Managing Diverse Teams and the role of leaders – Culture and leadership

Living in a multi-racial country like Singapore, one might take diversity for granted as people of different cultures are living harmoniously. Diversity goes beyond race and culture, it also includes languages, genders, ages, class and disabilities, to name a few. Reiners (2021) covered a list of the top 34 unique diversity characteristics in his article.

Similarly, at the workplace, people of diversity come together with a common purpose of fulfilling the jobs they are paid to do. Great effort and continual, conscious consideration for one another are required to achieve this peace and harmony (Chan, 2013). As globalisation occurs and travelling becomes more accessible, people from different countries are looking for opportunities abroad, thus further broadening workplace diversity. In turn, leaders play a crucial role in managing diversity and creating an inclusive environment to achieve the team objectives (Rahman, 2019).

Management is defined as harnessing the effort of others to achieve a particular task (Mullins, 2013). Leadership is defined as the ability to accomplish an objective through the facilitation and influence of others (Yukl, 2010). Understanding these definitions will allow for a clear understanding of how leaders manage a diverse team to achieve the team’s objectives.

Figure 1.1 Country comparison (Hofstede Insights, 2021)
Figure 1.2 Singapore-Finland dimensional comparisons

Diversity can be complex to understand. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory (Hofstede, 2011) is widely used to understand a general culture and the general way of working in countries. This generalisation provides a good platform for leaders to understand how a person from a particular country may fit within the Cultural Dimension Theory. For example, Figure 1.2 presents the different cultural background between Singapore and Finland, providing insights to the management approach required to each culture. However, to manage each person is different due to various exposures and experience. Hence, people from the same country may differ on the scale in cultural dimensions. 

Figure 1.3 Action-centered leadership model (Adair, 2009)

After understanding the individual team members, leaders will be able to address each aspect and formulate an approach to build a cohesive environment for teamwork. The Adair’s Model (Figure 1.3) focuses on three areas: first, define the task, objectives and responsibilities; second, motivate the team, improve communication and resolve any differences; and thirdly, coach each team member to develop skills and ensure he/she is motivated. Essentially, breaking down the task and addressing each member individually will allow a leader to manage a diverse group of individuals.

Figure 1.4 Diversity correlates with financial performance (Hunt, et al., 2015)

Embracing diversity in the workplace is gaining traction globally. Figure 1.4 depicts a study by McKinsey based on data collected that correlate financial performance with diversity, and companies that have diverse teams outperform others. In their study with 300 employees from the Information Technology industry, Patrick and Kumar (2012) concurred that diversity brings a positive impact to the teams, as they bring to the table different views and solutions and relate to a wider range of customers. However, Von Bergen, Soper and Foster (2002) warned of unintended negative effects in the strive for diverse workplaces, such as giving token appointments to employees to show diversity in organisational positions. Unintended discrimination may occur and pass over an employee who truly deserves the promotion just because of statical requirement. Thus, it is essential to focus on the people, rather than statistics.

In 2016, Facebook faced criticism for poor diversity efforts in hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce, which they attributed to the lack of available talents. This caused an uproar in the tech world (D’Onfro, 2016). However, statics reflect available talent graduating from top universities. Dobbin and Kalev’s (2016) article on why diversity programmes fail suggested a flaw with Facebook’s hiring practices, alongside other reasons. IBM made diversity a strategy (Thomas, 2004) and was successful with their deliberate effort, being blind to differences and ensured fairness in the promotion. They not only expanded their talent pool but also widened their reach and customer base, resulting in the business growth to US$1.5 billion in 2003, from US$370 million in 1998.

In conclusion, leading diverse teams requires constant effort, with no one winning formula, leaders must evolve in tandem with time, be effective in coaching each individual, and motivate the team, resolving differences that may arise while fulfilling team objectives. Having head knowledge and doing the right thing will be straightforward, however it may not be the best way forward. The challenge is to be authentic and consistent in execution (Llopis, 2011). Integrating values at the core of the business as part of day-to-day activities forms a conducive environment for diversity to thrive, resulting in business growth.

References

Adair, J., 2009. Functional Leadership. NHRD Network Journal, 2(5), pp. 2-7.

Chan, S. K., 2013. Multiculturalism in Singapore The way to Harmonious Society. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, Volume 25, pp. 84-109.

