Making assumptions

How do you describe yourself to others?  We are often asked to introduce ourselves at events and we define ourselves in quite narrow ways, depending on our environment.  I was at a work training session on working with diverse teams.  The first thing we were asked to do was to introduce ourselves.  Everyone said their name, their job role and their place within the organisational structure.

I had also spent some time that day shortlisting people for a job role where I was using the information on their application form to make assumptions on whether I would consider them a suitable candidate or not.  Although personal information is no longer available to see at this stage of the process, we can make a multitude of assumptions about a person based on the information they have put about their educational background, their employment history, and even within their personal statement.  I could tell roughly how old they were, whether they were male or female (for some), and approximate their ethnicity based on their responses.  Without thinking I could attach unconscious bias to those applications.  I do try my hardest not to, but things do run through your mind like, how many jobs someone has had over the last 5 years could indicate they are not reliable and could be a waste of time investing effort into training them.  It could of course mean they just haven’t found the right job for them yet, or there may have been other circumstances out of their control, like redundancy or relocation.

A lot of what we think about in diverse teams is about the needs of others, be it cultural, physical or other.  We were asked to consider what we get from our current team, what we needed from our current team and what needs were not being met by our current team.

When we look at meeting the general and specific needs of our teams, the Adair Model shows the close relationship between leadership and management.  Looking after people, understanding and responding to individual needs of team members is more of a leadership role and the process, task oriented aspect is more of a managerial role. Trying to meet all of these needs can be quite hard at times. 

What tasks does your team need to deliver? What are the individual needs of your team members in order to be effective? What are the behaviours required from the team? What should the team culture be? How can you get the balance right across all these areas?  Do we spend more time thinking about the task, how much time to we spend on specific individuals, and how much time do we put into creating and effective team?

When we consider a diverse team we need to think about other aspects of people’s lives.  Understanding cultural background, heritage, talents, and skills can help people understand one another better, building a foundation for stronger developmental relationships. Using a tool such as the Gardenswartz & Rowe Identity Wheel, we can start to consider what other adjectives to use to describe ourselves, skills we have, our favourite books, hobbies, etc.  We can use this type of information to have a better understanding of other people’s skills and interests, and what else they can bring to the mix. If we can make people feel they belong, but appreciating their uniqueness and what they can bring, people will have a much higher sense of belonging, and likely to be more successful in the role and stay longer.

We can generalise about people based on observation, cultural characteristics etc and use this information to inform, but we need to make sure we still recongise the individual differences that will avoid our generalisations becoming stereotyping.

An excellent image was shared showing Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, taking eight key attributes and plotting them against different cultures.  It’s easy to see from this how things can get lost in translation. So when you work for a large, multi-cultural organisation, it helps to understand other people’s backgrounds in order to help them, and you, reach a better understanding.

Given what’s going on in the world at the moment it is highly likely that the volume of people seeking refugee support will increase.  We need to make sure we accept and understand people’s differences, celebrate their uniqueness and work collectively to get the best out of everybody.


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