Organizations that are passionate about making the workplace a place where all people can flourish and find fulfillment often start by trying to understand “others.” Through my own experience, I know that many times starting from this place leaves those “others” in the room feeling hurt and unseen — and often tokenized. This happens for many reasons; one of those is simply the act of assuming something about another person that we don’t, in fact, know. When organizations begin to prioritize Cultural Intelligence (CQ®), it can’t start with the “other,” it must start with ourselves.
The discipline of Cultural Intelligence helps us understand aspects of ourselves first and how we engage with others. It does this in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling unseen or judged but instead helps you identify where you can grow based on your unique lived experience and perspective. All of us can grow, Cultural Intelligence is a journey that we never fully master, and that’s part of its beauty and power.
This is why, when I worked with Atomic Object to implement Cultural Intelligence, the intentional decision was made to have Cultural Intelligence become part of the company culture and not a one-off experience. Atomic Object knew that their folks were curious, passionate, and wanted the company to be a place where all “atoms” (employees) could find fulfillment, and there was an intentional effort made to have their folks involved in each part of the process. This integration process started with discovery, introduction, and then implementation.
In the discovery phase, it was important for Atomic Object needed to know where they were starting from, not just as individuals but as a team, a company. Because again, the most successful initiatives start with understanding ourselves first, and then how we engage with others. To start, the Cultural Intelligence Center facilitated focus groups, distributed surveys, and created a report. This report helped the company to understand their collective cultural values, the current level of Cultural Intelligence, and what specific areas of the company could benefit most from implementing some Culturally Intelligent Practices.
In the introduction phase, I hosted brown bag lunches to explain the initiative, why the company was doing it and invited the Cultural Intelligence Center for a keynote presentation at the companywide conference. All the folks needed to be able to ask questions and to experience what the next phase would be like. This introduction phase was essential for getting the whole company to a shared understanding of the why and of the tool itself. This provided a baseline of knowledge for the next phase.
Finally, the implementation phase included workshops, community lunches, and the creation of a companywide resource guide available for individual development. The workshops were the main place where atoms engaged in this work. The workshops started by looking at ourselves, with the CQ® Your Bias workshops. Once there was an understanding of where bias comes from and how it shows up in our lives and relationships, the focus shifted into Cultural Intelligence as a way of learning to mitigate and manage that bias. Groups of 6-10 met four times over the course of a few months to learn and grow together. The decision to space them out to was made to accommodate project schedules and needs, as well as, to allow time for out of workshop homework. The lunches provided opportunities for those even beyond the workshops to grow in their CQ knowledge and strategy, by hearing from experts from different backgrounds on how to be better colleagues. And finally, I created a resource guide for folks in the entire company to engage in readings, podcasts/videos, and activities that would help them grow in any of the four CQ capabilities.
You may be thinking, “whoa that is a lot,” and you’d be right! But here is the thing: incorporating something new into your culture requires hard work, patience, and intentionality.
Atomic Object chose to make that investment and are collectively seeing the impact. Coworkers now share:
- Common vocabulary to discuss possible differences between people
- A foundational understanding of bias in a variety of forms
- Understanding of where the company currently was at in the four CQ capabilities
- More effective client engagements with people who come from different company cultures or individual perspectives
- More effective team communication and on-boarding
- Foundational skills for effective diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives down the road
A short story to illustrate this. As a software consultancy, Atomic Object works with clients from a variety of industry backgrounds to create great products and great experiences. This means that the teams must figure out a way to understand the needs and realities of each client. One atom had been working with a client for almost a year, and consistently felt like they weren’t able to get the whole picture from the team on exactly what they needed the product to do. After going through the workshops on Cultural Intelligence, they decided to adjust their workshop activities to accommodate different Cultural Values they had seen displayed in the company, for example, their client came from more hierarchical culture (high power distance), and a more risk-averse culture (high uncertainty avoidance). Adjusting some of the activities to allow for more anonymity and providing more direction led not only to a productive workshop but a fuller and more aligned picture of what the client needed. Not to mention, she got a standing ovation!
It’s uncomfortable to start with ourselves to take a hard look at how we need to improve. But whenever you choose to engage with the discomfort, it’s worth it. And, when done intentionally, everyone walks away, feeling more seen and more understood.
*this is a personal blog by Mary DeYoung and does not necessarily reflect the views of Atomic Object.
Mary DeYoung, LMSW, is a purposeful accumulator of diverse experiences, and a proven practitioner of engaging the gray. She has experience working in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. She is passionate about all people having the opportunity and ability to contribute their best. Following her passion, Mary founded Gray Space Collaborative, coaching, and training firm dedicated to helping leaders build the skills they need to cultivate a culture that retains and grows diverse talent. Her specialty is bridging generational and experiential differences with skill development curriculum, accountability, and partnership.