Managing a Diverse Workforce


If you manage or own a business today, you are bound to run into people from other countries and cultures when you interview prospective staff. Our workforce today is a rich mixture of ethnic and cultural groups working in every kind of company from car dealerships to telephone customer support, to software design and research firms, to name a few.

Depending on the size of your company, you may or may not have a human resource or personnel department to handle the hiring process. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, you and your staff will most certainly have to learn to work with the new global business environment if you are to be successful. You can make life easier for you, your staff and your new global workforce.

If you have a Human Resource or Personnel Department, instruct them to find appropriate training courses on managing for diversity and be sure they take the course. Then have all of your managers take the course – and don’t forget you need to take the course too! Then have the rest of your staff take a course on diversity. These courses do not solve all problems, but they do point out subtle differences in cultures and make your team more sensitive to the things they may say or do that another culture might find offensive.

Hold weekly or monthly staff meetings and set aside time for discussion of team interaction. Encourage everyone to talk about how things are going and to ask questions. Remember that not everyone on your team will feel comfortable talking in public. Plan to hold periodic meetings with individuals or, if you have team managers, be sure the mangers have these individual meetings and talk about how things are going.

At least once a year (preferably more often) send out written evaluations of the environment and ask your employees questions about how comfortable they are working with you and the their team members.

If it is appropriate within your business, and your team is large enough, there is one great idea for team bonding in a diverse environment: You can ask a person from another country or culture to talk about their country and their culture. Give them 10 minutes in a staff meeting and suggest a topic for them to discuss. People love to talk about themselves and to share information. This will get others curious and with any luck, the staff will approach that person afterwards and ask other questions. Don’t forget to ask the people on your team from Ohio and Michigan to do the same thing. If your company is in New York or California, these discussions can be just as interesting and can point out to those from other countries that even people from our own country and culture can have differences in the way they live and the things they do for recreation, etc.

Lastly, keep the lines of communication open. Help the people from other cultures adjust to our country. If they are struggling with written or spoken communication with your customers or clients, help them find a night class if they want to learn more about our language. Talk to them and ask them how you can help. Are there people on your staff who can mentor them as they adjust? If they’ve been in this country awhile, or perhaps even gone to school here, be sure you don’t insult them by offering help they may no longer need. Team luncheons and after hours events like picnics and softball games can also help your staff to bond, and can make the global worker feel like he or she is part of the team. Don’t force anyone to attend these events.

If you focus on building a well-integrated multicultural team, you will find other ideas to make the team work well together. All it takes is some thought. Above all, you need to know that you don’t understand all the ethnic and cultural differences that may exist from one country to another. Most people will forgive mistakes and missteps if they know you are trying hard to learn and understand. Don’t expect that everyone will bend to you.

You can think of your multicultural workforce in one of two ways:

  • This staff achieves goals, in spite of their differences
  • This staff achieves a richer, more successful solution, because each person lends a different perspective

If you and your team work together, and learn from one another, you will discover the real synergy of bringing your collective knowledge and skill together to achieve a goal, and your company environment will be better for the effort. Welcome to the global economy!

Categories Managing People

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