Grenoble Ecole de Management on Diversity

By Michelle Mielly and Naida CULSHAW, Professors and Researchers in Intercultural Management and Organizational Behaviour at Grenoble Ecole de Management

Are multicultural teams different from other teams? Are team members not all professionals with the same objectives and goals? Such are some of the questions that come up as we uncover the hidden dimensions of intercultural teams. In the current context of COVID-19, with more people working from home and connections with our colleagues managed remotely, the “soft” skills have emerged primordial with a rising need for empathy, emotional intelligence, active listening, or intercultural skills, among others..

Professors Naida Culshaw and Michelle Mielly at Grenoble Ecole de Management started working on a case study to ‘unpack the cultural layers of diversity and inclusion’ in the multicultural Master’s level classrooms they have been working in for years.

Developed for the classroom or for cross-cultural corporate environments as part of a workshop or informal training, the brief case invites team leaders, teachers and managers to open up crucial conversations on diversity, inclusion and equity within teams. Work on this began in July 2019 as Michelle and Naida began to realise that there were very few cases on intercultural issues integrating simultaneously the hidden dimensions of team dynamics, implicit biases and ‘blind spots,’ culture-related misunderstandings, and psychological elements impacting performance such as the Pygmalion effect or attribution error.

‘We observed the intense and sometimes conflictual state that many of our students and their peers found themselves in while in group projects, and we wanted to create something that could help inform the process before it got to that stage. If they had been more aware of the ripples they created by their own words and actions, as well as how blind spots affect your perception of yourself and others, much of the stress and unneeded dynamics could have been either avoided or greatly reduced,’ says Naida Culshaw.

Its originality lies in its short, practical to use case format that will drive each team member to go to such uncomfortable places, allowing individuals to open up conversations that often get swept under the carpet, to ultimately provide an opportunity for resolution. Diversity, inclusion and equality are priority commitments at all institutions of higher education, and at Grenoble Ecole de Management, the approach is an experimental “Business Lab for Society” one in which this case study can better prepare students for the future in terms of skills and general mindset.

“We created this case study because we wanted to train our students to better work across cultures by diagnosing more accurately the discomforts they were experiencing in group projects. This has been a longstanding need: how to acknowledge the sometimes conflictual relationships and extra-professional elements that interfere in teamwork? How can culture create an extra layer of difference in perception and outcomes? Such questions have become increasingly important in the Covid-19 context. Exposing our teachers and students to this case opens up a bigger conversation about our own blindspots when facing others,” says Michelle Mielly.

So, are multicultural teams different? Aren’t we all professionals with the same objectives and goals? Yes – but … if you haven’t explored how leadership expectations & styles differ, how uneven proficiency in the working language affects team investment, or how conflict styles & cultural approaches to disagreement (or agreement) can impact project outcomes, you may miss the opportunity to develop the self-knowledge required to successfully navigate these scenarios.

As the world evolves through the prism of COVID-19 and the social movements that it has spawned, there have been calls for a “Great Reset” where new business models emerge with sustainability at the core and where inequality issues are seriously addressed, where being “human” in the workplace is ok. This case requires individuals to engage in such a quest through perspective-taking of protagonist and antagonist experiences in order to gain empathy for the ‘other, untold side of the story’. By engaging students and team members in these discussions, individuals can move closer to greater self-understandings and tolerance of differences. This can ultimately create more inclusive environments where variety is the rule, where there is not just one right way of doing things, and where teammates can ‘agree to disagree’ through genuine conversations. These are the sorts of ‘awakened’ working environments where team members can emerge as stronger, more aware citizens of the societies in which they live.

You can access the Case Study Abstract (pending full publication online) here.