Year-end is busy in most organizations: While finishing off current projects and closing a few more deals you’re also planning, budgeting and getting ready for next year.
Whether you call them check-ins, evaluations, reviews or appraisals: Structured individual conversations to evaluate everyone’s contribution and growth this year are crucial to shaping your team for 2020!
Here are the key objectives for these conversations:
- Evaluating past performance and growth: What contribution did someone make to their team, department and overall company? Were goals and expectations met? What lessons will be taken forward? And how are we all feeling about the work in the past period?
- Gather upwards feedback: How did we do as management this year in terms of helping each person succeed? What should we continue doing? And what can we do better next year? Gather suggestions from people and see what matters to each person.
- Shaping and adjusting roles and planning everyone’s desired contribution towards the overall goals and journey.
- Setting the bar afresh: What major shifts or changes are coming up, and what will it mean for the expectations towards the team?
As you prepare for the reviews, ask yourself how much conversation time you think should go into each of these topics with each team member. Then give them a tailored list of questions to prepare, allowing at least 3 working days.
Keep in mind that many of your end-year conversations will lead to follow-up conversations at the start of the new year:
- For the new performance and development goals you set, more detailed plans will be created and milestones set. Don’t miss to draw up detailed development plans, otherwise, the learning goals will remain fuzzy and not reached.
- If someone’s performance was below par, you might want to draw up a Performance Improvement Plan to ensure a turn-around in the upcoming period.
- And those who got new roles will now need clarity on their goals, the desired approach, available resources and the collaboration and approval points and lines.
Making it work in start-ups, where realities are a bit different!
We collected FAQ from managers in smaller and sometimes chaotic organizations, and are sharing our advice on how to get started if your scenario is less than perfect (is it ever?).
Scenario 1: Well, we didn’t really set goals or the ones we set weren’t so relevant, looking back. Should we skip the reviews and simply do a better job next year?
No. When you read the list above, you realized that reviews can serve so much purpose besides just going through a 12-month old list of goals. Find your own meaning in the reviews based on how the year in your organization went!
For example: Was it a year of client-orientation? Discuss learnings and results in terms of adding value to the client, then. Or did you talk about picking up speed and increasing results the whole year? Then sit down and dig into everyone’s contribution to efficiency and effectiveness.
Scenario 2: We have never done that. Where do we start?
Excellent. You don’t need any special templates to get started on this. All you need are 4-6 meaningful questions. Share them with the team at least 3 working days before the one-on-one meetings so that everyone has time to prepare. Then simply listen to your team members evaluating their year and answer any questions they may have. Also, share your observations about their contributions this year (ideas and numbers just as much as softer aspects) and what you’ve seen as their strengths.
You can plan to follow-up in January with goal setting to add the next level of structure to your talent management.
Scenario 3: I haven’t really spent much time with the team members this year on one on one. Which topics should I choose?
You might be tempted to try and accomplish a lot in little time. But instead, pick not more than two of the above listed goals for these conversations and avoid rushing things. You’d rather follow-up with another set of conversations and give yourself and the team time to digest in between.
A related scenario is the “I don’t really know my people well enough to review them scenario”. In this case it’s worth seeing who else might have insights, and collect feedback from them before. You can also simply go with a self-assessment (Here are the department results. Tell me all about your contribution, challenges and learnings.) and then move to the forward-looking topics.
It’s also worth asking yourself why you haven’t had time for the team. Write down all your reasons and tackle them one by one in preparation for next year.
Scenario 4: I’m worried about the questions or requests I’ll get from the team
To build a winning company you’ll need dialogue. Reviews are therefore not a one-way street, where you get to talk about your expectations only! Some team members will raise grievances, share challenges faced with colleagues or expect salary increases or bonuses being communicated in year-end reviews.
The key is to take everything you hear serious and to make sure you really understand what your employee is trying to convey. You can brush up your active listening skills before. Don’t feel the pressure to react in the moment or make promises, but be clear on whether and when you will pick these topics up next. If you can, make clarifications in the moment.
