by Elaine Cercado
There is no secret to managing a diverse team. It just requires being real good at time tested management basics – using information, adapting style & communicating regularly. Of course, years of experience in managing a diverse team are extremely valuable as you learn best from the realities and challenges you face. But whether you are a new manager or an experienced one, you can learn or re-learn from the basic people leadership skills.
Take the time to research about the cultures of your team. Be curious, be observant and be courageous to try. Use of basic cultural knowledge could help break the ice and establish relationships with people from work. There is almost 0% effort required to do these simple things yet the impact could be 100% of intent.
For example, I managed people from Thailand and learned to address them with ”Khun” while I worked with peers from Japan and always added -‘san’ to the end of their first names. Coupled with a sincere approach, such show of respect earned their trust, from which I built relationships.
Whenever I dealt with issues within Asean, I would do so in ‘closed doors’ or with carefully chosen words. On the other hand, I would be more open and straightforward with my Aussie colleagues. I would level with an Asean staff within the cultural context, example, Thais would tend to be more hierarchical so I made sure I went through the local hierarchy. Filipinos would tend to be more westernized and democratic but still had the (old) Spanish culture of “showing the good side to people” (pakitang tao) so I would handle issues with a very careful balance.
I’ve always applied the Blanchard principle of situational leadership and it has worked for me well in dealing with a diverse Asian team. Within my team was a mix of junior as well as seasoned managers. I also had line managers, who were so driven and aggressive, at the same time had support staff, who were more laid back in their ways.
Early enough in my management career, I learned that “one size does NOT fit all”. I had to re-calibrate my mindset because I was educated in a classroom where there was no favoritism, and where the teachers were supposed to treat all students the same way. Over the years, I learned to spend more time explaining to a junior staff who needed micromanaging, and learned to get out of the way of my developed team members who thrived successfully under a macro management style. I learned to identify personalities and behavior -through training and practice – and adapted accordingly.
It did not mean that because I was the boss, the team would adapt to me and a singular management style would work. Instead, I had to develop a pool of styles and use the appropriate style depending on the situation. Of course I had one natural style that seemed to stand out but the key was to be conscious about a staff’s level of development, to adapt to it, and to patiently work with the person through the learning & development process until the person moves to a higher level of competencies.
If your diverse team is located in different countries, regular communication becomes even more critical to successful people leadership. It is not enough to send out emails, or to use informal conversations only. I’ve found that a combination of email, phone, face-to-face communication are needed depending on the subject matter or the objective of the communication. I’ve found that a combination of a formal 1-1 discussions and group meeting should be done at least once a month, and that informal discussions should be done as often as possible (as long as it is not disruptive to the flow and accomplishment of work). And again during the communication process, it is important to use information wisely and to adapt the management style to the person or group’s level of development.
There is no one formula to managing a diverse team, but when you do all these three things consistently to a person (yes, custom-made to each person you manage), the relationship works better over-all. When relationships are harmonious, the energies go to working together for long-term team and business success, rather than to day-to-day firefighting or to solving issues of unsatisfied employees.