In 2012, Google did some self reflection and embarked on a company-wide quest to build the perfect team. Top organizational psychologists, statisticians and engineers worked together to analyze their team dynamics and figure out the formula for top-notch productivity. The findings were as expected: people are complex, diverse and often unpredictable, and so are the ways we interact with one another at work.
Ultimately, one of the biggest takeaways from the project was that no one wants to “put on a work face” at the office; we want our personalities to shine through in the work we do.
Understanding and appreciating how our differences can collectively contribute to building better workplaces is crucial to structuring well-functioning, diverse teams. At Babbel, we’re a group of over 600 people from 50 different nations, so we know what diverse team building is all about. Like us, businesses across the globe are diversifying and reaping the great benefits that global workforces offer. On an individual level, this means exciting work opportunities abroad, new co-workers from far and wide and ever-expanding professional networks for a lot of people.
When it comes to what to expect and how best to embrace diversity in international work environments, we’ve got you covered.
Know Your Environment
Whether you’ve just started a new job abroad, you’re travelling for work or you’ve been tasked with welcoming someone new to your city, it’s important to have a good grasp on your surroundings. Joining a new team of people is daunting, so best practices are crucial when setting yourself up for success.
Corporate culture expert Margaret Heffernan believes that you start observing office culture from the moment you walk through the door. “When you walk into a company, you instantly learn a huge amount” says Heffernan. “What you see when you walk in is almost always what you get”. By paying close attention to observable team dynamics, for example how people interact with one another, you’ll get a good understanding of the group norms that are key to integrating well into a new work environment. Take a look at how teams are structured and how your offices are laid out - it’s a good starting point for getting to know how things function and in turn, where you’ll fit into it all.
Many companies already have on-boarding processes in place that go beyond your basic training manual, but for some, updating these standardized procedures falls through the cracks. Make an effort to get (or give!) a full introduction to your workplace, not just a photocopied guide to operational policies. A personalized welcome, including introductions to team members in different departments and a guided tour of the office and surrounding area can make a huge difference.
Long-term employees tasked with on-boarding are often set in their ways and might overlook the details that could be helpful to newcomers. If you’re the new addition to a team and you’re not getting what you need from your introduction to the company, speak up and make a few (polite) requests for the information you need to feel comfortable.
Culture vs language
Shared language doesn’t necessarily point to shared experience. Even if you can communicate fluently with one another, values and outlooks can still widely vary between colleagues. In order to ensure that everyone’s ideas and opinions are being heard, it’s key to have an appreciation of the difference between language fluency and cultural understanding. For many, the journey of second language learning begins in a non-immersive environment, and though this can often lead to strong language skills, it doesn’t necessarily prepare people for the respective cultural environment. When communicating or collaborating with a colleague that has a different background than yours, be mindful of the fact that your outlook and opinions might be different. The possibility of having disagreements and misunderstandings exists, but the potential for creative cooperation with unique results is much greater!
In many cultures, nodding your head up and down conveys the message that you agree with something. However, in some countries, Bulgaria and Greece for example, this action indicates the exact opposite. Though this general observation might not be the case for everyone, it points to an important aspect of communication that can determine how well people understand one another. Observe your own body language to get an idea of the messages you might be sending off and how they might be interpreted by others – it’s often an enlightening exercise! Unconscious behaviors can say a lot about a person, and being aware of your own can help to ensure that you’re getting your point across well and doing your best to understand others.
Mix Business and Pleasure
We’ve all heard cautionary tales of mixing business with pleasure, but let’s be honest - they’re outdated, and mostly fictional. Maintaining feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment in the places where we spend a vast majority of our time is both logical and vital to our overall well being. Remaining task-oriented and career driven is important for professional success, but getting to know your co-workers can have a huge impact on how well you integrate into your work environment. Be open to the possibility of connecting with people from different backgrounds and those who have different interests; it offers a more well-rounded and productive work experience for everyone involved. Some colleagues might have different expectations of workplace relationships, so keep an open dialog to ensure that personal boundaries are respected. Remember that mixing the personal with the professional is a chance to find common ground, but business should come before socializing when the situation calls for it.
Enjoy your work environment
Creating spaces where everyone has the ability to feel appreciated requires an open-minded approach that doesn’t fall into line with hierarchical workplace thinking. It requires lateral thinking and an approach to team building that breaks down the social boundaries that often hold people back from succeeding.
Workplaces should be encouraging environments where diversity is thought of as a vital part of innovative thinking and good business practices. Managers can make this happen by setting aside time for creative team-building and by promoting interdepartmental collaborations. Companies can design offices that are mindful of the various needs and work habits of all employees. On an individual level, we can give each other the platforms needed to be creative thinkers and solid contributors. It will take time and effort for diverse, well integrated workplaces to become a global standard, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to help close the gaps that stand in the way. The more we focus on diversifying our office culture and our approaches to work, the easier it will become to see the fantastic potential our differences have.
Cassondra Dolan, Language Specialist
Cassondra is a writer, translator and language enthusiast with a passion for exploring the ways culture influences learning. Through her work with Babbel, she aims to promote language learning best practices that focus on inclusivity and diversity.