Have fun! It’s your team
Gauge the passion and energy people have. How do they feel about their work? Where are they in their lives? Find out who is perfectly positioned in your organization, who needs more support, and who might be disengaged?
Make sure to note down all comments coming from the team, arising questions, ideas and priorities, so that you can analyze what happened afterwards.
Need more support? Talk to us!
We’ve helped dozens organizations think through their performance management process: Whether it’s to translate the gibberish of this blog post for managers without much HR experience, or to take your existing processes to the next level, our tools and support promise a smooth and effective approach.
Wondering what you as a hiring manager or business leader can do differently when hiring this new generation to stay ahead of the curve? This blog is for you!
Aaah, not another blog about millennials!
Haven’t we heard enough about this ‘empowered, fearless, lazy, entitled, narcissistic, tech-savvy ’ generation?
The answer is “No”! Honestly, we haven’t yet understood enough about this generation for us to sufficiently conclude that we have had enough. And considering millennials make up the majority of the workforce i.e. 18 – 35-year-olds, are the most educated generation thus far, ignoring them wouldn’t be ideal for your business.
As much as we would love to bury our heads in the sand and keep doing the same old type of recruitment, with the new age it would be reckless to try and do the same thing in hopes of beating the competition in getting top talent!
Who are these millennials?
Understanding what motivates this group, what shapes their attitudes, behaviors and so on can be the key to knowing how to attract the top talent to your organization.
Here are a few basics to consider, as you are thinking about hiring:
- The millennial age group defines everyone who was born between the early 80’s – mid ’90s and would likely be between 20 and 35 years of age.
- Millennials are tech-savvy, and they love sharing content online and being active on various platforms online.
- They care about creating impact and being leaders.
- They cherish their freedom.
For some, these characteristics might be synonymous with being rude, entitled, selfish, especially when compared with the previous generation whose main goal when applying for a job was financial security and job security.
But bear in mind that this generation is changing the business culture and many companies are recognizing this and are already changing their human capital strategies (not just their recruiting strategy!).
Let’s take a look at how to approach your recruitment to get the best people from this generation
- Social Recruiting.
This means using social media for recruitment and while LinkedIn does fall in that category it means going a step further than LinkedIn. For a generation that is very active online, sticking to old strategies when recruiting would not get you the candidates you are looking for. Some companies have even gone as far as using snapchat and tinder!
If you are not quite ready for the deep end you can start with Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Creating short promos and images that would attract your target group and posting it on these platforms would ideally lead to the likelihood of your candidate hearing about this job opening.
- Rewriting the Job Description
You need to tailor your job description to not only describe the tasks and responsibilities but also connect it to a higher purpose. Try and connect to what this role will mean for your organization and your clients. Also include what kind of organization and team the person is applying to join. According to The The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 millennials would much rather work for a cause than just a regular job. They would want to work in a fulfilling job that contributes to creating impact.
They see themselves as leaders and want to create impact as well as earn a living, so if you don’t clearly communicate that in your job description you might not be able to hire the best.
- Work-Life balance and integration
As opposed to previous generations that would work overtime just to ensure they can feed their families and buy that house, millennials are much more interested in having flexible hours. And studies have that shown workplaces with flexible hours tend to have a more productive workforce. So apart from attracting top talent you might be getting them at a higher rate of productivity, as well by thinking through making your work environment more flexible!
And did we say “Fun at work”? For our weekly review day at edge (Friday), we recently started dress themes. And it’s awesome for everyone, we promise!
- Opportunities for growth
Having opportunities for growth is important when you are looking to attract millennials to your workplace. They love variety, spaces to learn and want to experience ongoing learning and improvement, otherwise you will end up with a bored workforce that might start looking for exit strategies as soon as you hire them.
Why don’t you try these out, and let us know how it goes?
We’d love to hear about your experiences with hiring and managing millennials!
We can’t wait to hear from you!
Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community (WHO definition).
In practical terms, mental well-being is how you handle and respond to challenges in the day to day life, how you think, how you express your emotions and how you thrive in the face of adversity. By identifying what triggers your mental health and having effective coping strategies, you’re able to live a fulfilled life, and are able to create a balance between your emotions, behavior and actions.
