I have served as an Integrator at EOS worldwide finding and guiding talented people to reach their maximum potential since 2016.
The challenges posed by the pandemic to our collective workplace have been widely documented. Most of us struggle with new levels of flexibility, financial uncertainty and remote/hybrid ways of working as we learn to communicate with colleagues through new media.
These challenges create unforeseen opportunities and possibilities.
The pandemic has changed the job pool. People are considering options and industries they haven’t seen before; something about shaking up our work routines unleashed people’s ideas of their ideal workplace. The usual barriers and boundaries have been smeared, if not erased.
For example, a financial services team member with certain skills might reframe and try out project management at a California-based video company. With virtual options eliminating or reducing traditional boundaries for collaboration around the world, location is no longer the concern or barrier it once was.
As a result of this shift, managers can now lead teams and individuals from different backgrounds. It can be both exciting and challenging to lead teams from different backgrounds.
Challenges and benefits of coaching teammates from different backgrounds
One of the biggest tests of this new mixed job pool is meeting team members who have advanced experience in other areas. When they enter your company, they may already have mastered their job. They may be classically trained and have deep-seated ideas about how things should be done. They may be more specifically focused on what they think is the best approach than other new hires. If the organization’s history, culture, unique philosophies and mission are not factored into decision making, tension can build in a team.
It is important that new employees with diverse career experiences can apply their unique skills and past knowledge to the facets of their new role. You need to look for new hires who can channel their talents in a new environment and deliver what your team and umbrella organization needs most in a flexible and collaborative way.
Overall, I think the benefits of a more diverse team outweigh the challenges. People from different backgrounds bring fresh perspectives and innovative ways to solve problems. They can expose existing team members to new streams and trainings that broaden their perspective. However, for individuals to apply their unique gifts to your business, you must share the organization’s vision and mission, which helps them integrate their gifts.
As a leader, it is important to recognize individuals for the differences they bring forward. Educating yourself about an individual’s perspective can help you gain insight. By doing this you can understand how they think and solve problems. You will be able to seize opportunities to engage in a deeper, richer dialogue with the new member of your team, ensuring that their talents are meaningfully disclosed and integrated.
It takes time and investment to care enough to ask the good, hard questions. When done right, your teams will have more engagement and better retention.
Strategies for coaching team members from different backgrounds
So you have a team full of people you would never have met before. How can you coach them to make the most of the diverse experiences and gifts they bring to the workplace?
1. Acknowledge differences.
Recognizing that you have team members from different backgrounds is the first step. Sometimes leaders are unaware or unwilling to consider the different backgrounds that make up their team. Once you practice awareness of diversity in your team, you can consciously handle your leadership.
2. Help first.
Embracing the different backgrounds of your team members starts with open, honest and vulnerable conversations. Be intentional and come from a help-first perspective. Engage with team members to learn more about their values and experiences. How have they evolved professionally and how do they want to develop further? Create a regular meeting frequency throughout the year so you can continue to build trust and get the best (and most) out of each team member.
3. Connect relationally.
Socializing outside of team meetings can be a great way to give people the freedom and ease to share themselves and their gifts with others. Ask yourself questions like: What’s the best way to bring people together outside of work? How can you give the team the opportunity to get to know each other personally, not just professionally?
When people are actually having fun – whether painting by numbers or throwing axes at targets – they can charge their creative brains and start collaborating like never before.
4. Celebrate regularly.
Just as having fun together is the raw material for caring and trusting relationships, celebrating can bring a new level of awareness to your team. This means not only during holidays. Celebrate who people are at their core all year round. Honor their diverse backgrounds.
This can sometimes mean stepping back and allowing individuals to find their own ways to share their professional and personal culture. Resist the temptation to manage everything; let others take the lead when it comes to their stories. When leaders take the lead in regularly celebrating others, it is often contagious and others will join in.
Seeing the silver lining in the aftermath of the pandemic takes some creativity. When leaders and managers can find opportunities to encourage people to celebrate differences, they can open their companies to new, innovative approaches and experiences. And then the whole journey together becomes a lot more interesting and rewarding.