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Mapping intercultural strengths makes management teams better

Respecting diverse opinions, temperaments and work styles is every professional team’s philosophy—until the first stressful event comes along. Then, stress and conflict splits even the best team into factions from which recovery is hard and slow. While it is nearly impossible to prevent internal showdowns, it is relatively easy to predict them and prepare: a smart way to improve both the productivity and atmosphere of the team.

When it is time for important decisions, most teams lean towards one of the four strategic styles we use as benchmarks at our East-West Leadership workshops: ‘dare & win’ (Red), ‘disrupt & engage’ (Yellow), ‘help & nurture’ (Green) or ‘secure & streamline’ (Blue). In theory, a team’s strategic approach should mainly depend on the job to be done. In practice, it usually follows a pattern of individual temperaments, values and experiences. That is what a simple intercultural team style mapping reveals.

Avoiding bias and leaving the box sound great, but real people do most of their best work in comfort zones. That isn’t a problem in itself: daring sales champions and perfectionist chemical engineers should think twice before they challenge themselves to a radically different work style. But sometimes, old routines suddenly hinder an otherwise highly functional team. Project launches require flexibility, even if afterwards everything must follow a smooth plan. When people panic under pressure, even the most battle-hardened team of venture capitalists needs empathy and listening skills.

Mapping a team’s balance of talents and cultural styles serves two functions. First, it reveals the team’s top strength areas: those come from each member’s primary DISC style, marked by full circles in this map. Those strengths, however, are often off-balance because engineering teams need more Competence, innovators more Innovation and so forth. But healthy teams need to align the four styles to succeed in complex and changeable markets, and that is when secondary DISC strengths, here marked with dotted circles, come into play.

Many professional team’s primary talents fall into one DISC quadrant. When I suggest that true-Blue finance leaders or deep-Green HR VPs add balance to their team culture, their first thought is adding new people—and how hard that would be. But as they soon find out, the missing Direction, Inspiration, Service or Competence mindset is already in the team: they just have to encourage hidden strengths to shine through. Where primary DISC styles huddle in the one corner, secondary styles usually scatter all over. Those true-Blue finance leaders have the necessary competitive spirit (D, Red), inspiration (I, Yellow) or empathy (S, Green) if they give it a chance and use them more.

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