So, today we’d like to pose the question: How are you doing?
Like, really doing?
Most people spend a big portion of their time at work, it is therefore fair to say that the work environment plays a key role in influencing one’s mental health, and in turn their productivity, as well as how they relate to others inside and outside the workplace. Ideally, the workplace should be a place that provides employees with a positive experience, sense of fulfillment and provides them with a good work-life balance. Lack of these can contribute to mental illness, among other contributing factors.
What is a mental illness, you may ask? Mental illness is any condition or disease that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Examples of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, addictions, and so forth.
Globally, anxiety and depression have been found to be the leading mental disorders encountered in the workplace. Read more about these two disorders in this article to get a better understanding of their differences. Here in Kenya, according to research by Nation Newsplex; one in four Kenyans is likely to suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life.
Why you should care as an employer:
Integrating mental wellness interventions in your organization’s policies and creating a safe space for employees to be honest about their mental state is detrimental to having a happy, engaged and productive workforce for different reasons:
- Caring about your employees’ mental well being increases their engagement levels and employees feel more positive about their work. Why? Because they’re able to show up to work with enthusiasm, and a feeling of purpose and ownership for their work, and what employer doesn’t want that?
- Having a non-toxic work environment increases productivity. A recent WHO-lead study gauges that depression and anxiety issues cost the worldwide economy US$ 1 trillion every year in lost productivity. Imagine how many non-productive meetings happen every day, and how many hours and days of work are lost when employees brood over unresolved issues?
- The new generation of employees really cares about mental health, and if you can credibly position yourself as an employer who cares equally as much, you will attract and retain some fantastic talent!
As a manager who wants to take a few first steps you may be asking yourself a few questions right now:
- What are some of the factors that lead to and/or trigger mental illness in the workplace?
- What support can I provide to employees facing mental health issues?
- How can I promote a culture that enhances the mental well being of my employees?
Let’s find out together. Shall we?
Factors that trigger mental illness in the workplace:
- Lack of effective communication – In order for employees to understand their roles, and expectations; managers have to clearly, accurately and timely inform them of what is expected of them for them to be valuable in the organizations work. Failure to which, employees feel frustrated and stressed about not knowing the purpose of their work and this can greatly affect their well being.
- Inadequate or lack of role clarification for employees- few things are as frustrating as having a job where roles and expectations are not well defined. For employees to add value; they NEED to know what is expected of them. And no, just giving them a document with a list of things is not enough. Managers need to sit down with their employees and establish clear outcomes from the get go. Otherwise, an employee will spend hours, days, possibly weeks feeling like they are not serving any meaningful purpose and this can deteriorate their mental wellness.
- Not having a work-life balance – Organizations are of course focused on achieving the goals they have set for themselves in order to achieve profitability, to create impact, and and to fulfill client/consumer needs. However, imposing these goals on employees to an extent where their work life balance is pretty much non-existent is unfair to their wellness. I have personally gone out to lunch with a friend who had carried a laptop in case their boss needed them to do something urgently, on a weekend if I may add, so our scrumptious meals were joined by a laptop on the table with excel sheets that needed data input and editing and complaints about how this consistent behavior has affected his mental health.
- Limited autonomy at work; otherwise known as micro management- Now, if you’ve ever been micro-managed, you know how dreading it can be, to always be on the edge about your supervisor constantly breathing on your neck about how, when and what you are supposed to do- at all times! This approach of managing people creates a strong sense of fear, discomfort and causes rapid anxiety.
- Harassment and Bullying – violence is not always representative of physical assault. Threatening team members verbally or in written form, humiliating them using condescending language and actions, intimidating them, or sexually harassing them are all forms of violence in the workplace. These behaviors and actions decrease an employees confidence and self esteem, and in extreme cases cause debilitating anxiety and depression.
- Not paying employees on time, or not paying them at all – depriving your employees of their ability to take care of their financial responsibilities and enjoy any other pleasurable activities outside of work can trigger mental illnesses, reduce productivity and increase turn over.
