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Commitment on a Multicultural Team

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Cross-Cultural Facilitation with the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, part 3 of 5

"All eyes are on you. Twenty or so coworkers from different countries have gathered for your session around The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™. Can you draw them into a learning experience that will strengthen the way they work together?"

We want to share our experiences from walking this road, and what we have found to work well with a mix of western, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. This is part three in a five-part series.

If team members have a level of Trust with each other and have engaged in constructive debate about the best way forward (Conflict), the next step in the Five Behaviors model is committing to the way forward.

Commitment from the Top Down

Lencioni gives special focus to working with an organization's executive leadership team. One of the issues he addresses is that people on a senior-level team often keep their primary allegiance to other teams and branches of the organization. Patrick says, "No, commit to the top leadership team first;" because if you strengthen that team it will permeate down and benefit the rest of the organization too.

Without human interference, cascading water in nature usually gets cleaner. But in the business world, 'water' cascading through an organization tends to get dirtier. The cascading water principle in business means that good things are diluted and bad things are magnified as they cascade from the top. If an executive team is going to find success in communicating, nurturing, rewarding, and correcting a new organizational culture throughout the organization, they must first commit to becoming healthy and interculturally smart at the top.

In Patrick Lencioni's model, commitment is achieved after debate and discussion, when team members agree to support clearly articulated decisions. Our twin goal is that team members dedicate themselves to the communal good of the group and to the team's direction. That means commitment is both relational and transactional.

Personal Commitment as a Cultural Value

Commitment will be deeper if it includes personal agreement with the team's direction. But we have found that pursuing this level of commitment is not a straightforward matter, especially on a team with a distinctive mix of cultures. In fact, the Commitment stage can be one of the most complicated to work through.

Culturally speaking, people have differing sources of motivation to pursue the goals of this stage, and not every culture values personal opinion the same way.

When your boss asks you to commit to a task and you say "yes, I will give 100%" - in some cultures you only tend to say that when you have reached a place of personally agreeing with the decision. But in other cultures you might say things like that more quickly, as an expression of loyalty to the team. And that general sense of loyalty may be all your boss normally expects.

Tapping into Different Motivations for Commitment

The way we define commitment is shaped in part by our cultural value systems. Where there is a Directed Destiny orientation and people experience their lives as guided by external forces, people tend to voice their opinions less. The "yes, boss" I am used to giving means simply that I trust my boss. I believe he or she has thought this through carefully and that is good enough for me.

In a Power/Fear oriented culture, my commitment may be motivated by showing my boss the loyalty she deserves, because she is in charge. I am telling her I will do my best to support her.

In an Honor/Shame context the important thing in my mind is doing what is needed to preserve my honor, my boss's honor and our team's honor. Voicing dissent may work against that, so I will lean toward voicing my commitment readily when that is required, to ensure honor is maintained.

In a Directive Destiny oriented culture where I am expected to take ownership of my life, I am much more likely to speak my mind, ask questions and even push back against my boss's expectations as part of the process of giving commitment.

In an Innocence/Guilt context, I will likely want to clarify what is expected so I can voice a full and honest commitment, understanding the "right things" I need to do to support the team.

For team members coming from an Honor/Shame or Power/Fear setting, an invitation to openly debate the team's goals and direction can seem like a road full of landmines: more likely to undercut our team's credibility and relational capital than build it up.

For those from an Innocence/Guilt setting, a show of loyalty that preserves honor and aligns with people in power can seem to work against my desire to personally commit and find my "right fit" on our team.

As a facilitator in the Commitment stage, you can lose the attention of a group if they sense you are missing their cultural drivers. On the flip side, you can really resonate them if you do tap into them. You may need to tailor your approach to motivate and explain team-building activities with different cultural language than you are used to.

The Importance of Sideline Conversations

On an intercultural team-building journey it is important to keep in touch with the pulse in the room. That is especially true on this step of Commitment. The tricky thing is that there are cultural reasons you may not hear all you need to when the team is together. Taking things offline or having one-on-one conversations is not always a weakness. In fact, we have often found it to be a healthy way forward.

Pursuing sideline conversations is a good way to respectfully navigate the culture of the team and respect the leader of the team. One-on-ones can be a good place to start feeling out the room. Offline conversations allow you to prepare well and also recalibrate things quickly when they do not go as intended. A good team leader will not just get verbal commitment in a meeting, but also work to enhance and strengthen people's commitment before and after the workshop.