Multicultural environments can threaten your identity and values.
You read that correctly. Often, we hear about the perks of working in diverse and cross-cultural teams, stating that there is a lot to learn from one another. We even know that this is a common selling point for international students (like me, at Esade!), where companies are interested in students who have experience studying or working abroad. It shows grit, it shows perseverance, and more importantly, it shows that these individuals are capable of being in uncomfortable situations.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is about knowing your own motivations, preferences, and personality while understanding how each of these affects your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Okay great, so what? To be self-aware means an individual knows their personal strengths and weaknesses. Some may choose to work on their strengths while completely disregarding their weaknesses, while others may choose to work hard enough to turn their once-known weakness into one of their greatest strengths. Regardless of the situation, you are in, it is also pertinent to remember your role as an individual in the greater world. You know yourself, inside out, you understand what motivates you and drives you and as such, this makes you a high functioning and performing individual.
Newsflash: high functioning and performing teams can only come from high functioning and performing individuals.
Self-Awareness in Teams
So, the key step of being effective in a team setting is to be self-aware. Developing a sense of self-awareness comes from a myriad of experiences. First, an individual should be introspective and reflective. This means that you take some time every day, or at least every week, to reflect on the different activities that you have done, the goals you have set for yourself, and whether or not you have achieved them. This reflection happens at the surface level but to dive deeper, it is also essential to understand why you set these goals for yourself, why they are important to you, and what they mean for your long-term success. Next, it is also important for you to be critical of your behaviour. More often than not, the path of least resistance is not necessarily the best. Observe the way you make your decisions and try to understand whether you are more of a rational or emotional decision-maker or even a hybrid. Take your reflection a step further by understanding whether you are someone who likes to get tasks done quickly and taking the easy way out, or if you always strive for the best possible outcome. If you recognize such patterns in your decision-making, you will also be able to decipher why certain outcomes turned out the way they did. Finally, look at yourself through the eyes of others and be comfortable with acknowledging areas you would like to improve on. Being critical toward oneself is never easy but continue to seek feedback and remember to be open to the feedback that others provide you simultaneously. Given these steps, your final exercise would be to map your identity. Your identity consists of the most important defining elements such as your cultural background, family, friends, values, and morals.
So, let’s get back to the opening statement: Multicultural environmental have the potential to threaten your identity and values if you are not self-aware. Self-aware individuals know what fuels and drives them, and what does not. Using this awareness, they recognize their assets and how this can contribute to a positive team dynamic. When you are not self-aware, you are less likely to be a high-performing individual and as such, less likely to be a part of a high functioning team.
Self-Awareness and Global Dexterity
So how does one thrive in a multicultural environment? The key to not losing yourself is global dexterity. Global dexterity is defined as the capacity to adapt your behaviour, when necessary, in a foreign cultural environment to accommodate new and different expectations that vary from those of your native cultural setting. This can also be applied in team settings in which you are working with a diverse set of colleagues from various educational and cultural backgrounds. It is important to note that simply being aware of cultural differences does not ensure that you will adapt to them. Rather, being self-aware and recognizing the boundaries of your personal comfort zone is what allows you to effectively adapt to a culturally diverse team.
Nevertheless, three main obstacles might prevent you from successfully adapting to a culturally diverse team or multicultural environment.
Challenge 1 - Competence: this obstacle occurs when a person is not equipped with the right set of knowledge or skills to adapt their behaviour to a cultural setting. In return, they might be feeling anxious about this new setting, seeing that it is something they cannot relate to.
Challenge 2 -Authenticity: this obstacle occurs when the expected behaviour of the person in the new cultural setting conflicts with their accustomed and actual behaviour. Their accustomed behaviour is highly influenced by their identity, values, and beliefs and so, if this identity is rigid and inflexible, chances are that the individual would experience great difficulty in adapting. The person may also express emotions like guilt and distress since they believe they are not completely representing their authentic self.
Challenge 3 - Resentment: this obstacle occurs when the individual feels as though this new cultural setting is imposing on their identity. The imposition is regarded as offensive, and the individual is in a situation where they feel as though they should not have to adapt their behaviour but rather, others should adapt to them.
Overcoming these obstacles comes back to having a strong sense of self-awareness. Prioritize the elements that are most important to you and keep these grounded in your daily routines. For instance, if you prioritize your cultural background, ensure you have a safe space to discuss your cultural similarities and differences with a group of individuals who are willing to listen to your stories.
With the global pandemic, many of us are essentially forced to work in virtual teams even if we didn’t actively make the choice to do so. As such, recognizing that this is the new normal and discovering ways to make your new normal more bearable is also your responsibility. When teams met in person, they would rely on emotional cues to have a sense of belonging, and this was a vital part of our daily lives. On the other hand, virtual environments end up feeling like a loss because there are fewer emotional cues, which can create stress and frustration.
Being self-aware means that ultimately, you are also curating an environment that is not only inclusive but a psychologically safe space for other individuals. In such environments, others are more likely to open up, speak up, and be more comfortable with sharing their insights.