The single most important driver of your company’s success is your people’s sense of belonging, and their ability to communicate clearly with and to trust their colleagues, team members and leaders.
A more cohesive workplace leads to better working relationships and higher performance, productivity and profits.
However inevitable differences in thinking, working and behaving can cause tension, misunderstanding, and disengagement in your teams.
These issues are intensified across different generations, cultural groups, genders, ethnic, national, educational and professional backgrounds.
Whether you are working in a company targeting your domestic market or an organisation with international operations, it is vital that your people create working relationships based on trust and respect – rather than on lack of communication, irritation or implicit rejection of colleagues, partners or suppliers who don’t seem to think or behave just like them, their generation or their ‘tribe’.
- FLEX YOUR MENTAL MUSCLES
People who don’t get along in the workplace not only cause high staff turnover, their dissatisfaction also leads to poor customer loyalty and declining sales. However, collaboration, flexibility and communication across different groups can enhance creativity, increase profits and create competitive advantage.
So how can this flexibility be developed? How can you leverage personal and cultural differences so that they become positive drivers for success?
I exercise three times a week at my local gym by the River Thames in London in a Body Pump class. Recently, it occurred to me to count how many nationalities and age groups were in the studio.
The results astounded me.
I discovered that I take regular exercise with Body Pumpers of around 35 nations, of which just two ‘locally grown’ fitness fanatics (including myself) represent the UK, while my fellow Body Pumpers’ ages range from 18 to 70. Our instructors are Brazilian, Cypriot, Hong Kong Chinese, and Latvian.
And yet, until I did my little study it did not occur to me that there was anything special in our thrice-weekly cultural and generational mash-up.
Or rather, it occurred to me on some level where my awareness was on automatic—the space where I translated what was said to me in different versions of English, with a few Portuguese or Greek words thrown in, and where I instinctively modulated my own university English to chime with different ways of speaking the language and some distinctive ‘youthful’ idioms.
In other words, my Body Pump class is a microcosm of what I have trained myself to do over the past years living and working around the world: tune in, accept, interpret, respond with similar intonation and even choice of words, harmonise, gain trust, make friendships, gain benefits.
2. TUNE YOUR WAVELENGTH
If you think over your daily routine in your workplace or at home, you would probably come up with similar examples of almost unnoticed adapting or ‘flexing’.
It may be the way you talk with your local corner shop owner on the way to work, or the regulars at your your coffee shop, or colleagues on your team, or your boss.
It’s something we do in the face of the incredible diversity of our world, both in the workplace and when communicating via virtual networks. We try to get on the other person’s wavelength.
3. BRIDGE GENERATIONS
This is equally true of communication between the generations.
The ageing demographic in many countries and the desire or necessity to work longer means we are now at a stage where we see five generations in the workplace: Silent Generation (1920-46), Baby Boomers (1947-1964), Generation X (1965-82), Generation Y (1983-2001) and Generation Z (2002 onwards). How we engage each of these generations is slightly different.
Recent studies suggest that the Silent Generation is strong, self-sufficient and prefers to work behind the scenes, whereas Baby Boomers like to understand the big picture, are adventurous and are always ready for new experiences.
Generation X prefers suggestions rather than being told what to do and inclines to the global approach rather than a local one, whereas Generation Y needs constant feedback for their ideas, wants to get involved and feel valued, and so on. The preferred means of communication and engagement of these age groups also varies widely.
We may not be very good at understanding these differences. We may have little experience of them. We may be better with understanding and adapting to some generations and cultures rather than others.
But I think, if you go deep inside, you will catch glimpses of moments when this reaching out or flexing, or whatever you want to call it, really worked for you.
I call a person who regularly achieves this level of understanding and flexibility a Bamboo Leader. The bamboo bends in the wind, but it is inherently very strong. It is still used for scaffolding in some parts of the world.
It flexes with wind, and rain, and even snow but always springs back. It has an empty centre with space to be filled. In other words, the bamboo presents both empathy and strength.
As the world becomes more multipolar, more connected, and more diverse, we need to develop the qualities of the bamboo in ourselves in the workplace, in our international teams, in the digital sphere, or when entering new or unfamiliar markets.
David Clive Price Ph.D.
Creator of the Bamboo Strong™ Executive Coaching Certification | Global Diversity Expert | Leadership & Culture Speaker | Author
If you’d like to speak to me more about diversity in the workplace, international teams, or developing global leadership, there’s a contact form at my website, www.davidcliveprice.com, where you can feel in your details and I’ll get back to you. Or you can email us at Info@DavidClivePrice.com.
 e.g Charlotte Sweeny & Fleur Borthwick, Inclusive Leadership (2016), pp.105-107