Why Cultural Fluency Leads To Stronger Teams

By embracing the diversity of the modern workforce as an asset and improving cultural fluency, associations can build stronger, more innovative teams, says global leadership strategist Jane Hyun, opening ASAE’s Associations @ Work Conference on Monday.

The modern workforce includes diverse teams, and for associations to thrive, they must help those people work together in ways the make the most of everyone’s talents, said Jane Hyun, a global leadership strategist who gave Monday morning’s opening keynote at ASAE’s Associations @ Work Business Conference.

“It is our job to figure out how do we leverage these differences in our organization,” said Hyun, who is also author of Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences. “How do we make full use of them? And then [how do we] make the full impact so we can get the value out of all the talent in the room?”

While diverse teams have the potential to leapfrog homogenous teams in terms of innovation and productivity, those teams must be managed properly for that to happen.

“Homogenous teams actually perform better than multicultural teams, when the multicultural teams are poorly managed,” Hyun said, noting that conflict and confusion arose on poorly managed teams. “If multicultural teams were well-managed, where they had some cultural fluency, then they performed better than the homogenous teams.”

Hyun said people need intercultural skills—the ability to “interact very effectively with people who are different from us.” However, many find being open to other cultures difficult because it requires adapting and new thinking.

Hyun recounted how she spent her first eight years in South Korea before migrating to the United States.  Moving to New York, she said, was a culture shock. “I realized I’m in a different place, with a whole new set of rules, different reward systems, and different ways of being successful,” she said. “That was the beginning for me of understanding, ‘How do I now navigate in this new environment, because the rules have changed?’”

She said this is a key skill required the modern workforce. “What I want to do in cultural fluency is help you start thinking about how to understand people who are different from us—looking at cultural differences not as right or wrong, but just different,” Hyun said.

That’s why instead of ignoring cultural differences, association leaders can build stronger teams by understanding and embracing them.

“It’s not just about what you want, but what will get the best results out of that engagement with that person,” Hyun said. “Flexing—it’s not so much one way is right or wrong all the time, but that it’s actually important to understand the individual you are working with.”

As an example, she mentioned professional Russian hockey player Slava Fetisov, who moved to the United States to play. Fetisov did poorly on the New Jersey Devils, but when he moved to the Detroit Red Wings, he helped the team win a Stanley Cup.

“It actually took a coach that understood the value of the way that the Russians trained and actually gave them the freedom and creativity to play how they wanted to,” Hyun said “He saw that you could leverage this cultural perspective, because there is value here that we don’t want to leave behind.”

Ultimately, working to bring out the best in all staff will improve the association. “When you’re working across diverse teams and trying to build cultural fluency, it’s about winning together,” Hyun said. “It’s figuring out how we fully leverage and capture the full the cultural capital of everyone on this team.”

(Rasheeda Childress)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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