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Fostering Cross-Cultural Collaboration

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Organizations are often led by people who agree with the idea of fostering cross-cultural collaboration and are genuine about wanting to support inclusion, but have few first-hand experiences with cross-cultural collaboration themselves. Building intercultural relationships are so important to success in the workplace and world today, yet many people are hesitant or unsure of how to build relationships with those who are different from themselves. The first step is to reflect on yourself and notice where and how you spend your time and resources.

The book The Business of WE by Laura Kriska explores how leaders can foster connection across differences and support cross-cultural collaboration.

Living a homogeneous life does not prepare a person to be successful in the increasingly diverse and deeply interconnected world we all live in now, Kriska argues. The first and most important thing leaders can do to increase inclusion and foster WE-building is to take a hard and honest look at themselves:

If leaders are living a homogeneous life, if they have trusted relationships mostly with people who look, sound and pray like they do, if they have never experienced what it is like to be a minority in a substantive way, then they are not in a good position to be making decisions about policies that are intended to promote inclusion, equity and diversity.

Kriska divides WE-building actions into three categories: safe, challenging and radical:

Safe actions are choices that involve no risk nor vulnerability. They are actions like reading and researching that offer insight and education.

Challenging actions require face-to-face interactions of increasing depth. Without taking challenging actions we cannot meaningfully narrow US versus THEM gaps. Challenging actions are ones that will potentially put us in the valuable position of building a trusting relationship.

Radical actions are ones that plunge us into deep and intensive experiences with "them" cultural groups. These often involve higher levels of discomfort but can be valuable learning opportunities.

To build and foster intercultural relationships, Kriska suggests moving away from our homogeneous life:

Choose one action that will take you outside of your familiar circle and that will put you in direct face-to-face contact with someone who is different. It could be as simple as changing where you sit at a large gathering so that you deliberately place yourself next to a person who is different from yourself. Or, instead of going to the same store to get coffee or donuts or the newspaper, research an alternative place and go there instead.

According to Kriska, small gestures that put us on a path of face-to-face interactions will lead to opportunities to engage in simple greetings and small talk. These actions are the starting point for building relationships that have the power to change our trajectory away from US versus THEM divides and toward a unified WE-culture.

InfoQ interviewed Laura Kriska about fostering cross-cultural collaboration

InfoQ: What challenges are organizations facing today when it comes to cross-cultural collaboration?

Laura Kriska: The skills that used to be necessary for jet-setting diplomats are now mission-critical for anyone who wants to be successful in today’s competitive global marketplace. Bridging cultural divides no longer means bridging only international divides (though these are important divides to bridge); it means bridging any US versus THEM gap caused due to differences in identity including age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and many other factors.

InfoQ: What role can leaders play in we-building and inclusion?

Kriska: Leaders who want to diversify their own lives can start by selecting a "them" culture group and measuring their level of integration with that group by using a tool in my book called The Us versus Them self-assessment. The assessment is 10 "yes or no" questions that any person can take to measure their level of first-hand experience with a "them" cultural group of their choosing. WE-building is based on the premise that face-to-face interactions of increasing depth are the basis for building trusting relationships, so the assessment measures the time and effort spent building trusting relationships with people from the target cultural group. The assessment starts with the simple question, "Have you ever met someone who identifies with the target cultural group?"

This assessment can be completed in less than a minute and provides an immediate score from 0-10.

A low score indicates that more time and effort needs to be invested in order to gain a deeper understanding of the "them" cultural group. The assessment also provides direction for increasing one’s score because any "no" answer can become a WE-building action. Any leader who is committed to WE-building and inclusion should be assessing themselves on a regular basis and in relation to any cultural group that is relevant to their lives because building trusting relationships are the path toward unity in our organizations and beyond.

You can request a copy of the 10-question Us versus Them Assessment (registration is required).

InfoQ: How can we increase awareness of home team advantages?

Kriska: When a person is on the home team by virtue of their visible identity factors it is often hard for them to see that they have advantages. It is like asking them to notice the air they breathe. One effective way for people to become aware of their home team advantage is to deliberately put themselves into a situation where they are in the minority. Traveling is a very good way to gain awareness, but it’s also possible to learn from the comfort of your own home by reading books about other cultural groups, listening to podcasts or watching a documentary.

InfoQ: What are your suggestions for taking action to reduce us vs them behavior?

Kriska: It is my mission to inspire a WE-building revolution where people take action to narrow many US versus THEM gaps and invest time and energy into deliberately establishing relationships with people who are different from themselves. But I cannot do this alone. I need your help. I encourage you to take the US versus THEM self-assessment and start your own WE-building journey today.

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