This is a summary of a talk that I was able to give at Pocket Gamer London in January 2023. As Global Head of PR and Communications at FunPlus, I lead a team of communications professionals and we interact every day with people around the world to get our job done. This talk was prepared with the goal of making sure that the diversity of our company is working to its own benefit and bringing additional value.
So your team is diverse, now what?!
We have all heard of the importance and benefits of a diverse team. But hiring and building a diverse team is just the first step. As a leader, how do you ensure that your team is happy, healthy and that you and your company are reaping all the rewards of a diverse team? When you add in the complexity of fundamentally different cultures (like those we have here at FunPlus) that need to work side by side, you have a big challenge on your hands. How can your own team fit into the bigger picture, and what’s the role of a leader?
For me, there are a number of small, day to day behaviours that can make or break an international team over the long term.
There are plenty of classic working methods that we’ve perhaps come across in the past that just aren’t going to work effectively in a culturally diverse organization. Or perhaps we think they’ll work, but they won’t end up bringing the desired results or will limit what we might otherwise be capable of. We can’t just rely on general consensus to get a decision made, or look to hierarchy to determine direction. That actually works against the value that being diverse brings.
It’s easy to assume that by asking everyone’s opinion we will get different perspectives to help us move forward in the most appropriate direction or make the best decision. But diversity also means that people will have a different way of expressing themselves.
What about the person who has a super interesting point of view or experience but finds themselves agreeing with others out of shyness or lack of confidence?
There’s the person who thinks if they talk loudly enough and with enough conviction everyone will do as they say.
What about the person who needs more time to mull things over.
And especially, what about a culture where expressing your viewpoint, or presenting a different viewpoint to the one put forward by your manager, is not well perceived.
What I’ve noticed about working with my colleagues who are more hesitant to share, is that generally if I ask for an opinion in a meeting, I will get little, if any feedback. I know that these colleagues have valuable insights, but I have to put in more effort to access their point of view. Sometimes that means getting materials translated, or setting up smaller meetings where more interaction can take place. Sometimes I need to follow up individually. It takes more time and more effort.
I can’t impose my way of working on my international colleagues. Me and my team need to be able to meet people halfway – by giving them resources and information to consider in advance, giving the full context to any discussion, and especially making sure any meetings are safe spaces, and judgment free.
I was talking to a fellow communications professional the other day and he made a really good point that I think can also help with this topic – remember the “why”. Make sure that any sharing of perspectives is being done with the end goal in mind. What is the ultimate goal you’re trying to achieve, what is the decision that needs making today?
If we’re clear with our teams on what we’re trying to achieve together and everyone is united around that goal, the different perspectives will be more constructive. Our colleagues can focus their perspective and bring the value that we need from them. Certain offices and studios are particularly focused on OKRs – so if I can explain to them how my problem or project is going to contribute to the success of their or the company’s OKRs and performance, then they’ll be a lot more likely to engage and give me feedback. Ultimately they need to see the benefit to them, and it’s my job to prove what that is.
Leading by example
As a manager we are jugglers – every one of the people on our team is looking to us for guidance, approval, support, validation, and as a way to make things happen. To an extent we hold the keys to the future of our team members’ careers. Hopefully they can pass on the good practices that we instill in them as they grow to lead their own teams in the future.
I am a big fan of transparency, sometimes excessively. I tell my team when I have to leave to pick up my kids, I tell them when I’m feeling tired, I tell them when I’m finding a decision difficult to make, when I’m particularly excited about a project or when I’m having a hard time getting motivated.
In return I encourage them to be open with me. There’s nothing worse than seeing a drop in motivation or productivity from a team member and not knowing the reason behind it, and not knowing how to help.
Whether it be due to cultural differences or time differences or language differences, there are always cases of people not getting the information they need or want from their colleagues elsewhere in the world. Sometimes people can be frustrated by another person’s way of working or managing a topic, or simply not understand a behaviour or reaction. Or they might feel they’ve been bulldozed by someone else’s opinion or direction.
And in fact let’s recognize that as a manager, the hardest part in all of that is not trying to find the solution or using our influence to get the information. The hardest part is always setting the best possible example to our team members – which means staying motivated and professional even though we might be frustrated too.
By encouraging transparency, we know what’s going on and we can fix problems more efficiently. We can also absorb our teams’ frustrations, act as a barrier and prevent those frustrations from growing into conflicts.
It’s on me as a manager to keep encouraging my team to keep engaging and encouraging the behaviours that we want others to adopt, even if sometimes progress might be slow.
We also need to be accepting that our way is not always the right way to do things – we need to adapt our behaviours too.
With this attitude we can earn your team’s trust and recognition as a leader for whom diversity really matters, and it encourages them to see the value in this cultural diversity too. If they see value they will work harder to maintain it and respect it.
One size does not fit all
Let’s also accept that a global organization will not function if we try to adapt everything to fit all teams around the world.
Leading a diverse team within a global organisation isn’t about treating everyone in exactly the same way and finding blanket solutions that attempt to suit everyone. It’s about enabling and adapting the best conditions so that every person can excel in their role.
One example is internal communications – whether on a project or corporate level. Of course there are some topics like company news and updates that can be shared in newsletters or emails globally. But other topics such as company performance or strategy might need adapting to different audiences. Depending on their priorities and focus, people will have different questions, they’ll react to information in different ways, and they might need different materials to consult and ways to interact with information. By understanding the audience and adapting to their needs a leader will gain much more respect and understanding from them in return. It’s worth investing the time to bring people up to speed in the best possible conditions.
Then there are other times when external factors mean that teams are made to feel that they are being treated differently, whether it’s our intention or not.
This is especially true for these past few years. I’m sure it was challenging for our colleagues in China to see us going about our day to day and enjoying dinners and parties, when they were still in lockdown. Our colleagues in the US were still home-schooling their kids when our schools in Europe had opened back up. The same goes for flexible working – it’s become the norm for so many of us and it works very well in many cases. But flexible working has not been adopted by everyone or might not be possible for some projects or jobs.
In these cases, I believe many things can be resolved through empathy. Putting ourselves in each other’s shoes, checking in on how people are doing wherever they are in the world, being respectful in how we share our personal situation with each other. By being conscious of these differences and being sensitive to others’ perception of them, we will avoid a lot of resentment and create a more balanced working environment.
Let it go… to a point
The final point I want to make is about knowing when to fight your battles.
Note the “when” not “whether or not to”.
I don’t think anyone should give up a project, or stop giving feedback because it’s not a priority for colleagues from elsewhere in the world or because they don’t understand a specific viewpoint. If we think your input will be valuable and beneficial to the company’s performance, then we need to get that across. There are always going to be differences of opinion, but slow progress is better than no progress. Once again, by encouraging empathy, by doing more giving than taking, we can establish more trust and respect that will add up over time.
This is a fascinating topic and one that we all need to keep navigating and learning about. I am definitely not an expert! Working in a multicultural organization is certainly never boring! We are constantly being presented with new situations and challenges to overcome. Hopefully the topics above will have got you thinking about how you can also lead your own team to success in a multicultural and diverse organization. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn to discuss further!