thought that such cultural diversity can enhance creativity and innovation? Anna Zelno allows us to see how interculturality turns out to be a strength.

Anna Zelno Interculturalist and Diversity Management Consultant affirms that culture alters our way of perceiving, thinking, communicating and acting, and tells us about the importance of discovering and putting into practice both diversity and cultural inclusion in the team of job.

Is it true that cultural diversity is synonymous of productivity and benefits for a company?

Cultural diversity in itself does not imply benefits, but it is true that a diverse and well-managed team, in which each person feels completely accepted and can contribute their different perspectives and experiences, can obtain extraordinary results. The key is inclusion and not diversity.

What are the most common negative scenarios and challenges that companies face due to multiculturalism?

One of the most common challenges in culturally diverse teams is the prejudices and unconscious biases that people may have. Sometimes we decide not to interact with someone because before we meet him we have already made an image of him or her.

Why is it important not to establish a cultural quota when recruiting talent?

I have never encountered the “cultural quotas” in the countries in Europe where I have worked, and I don’t think it makes sense to establish something like that. When recruiting talent, the most important thing is to focus on the skills and experience of people. If you have two very similar profiles, opting for the most diverse can be an advantage.

What actions can a company or startup establish from its formation to take advantage of interculturality?

A good team building session, beyond playful, could be a first step. The goal would be to discover and recognize cultural diversity in the team. It would be important to have enough time for people from different cultures to share their experiences and perspectives on ways of working, their values and everything that matters to them to give their best.

Second, design a Team Charter where the objectives and goals for the team, “the rules of the game”, and the needs of each team member will be established to obtain the best results.

When the team is already underway, it is important to create in a conscious and strategic way a culture of feedback that allows taking care of the inclusive environment and accelerates individual and group growth.

What is cognitive diversity and why is it important in terms of cultural diversity?

Cognitive diversity is the sum of knowledge, perspectives, interpretations. The most obvious aspect would be linguistic diversity, the mother tongues that different people bring with them. It is a competitive advantage per se.

The culture in which we have socialized (this process is repeated every time we migrate, since we change countries and decide to adapt to new rules of the game) affects our way of perceiving the world, of thinking, communicating and acting. If people in a team have socialized in different cultural contexts, the team may have different perspectives to solve the same problem.

The cultural differences of a team can be found in several dimensions of their collaboration: how time is managed and how priorities are defined, if people focus on good relationships in the team or go directly to the task, how they face the conflict and how they express disagreement, how they relate to the hierarchy. All that and many more aspects influence the productivity and performance of the teams.

Is it possible to involve people from the team (not managers) to enhance the inclusion process?

I would say that is essential. Accenture has a slogan that reflects very well my way of thinking about inclusion: Inclusion starts with I. This slogan plays with the letter “I” (I in English). Every person, every day and every moment, can decide if they want to behave in an inclusive way or not. If you want to greet and smile at all the people you meet in the office, if you want to ask them how they are doing, what they are worried about or if during a meeting you are willing to listen to everyone’s opinions. If you accept the differences without judging them.

In the interpretation I make of this slogan I go one step further: I start with myself. Accept myself as I am and accept my differences without forcing me to fit in and want to like everyone. Being able to take care of our authenticity makes us feel better and that is when we also give our best, and if this authenticity is in an inclusive environment, the results can exceed expectations.