- Lack of recognition – not recognizing your team members successes reduces their confidence and demoralizes them. This can cause emotional distress if they feel like their contribution is not being acknowledged and can even lead them to resign.
These are just some of the things that could tremendously affect an employee’s mental well being. Learn more about the symptoms to look out for that may be caused by mental health issues.
So what support can you provide as a manager in the event that your employee(s) mental health is suffering?
- Educate yourself about the risk factors that lead to mental illnesses (anxiety and depression) and reflect upon the culture you have shaped for your employees; how is it contributing to mental wellness, or lack of it? Possessing this information enables you to create initiatives that can improve employees well being.
- Discuss mental wellness in the workplace. Understandably, it’s not an easy topic of discussion. However; creating a space for these conversations encourages team members to be open about it and seek help where need be and reduces the stigma that surrounds mental health.
- Support your team members efforts to seek help. This could be in the form of a day off, providing flexible work hours for them to pursue activities that improve their well being (fitness, yoga class etc) and if possible, hiring a psychological counselor to support them at work and provide them with self help tools they can use to improve.
- Provide opportunities for your HR department to receive training on how to identify symptoms of mental illness and manage them successfully.
- Organizing bonding activities. Activities such as potluck lunches, birthday celebrations, or outings create a sense of togetherness and trust, which can enable people to open up about any issues that they are facing affecting their mental health.
How can you promote a culture that enhances the mental well being of your employees?
- Hire managers that won’t affect your teams well being. Managers inevitably influence team members emotions, thoughts, actions and ultimately their mental state. When assessing managers; establish a criteria that show you what people management approach they use and compare it to the vision you have for your organization and that of your employees well being and how they can shape a desired culture that promotes a healthy workforce. In addition; you can include this in their on-boarding plan – what skills and knowledge do they need to acquire to enhance an environment that promotes good mental health?
- Fire bullies. Yes, we said it. And this does not necessarily have to be managers; it can also be peers who have a strong sense of entitlement and project it on other team members, thus making them feel insufficient and dread coming to work. If more than one person is complaining about the behavior and actions of a certain employee; its safe to say that you should examine this more deeply in a serious way.
- Be the example. Employees emulate what their leaders practice. Encouraging employees to take their leave days, take their lunch break away from their computers and take work breaks is critical. As a leader, it’s important that employees see you unplugging by taking breaks during work, taking leave days and not responding to emails at odd hours of the night. As the old saying goes; practice what you preach.
- Recognize when an employee does a good job. Team members want to know that their work matters, and that they are adding value to the organization. Not only does this boost their productivity, but it also boosts their mental well being because they feel appreciated.
- Give your employees autonomy in their work. We’re not saying that you let your employees run wild and let them do whatever they want. However, by empowering them through asking for their input and giving them a clear role in decision making, you enable them to know how they can achieve set goals and KPIs therefore increasing their engagement and creativity.
- Allocate roles based on your team’s strengths and interests. Consider a scenario where you give an introverted team member an external facing role and give an extrovert an internal facing role. By allocating roles that are not aligned to your team members strengths, personalities, or interests – you are making their work draining to them, and in turn draining their mental energy to focus and be productive. When assessing candidates; ensure you understand what their interests are and give them roles where they will add the most value and be successful.
We’d love to hear from you: How are you creating a space for emotional well-being and mental health at work?
Email us on email@example.com – we’d love to create another blog post with more real life examples and good case practices that organizations across East Africa are using!
Are you a leader in a fast-growing or fast-paced organization? Chasing a big idea, changing an industry, disrupting how things are done, while trying to make unit economics work?
You might be one of those managers who, between handling funders, partners, clients and trying to have a personal life, meets their team only at the coffee machine or in the lift.
One day you are hit by the realization that some of your team members have gone off in another direction, others were left behind standing at a junction a few kilometers behind scratching their heads, and another few seem to have completely forgotten why they were hired, seemingly working at their own (snail) pace.