Dobbin, F. & Kalev, A., 2016. Why Diversity Programs Fail. [Online]
Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail
[Accessed 9 April 2021].

D’Onfro , J., 2016. People are slamming Facebook for blaming its diversity problem on a lack of talent. [Online]
Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/response-to-facebook-diversity-statistics-fbnoexcuse-2016-7
[Accessed 9 April 2021].

FairPrice, 2019. Sustainability Report 2019, Singapore: FairPrice.

Green, K. A., López, M., Wysocki, A. & Kepner, K., 2002. Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools. Department of Food and Resource Economics, pp. 1-4.

Hofstede Insights, 2021. COUNTRY COMPARISON. s.l., https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/finland,singapore/.

Hofstede, G., 2011. Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), pp. 1-26.

Hunt, V., Layton, D. & Prince, S., 2015. Why diversity matters. [Online]
Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters
[Accessed 9 April 2021].

Llopis, G., 2011. Diversity Management Is the Key to Growth: Make It Authentic. [Online]
Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2011/06/13/diversity-management-is-the-key-to-growth-make-it-authentic/?sh=2f28875966f3
[Accessed 9 April 2021].

Mullins, L. J., 2013. Management and Organisational Behaviour. 10 ed. Welwyn Garden City: Pearson Education UK.

Patrick, H. A. & Kumar, V. R., 2012. Managing Workplace Diversity: Issues and Challenges. SAGE Open, 2(2), pp. 1-15.

Rahman, U. H. F. B., 2019. Diversity Management and the Role of Leader. Open Economics , 2(1), pp. 30-39.

Reiners, B., 2021. TYPES OF DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE YOU NEED TO KNOW. [Online]
Available at: https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/types-of-diversity-in-the-workplace
[Accessed 8 April 2021].

Thomas, D. A., 2004. Diversity as Strategy. [Online]
Available at: https://hbr.org/2004/09/diversity-as-strategy
[Accessed 9 April 2021].

Von Bergen, C. W., Soper, B. & Foster, T., 2002. Unintended Negative Effects of Diversity Management. Public Personnel Management, 31(2), pp. 239-251.

Yukl, G. A., 2010. Leadership in Organizations. 7 ed. Albany: State University of New York.

8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Crystal clear quality content full of stimulating insights on diversity and its impact. The action-centered leadership model and Facebook’s poor diversity efforts are definitely eye-openers — it allows leaders, like us, to take a step back and to really find ways to evolve in tandem with time, cultures, and challenges.

    Thank you for sharing this great piece of work, Sean!

  2. Love the comparison of Finland and Singapore! So true that in Singapore we take diversity for granted. I like your use of charts to explore the varying elements, tagged to financial perspectives. Look forward to reading your next blogs and learning more! Thanks for sharing!

  3. A very insightful sharing. I totally agree to no ‘one size fits all formula’ when comes to managing people, what more, fairly. Constantly communicate and emphasise the core value and vision is important otherwise one can lose focus and meaning to their task be it as a team or as an individual.

    1. In my work environment , I am dealing with not just people from Asia but also from Europe and America. You are right that to lead a diverse team , one needs to put in constant effort, immerse himself or herself nto the culture dimensions of each group and learning how to accept and embrace the diversity so to achieve a better result in managing divesity team. Good reflection after learning your sharing!

  4. Thanks for your great sharing! Strongly agree that leaders play a crucial role in managing diversity. But how do people seek for a deep identity from the deference will be challenging in our daily life. Really enjoyed reading your blogs, looking forward to your next blog.

  5. Great comparison of cultural differences between Singapore and Finland, showing both ends of the spectrum! Facebook’s case shows that diversity is more than lip service; it needs to be embedded in the culture and processes in order to succeed. And lastly, I agree that leading diverse teams requires constant effort. In addition to that, leaders’ own mindset and values also plays how the organization will follow suit on their diversity programs. Great article Sean! If you have time, please also checkout my article on the same topic: abreraahrenkiel.wordpress.com

  6. Good research on the link between diversity and financial performance and the examples illustrated. Agree that leading diversity is a journey. It requires effective coaching, motivating and resolving differences that may arise while fulfilling team objectives. Good write-up!

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