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Organisational diversity - Building culturally diverse teams

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The High Performance Toolkit
Your Guide to Managing a High Performance Organisation

Organisational diversity: Building culturally diverse teams
Productive work teams make for high performance organisations and good teamwork is essential to a positive workplace culture. A culturally diverse community will ideally mean a culturally diverse workforce. Taking time to ensure work teams are culturally diverse will pay dividends. Diverse teams contribute to high performance organisations as they have the potential to see problems from a range of different perspectives, contributing to enhanced decision making, problem solving and innovation.

How to use this fact sheet
This fact sheet aims to assist your organisation to enhance performance by putting in place strategies to include those from different cultures in teams. It includes ideas on how you might achieve this, as well as examples from other organisations where productive and culturally diverse teams play a key part in the organisation. While there are some broad principles or guidelines that can be used to enhance performance through culturally diverse teams, it is important to remember that each organisation is different, so the tools and techniques that work may differ. You will need to tailor any ideas to your own unique situation. However one thing is certain. In order to successfully move to an organisation in which diversity is built into work teams, change must be led from the top and be based on agreement and consensus between all involved – managers, employees and any representative body such as a trade union. Becoming an organisation that values diverse work teams requires a step by step approach and this fact sheet sets out a three-stage process to assist. And although this fact sheet focuses on culturally diverse teams, it must be seen in the context of the other strategies canvassed in related fact sheets.

Industrial Relations Victoria Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development

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First stage – starting out
Diversity within work teams may be more common in some organisations than in others. If an organisation has a workforce from a range of different cultures and backgrounds, then it will most likely have more diversity within its work teams. Less diverse workplaces will need to be more proactive in terms of recruiting and retaining those from different cultures and backgrounds to ensure that more diversity is included within work teams.

Ideas worth trying
Establish a base line for diversity. Gather data on the extent of workplace diversity through organisational profiles, diversity audits and employee census data. But don’t only collect data on cultural backgrounds; also consider gender and other parameters of diversity. Break base line data down by organisational function to provide a snapshot of the diversity across functions or by level, for example, into team member, team leader and senior manager groupings. Breaking down the diversity data will enable identification of the organisational diversity profile and also any problems regarding a lack of diversity within existing teams. Consider diversity in team member selection when developing guidelines for team formation. Establish and aim to meet targets to increase the diversity within teams. Targets could include: • a mix of language skills across teams, or • a certain percentage of women and men on each team. Encourage those who select or put together teams to focus on identifying potential team members from traditionally under-represented groups in the organisation, or in the particular team. If unable to do this, they would then put in place plans to increase their pool of potential members. Include a statement of commitment to celebrating diversity and a strategy for including team diversity to enhance performance within the organisational vision, goals and strategic plans.

» Good practice
Ford’s Natural Work Groups (NWGs) are natural groups of operators based on process, geography, size, reporting relationships etc., working together to make continuous improvements to enhance the competitiveness of Ford. In 2002, Ford Broadmeadows plant had 147 NWGs covering the full gamut of car production. They included 65 nationalities reflecting the multicultural workforce at the plant. As part of their responsibilities, NWGs are required to analyse jobs and make decisions that value diversity and make a commitment to respecting the dignity of every individual.

Industrial Relations Victoria Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development

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Second stage – moving forward
Diversity has the potential to improve team and organisational performance. However positive outcomes will not occur simply by bringing together a diverse team. Careful planning, senior management commitment, a focus on team structures, comprehensive training and attention to recognition and reward programs are all important in encouraging high performance in diverse teams.

Ideas worth trying
Identify the required skills and competencies when putting together teams. Include those that are generic to all teams and those that may be required in effectively working in a diverse team. Any gaps can then be addressed prior to team formation. Specific issues to be addressed prior to team selection include: •	 have potential team members participated in diversity training and if not when will this be offered? •	 does the team leader have conflict negotiation skills to assist members without diversity training? Support of team members and team leaders is critical to the success of culturally diverse teams. Developing a business case for increasing diversity in team membership will ensure that diversity is valued and not seen as tokenism. Information that could feature in such a report includes: •	 the organisation’s strategic goals and how diversity goals fit •	 how diversity in team membership and effective management of that diversity can help the team to reach its goals •	 research that has shown how well managed, diverse teams outperform homogenous teams •	 a recognition or statement that diversity is an asset for the team to draw on, and •	 recognition that diversity presents challenges for the team and that assistance is available to help address any challenges. Consider experience in or the ability to work with diverse groups when appointing team leaders or managers. Questions that could be asked include: •	 have potential team leaders undertaken diversity training? •	 have they worked in diverse environments previously? •	 have they had experience in culturally complex environments? Encourage discussion of alternate communication styles and techniques and the value of these. If team leaders are not experienced in this area, then professional trainers may need to assist with communication training.

»	 Essential
Diverse teams need time to develop trust and interdependence.

Industrial Relations Victoria Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development	

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Third stage – new horizons
Diversity goals are included in the team performance plan and appraisal systems. These goals are linked to the organisation’s strategic goals and team goals. Establishment of team based diversity goals are developed in conjunction with members.

Ideas worth trying
Encourage the development of a common team identity within diverse teams. Working together to develop team goals will ensure members own the goals. Providing time to discuss competing goals and prioritise these as a team will increase the likelihood that commitment to the goals will be high. The development of team identity, trust and interdependence can also be assisted by encouraging group social activities. Provide opportunities for established and new teams to learn from each other. Inter-team learning can provide teams, team leaders and managers with important information and knowledge on critical challenges and benefits associated with diverse teams. Examine current reward practices, consider what types of incentives the existing system provides and how rewards are distributed. Consider the behaviours that should be encouraged in the team.

» Essential
The importance of team work in most organisations means that skills in effectively managing diverse teams should be included in all management and supervisor training.

Industrial Relations Victoria Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development

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