Now it has become a performance case. You’re forced to ask yourself where you went wrong, and what you can do to salvage the situation and get the person back on the right track.
Obviously, your bookshelf and bookmark bar is full of great management literature!
You can find a gazillion tips and must-do’s on the internet about how to manage, lead and develop individuals and teams.
It sounds a bit like this: Be keen about when to lead and when to manage! Hire slowly and fire fast (but don’t get sued). Are you leveraging the six psychological conditions of performance and moving towards ongoing performance management? Define your management principles, then tailor your approach to an individual’s needs and personality types. Are you doing the right things to enable agility or are you blocking it? Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day.
All of the above are important things to consider and concepts to be aware of! We work with our clients and their managers on most of them (well, for the last one we can recommend you a good dentist)
But when you run into a snag with an employee or a whole team, consult your peers and friends and get five different views – then what will you do?
Sometimes you’ve got to go back to the basics! But what are the basics, really?
As part of our human capital engagements with fast-growing and fast-changing organizations, we’ve spoken to many many team members. The below five points are informed by what we’ve heard them ask for and sadly, often not get from their managers.
Whenever I run into a challenge around the contribution and performance of a team or team member, I take a step back and look at these 5 factors.
What your team really needs from you as their manager is:
1) Clear and specific performance expectations.
Yes, your people have titles, and maybe even a JD. But in your fast-changing organization, realities and priorities change all the freaking time!
Having a clear vision, an inspiring end goal and a strategic plan helps. But if people don’t understand their job, they can’t do it, even with the best intentions.
“What am I in charge of exactly?
And how does it fit in with what the rest are doing?
What will good look like by the end of this week/month/quarter?”
If these aren’t answered, not much relevant work will get done.
Defining the softer and qualitative pieces is very important: How should our customers feel when interacting with us? What guides us in difficult decisions? How do we reason and act differently than peers in our industry? What behaviours are not acceptable here, no matter what storm hits us? Sure, putting it in document form is crucial (Values, SLAs, Code of Conduct etc). More importantly have constant conversations about these, in your weekly forums, monthly or quarterly reviews. Keep finding new ways to talk about these in the team!
2) Freedom to implement and clarity where the freedom ends
If you’ve hired the right people, they love autonomy, making decisions and creating solutions in uncharted territory. Yet, few people comfortably direct from a clean slate with no rules. Therefore, consciously defining authority and freedom is important for two reasons:
Firstly, working in a start-up or fast-changing company is already very uncertain. So provide as much clarity as you can about what people are allowed to do and decide. This often requires a bit of thinking by the manager. Explicitly give room and permission for trying out new things, but also clearly state where approvals or your involvement need to be sought. (This could mean a request to “Run x by me every y days/weeks”, or “Do what you think is best but talk to me when z kind of situation arises”).
Secondly, constant interference is demotivating, and overtime limits creativity and initiative. If you feel the need to tell people HOW to do their job, please ask yourself why (or even better 5 WHYs, a good old root cause analysis has never created any harm!) and find ways of addressing the challenges that do not resemble micromanagement.
A few examples of how this self-reflection could go: If the reason you jump in is that the person isn’t very creative, then you might suggest team ideation meetings. If you realize that you worry about the person making bad judgment calls, your solution could involve forums for skill-building or experience sharing where your team grows the right muscles. Or if you conclude that it’s your ego more than anything else, consider what it’ll take for your company to grow and outlast you.
3) Feedback, skills and knowledge
Most bosses think that they give a lot of feedback, and most employees say that they want more feedback. So where is the disconnect?
It is often in how and when feedback is given and whether people are taking note of what was said. And also in what areas feedback is provided on!
Good feedback includes talking about work approach and underlying thought process just as much as about work results and how neat the document looks like!
Tell people where they did well, made the right decision or where they are acting skillfully. No buts.
Keep in mind that people rarely know what they don’t know, and therefore it’s important to point out knowledge and skill gaps when you see them. HOW you do it matters a lot, of course. Use language and create situations that make it easy for someone to hear your intention and message! Doing it in passing will most likely not stick.
