Diverse teams consistently achieve the best results because of the many perspectives they bring to the table. Immigrants bring unique education and experience, and the key to leveraging this is to support their cultural integration. As Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial, it is important for us to recognize the tremendous value highly skilled professional immigrants bring to our organizations.
What is cultural integration?
For many it means knowing the rules of behaviour and fitting in by following those rules. However, memorizing a list of rules is not enough. To really fit in, people need to understand why it is important to act according those rules, and what the unspoken rules are because they are just as important as the spoken ones.
Immigrants not only have to adjust to Canadian culture, they must become accustomed to your unique organizational culture, and there is more to work culture than just the company values, mission and code of ethics. Over the years, I have learned:
1. There is more than one culture at work.
Within organizations, you will find: The individual culture — my own code of ethics and way of interacting with others; the team culture — the interaction dynamics of the team; and the functional culture of different departments — for example, do HR and Finance speak the same language and see things the same way?
2. Cultures are constantly evolving.
Each time you interact with someone else, it has an impact on the culture. If you communicate effectively and everyone knows what they are doing and feels respected, team culture will evolve in a positive direction. If you interact with someone and the communication was not clear, or he or she feels disrespected, then the culture will move in a negative direction.
Given the different kinds of culture that immigrants need to deal with, what does a successful integration look like? Here’s a best practice example:
Susan, a highly educated professional in the pharmaceutical industry, arrives with her husband and two young children. For Susan, relocation support and having someone help set up the logistics, like finding the right home and school, is important.
She will also need a good onboarding process — called functional integration. She will need to know about her new employer’s mission, values and code of ethics, as well as how to function in the workplace on a day-today basis.
Her most important integration will be with her team at work. She needs to establish credibility and trust so that she can really contribute to projects. Providing her with the right mentor is crucial. She needs to learn how to get buy-in for her ideas. She needs to know how to communicate with others in a way that demonstrates that she understands what the team and company stands for. This requires understanding from both parties.
Successful integration: What her team can do
- Listen to her history and try to understand her strengths and communication style
- Whenever a team member wonders what she means, ask her in a respectful, culturally sensitive way
- Listen to what values she highlights when she communicates. This listening starts as soon as she introduces herself. What does she highlight?
- Listen to how she has solved problems in the past. How can you leverage her way of thinking?
Successful integration: What she can do
- Listen to the team history
- Understand expectations
- Listen to the way the project is described
- Ask additional questions for clarification and understand that asking questions for clarification is not a sign of weakness
Once Susan feels trusted and trusts the team, she will be able to fully contribute to the organization in a manner that will likely exceed expectations. Effective cultural integration creates diverse teams, and diversity at work leads to innovation — a bridge to future prosperity.