Where gaps are concerned, define learning goals together. Then take an extra step and make sure people know HOW to develop the desired new skills. (You don’t have to do all the work and planning here, your team members can look for their own learning resources and run them by you for input.)
Show that you’re also learning: Keep receiving, soliciting and implementing feedback yourself!
4) Encouragement and attention
Many bosses forget that their employees are more than that: Each of your team members has dreams for their life and career and experiences ups and downs in their personal life. Working in this company certainly is an emotional rollercoaster to them, as well!
Encouragement and attention can come in many forms and shapes: Surprise snacks in the office, a 10-minute chat in the kitchen, a lunch in a small intimate circle, Friday forums where people share their successes and failures, awards, rewards, recognition, you name it. We’ve talked about the importance of leave days in another article.
Don’t fake it though, find your own genuine style. The objective here is to show “I see you. I see your effort and struggle. I’m impressed. I hope you will keep going with the rest of us. I want you to succeed! We’ll get there! Or maybe somewhere else.”
In moments of growth and change, it’s important to slow down sometimes. When you take a break from the grind, you can digest what’s going on better, and make changes to the direction and the strategies. Make time for the right people to listen to each other. Are you listening to those on the front line of your business?
5) Knowing who has to go
You’re building a movement and are planning to create impact in a big way, and the team needs to be ready to run a marathon, not just a sprint.
Who’s dragging the rest behind, emotionally or practically? You probably already know what I mean by that, but if not: Who talks more behind backs than putting issues on the table in a transparent and productive manner? Who’s constantly needing everyone’s support and time to get their work done? Who’s just not improving in attitude despite so many conversations?
Obviously, there are legal questions to consider here! Being committed to the above four points, and documenting them will help you stay fair and level-headed in performance situations.
To take these five to action, we’ve created a short Manager’s Checklist:
Can you answer these questions for each of your direct reports?
- Why are they choosing to be in your team and organization? (Yes, it’s a job, but why else? What have they hired you for? And are they getting that?)
- What does each of your employees think s/he is supposed to do and achieve this week and month?
- How well are they using their freedom, and why is that so?
- What do they know about how you feel about their performance?
- What are they putting their energy into in terms of learning new skills and knowledge at the moment?
- How well do you know the dynamics in the team, and who is pulling people up, and who is dragging others behind?
And if you realize that you’re not happy with your answers to these questions – we’re here to help!
What other foundations or basics of management have you encountered that work well in an ambiguous and fast-changing environment?
I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch to share thoughts and ideas!
Ever had an emotional response that was immediate, overwhelming and disproportionate to what the other person did or said?
Did the situation feel like a significant emotional threat?
As if there was a snake lurking next to your chair?
“Now you’re overreacting. I think you’re getting defensive!”
“YES! I TOTALLY AM!! BUT I CANNOT STOP IT! Oh, and I won’t admit it either!”
And when you think about it later, you can’t even remember or factually describe what worried you exactly! It’s like you had a total loss of brain capacity.
What is happening in these moments?
Your ego is trying to defend you! It wants the best for you and preserve you from harm. To avoid serious danger from hitting you, it uses a flight, a fight, or a freeze response.
But guess what: In 99% of cases your ego is over-reacting, seeing snakes and dangers where there are none. Then all that adrenaline comes in between you and your talents, your best self, and your success!
Here are a couple of real life examples:
- The client says: “Oh, maybe Manuela can tell us more about XYZ topic (not related to the context of the meeting), given that should really be YOUR expertise.” My mind going into overdrive: “Oh my God, I’m not prepared for this. No matter what I say now, they’ll think I’m stupid. But how can she do that? She always puts me on the spot. In fact, why are we working with her organization in the first place?” (Black and white thinking)
- Boss asks: “Why is this concept note late? Please make sure to get this to me by 9am tomorrow” – At 9:30am the boss will find a document full of typos in their inbox, with key sections missing that were agreed on earlier.
- There’s a guy in the office, who naturally connects well with people and has great ideas of fun team activities. And to put the icing on the cake, he loves food! When he’s asked to organize an office chill-out for end month, he agrees, but goes quiet until the day of the event.
- Watching colleague making a mistake, bad decision or just be really slow in solving a challenge. Thinking: “She’s been here much longer than me. If I tell her now that I have an idea for her, she might take it badly. Let me play it cool and not offer my advice.”
- Over coffee with a colleague: “Hey! I need your advice. My manager always does a, b and c“. “I think you should try to look at it from their perspective. That day he really needed that report from you, and I imagine that he was disappointed that you didn’t….” “No! You see the problem in that situation was actually that my computer wasn’t working and also on that day, … (Goes on with endless rationalizing until the other person gets frustrated and mentally checks out.)
To make things worse, being defensive also sours your relationships over time. Here is an interesting medium post talking about how these impulsive moments (also called amygdala hijacks) create toxic workplaces.
It’s time to stop the vicious cycle!
We believe that you have great talents, and that they want to come out to shine!
You have weak areas (sure thing, we all do) and should be developing them instead of fighting the process.
No matter if you’re 25 or 65, you can work on your ego defence mechanisms!
The first step is to recognize your signs of defensiveness: What do you do and how does your body feel, when it happens? Through self-observation, over time you become more and more aware of what triggers you. Don’t blame yourself, just observe it. Then you can transform your reactions to these triggers, by staying level-headed in the moment and asking yourself if this is really a snake, or possibly simply a colleague who’s trying to succeed on a joint project with you.
At edge we’ve been working on this topic for a few years now. We regularly sit together and reflect on our signs of defensiveness. We tell each other what happens when we get triggered, and what we want to work on. We celebrate progress and make fun of ourselves. We discuss our triggers in the team and we show support to each other when the amygdala shows up.
These conversations create truly collaborative environments, where we easily ask each other for help and ideas. Where asking for clarification is standard procedure, and making assumptions around the other person’s intentions happens less and less.
Do you think you or your team would benefit from this conversation as well?
Get in touch!
It is hard to imagine the social enterprise and venture capital ecosystem without cross-cultural teams. In our work with startups and organizations across East Africa we interact with multicultural teams on a daily basis: Local and foreign founders, team members from different East African countries, local and foreign investors and board members, international fellows and consultants, you get the picture!
While the day to day in the office with each other can sometimes be puzzling or draining, this diversity is an incredible opportunity to build innovative, winning and competitive models.
There are many reasons to invest into building a balanced culture and help teams leverage their diversity!
First of all, working in a multi-cultural environment is a huge selling point for this generation! Organizations that succeed in building a fun, well-functioning diverse work environment are very attractive employers and are likely to attract and retain top talent!
Also, you can increase your company’s ability to innovate and create products that last and faster and better problem solving by representing views and insights from a wide range of stakeholders into decisions. Leveraging different life and professional background improves business results in the short, mid and long-term.
There is ample research showing the business opportunity diverse teams have, but also the challenges associated with diversity, such as inconsistent norms and assumptions, which might reduce collaboration.
We asked around: How do different styles, beliefs and concepts shape workplace interaction?
We discussed this question in our session at the Sankalp Africa Summit 2019. We started the workshop by asking participants to share experiences where intercultural aspects caused tension and reduced productivity.
Communication styles always comes up: What one person calls an animated conversation, someone else might find an aggressive shouting match. Speaking loudly and talking over each other is perfectly normal and welcome in some countries but signifies lack of respect and decency to others. If contradicting the CEO in front of a group if they make a suboptimal suggestion increases your worth to the company in some places, speaking up to your boss can get you fired elsewhere. Even the preference of written vs. face-to-face communication is raised as an area of tension.
Some of these beliefs go deep to shape workplace interaction:
- “People at my workplace tend to be more accepting of advice and guidance from expat colleagues, sometimes completely ignoring ‘local’ contribution altogether”.
- “My boss keeps asking me to speak up. I am very soft spoken, and I know that he considers me less confident or even clever because of that. But in our culture, we believe that people who talk less are wiser! Equally, he insists on me keeping eye contact with my audience, yet when I grew up that was a sign of disrespect.”
- “The concept of taking leave is very different here, for example, someone asking for (often immediate) compassionate leave of a family member is hard to question. Where I come from, there is an unspoken commitment to always finish work first.”
- “Our junior team members do not ask questions to their superiors, even when specifically given the opportunities in team forums!”
It’s easy to imagine that some of these hesitations will affect an individual, a team and therefore organization performance.
Make it work through self-awareness and designing systems!
- What on earth do you mean with systems? We think that in no fast-growing and ambitious company should decision making, communication style, information flow, and management and hiring approaches rely on any one culture or an individual’s preferences. Instead, teams should come up with agreements and build the culture and standardized approaches that will truly serve their mission.
- Do so by pressing ‘pause’ if faced with a business challenge before jumping to action and evaluate the situation: Identify assumptions you’re using about how “things are done”, and think about what the ideal approach would be for a given situation.
- Relying on diverse input to designing these systems might take longer in terms of initial design (imagine simply typing out a leave policy on your laptop vs. designing it in a team conversation) but is much more likely to be robust, a winning strategy AND implemented by everyone.
- Keep it lean: Pick a pressing and contentious topic, gather input, then come up with a simple draft and agreement. Communicate that the agreement is open to change based on experience.
An illustrative example: Peter talks a lot in team meetings, to the extent that it becomes a dialogue between the boss and Peter. They take a big product decision together that pretty immediately backfires on the company. Anna takes the boss aside after a team meeting and shares her observations. She mentions that she personally prefers thinking things through before voicing her thoughts, and requests that the main discussion points be shared on email one hour to the team meeting. She also mentions that other team members may have thoughts, but feel shy to voice them in a group that’s seemingly in agreement. The boss then starts a new habit where at the end of a team meeting he invites worries, concerns and questions to be raised and reserves five minutes in the agenda for it, which results in a few moments of silence at first. But soon, meetings become more lively, and after a few months, the five-minute rule is abandoned again, because criticism is now raised directly in the moment.
Another crucial piece of diverse teams is cultivating and continually growing self-awareness in every team member. With high self-awareness, you’ll be able to take a nuanced approach in situations, listen better and communicate more clearly. Therefore you contribute to better decisions that will result in action.
In developing self-awareness, lead by example: After becoming more aware of what drives you, and communicating more clearly, you can ask and inspire others to do the same. Debrief situations with yourself through self-reflective questions:
- Why am I feeling and acting the way I am? Which written, unwritten or self-prescribed rules am I following in this moment?
- Which assumptions am I basing my thoughts and decisions on? Could those be wrong? What am I unaware of in this moment that ought to be considered?
- Whenever I feel in disagreement about someone’s opinion or behaviour, how can I invite and facilitate dialogue? What do I need to share about where I am coming from? What do I need to know about where someone else is coming from and how can I show that I’m truly open to understanding them?
Self-awareness is closely linked with intercultural competence, a crucial comptence for all teams that want to succeed in business. Four aspects are linked to intercultural competence: knowledge about different cultures, an attitude of openness, readiness to interact and learn, ability to show empathy and tolerance and willingness and ability to change own perspective.
To develop these in yourself and the team, tap resources like trainings, workshops, webinars, videos and online resources, conversation & self-reflection guides!
And remember to make it fun! At edge, we hosted culture day recently, where team members present a culture other than their own, values, dress and food included. (I represented Pakistan which I’ve also found fascinating and that is in stark contract to my German fatherland 😉 )
Would you like support in building your own organization culture that truly serves your mission or want trainings to increase self-awareness or intercultural competence in your team?
Reach out to us! We look forward to hearing from you!
PS: Part 2 this series is coming! Another important question raised was how to avoid bias during recruitment, especially if you’re assessing candidates across cultures. For example, a manager feels more drawn to job applicants who provide answers quickly to everything, as this is closer to behaviour expected in their own culture.
We will share more insights in another article soon!