Nov 15, 2018

Fostering creativity through inclusion

Picture this: it’s the beginning of the fourth fiscal quarter of the year. Big product changes are coming up  for the app you’re working on, and you need to set a timeline for trial features. You’re in charge of putting a team together. You picture your co-workers who are similar to you and whose ideas will align with yours. After all, didn’t someone once say that great minds think alike? But diversifying your team is proven to foster creativity.

Diversity Promotes Creative Thinking

While individuals often surround themselves with people who have similar ideas or relatable backgrounds, that is not, in fact, what makes the strongest team or most innovative group. Studies such as this one from the Journal of Applied Psychology suggest that intercultural friendships and frequent social contact with people from different cultures promotes creative thinking.

The idea is that when a person has sustained social contact with someone else from different background they must be mentality flexible and open-minded to engage with material and topics from multiple points of view. This is exactly what you want on a growing team—to take the current approach and turn it on its head.

The study also found that when individuals from the same culture work together, their ideas and understanding of problems are often limited to social norms and conventions of their home culture. Want new ideas? Bring in new perspectives and backgrounds.

A similar study about diversity and creativity states that living in a foreign country facilitates a growth in flexibility and creativity when people have connections to both their home culture and their host culture.

Fostering Inclusion on Diverse Teams

When we bring together a multicultural and multilingual team, there is more at stake than simply working to get people a seat at the table. It is important for organizations and managers to foster meaningful communication and cross-cultural understanding between employees from different backgrounds. When cultural and linguistic diversity aren’t met with an active effort to encourage communication and trust, it is a bump for the company in diversity, but not for creative growth that true inclusion comes with.

So how do we foster creative growth when working with diverse groups? We have to focus on forming connections. If you’re a non-native speaker, don’t hesitate to seek resources. While this can come in the shape of language coaching and communication resources, it can also be more creative. Pay attention to what people are talking about around you.

If you’re in North America, this might take the shape of pop culture. What podcasts have your co-workers been listening to? (I am currently hooked on this one!) What museum openings are happening in town? What is that one show people can’t seem to stop talking about? Take time to study what the people around you connect with. Not only will it give you cultural insight, it will give you great talking points when you arrive early to your next meeting.

If you’re a native English speaker, ask yourself what small steps you are taking to foster inclusion. Casual and social interactions can sometimes be the most daunting for those of us working in our second or third language. Sure, your co-worker’s technical vocabulary might be great, but how do they react when you ask them about their weekend? Are you asking at all? Take time to initiate conversations that focus on the whole person, not just their professional tasks.

As a non-native speaker working and living in an environment that is not my own, I now understand the value of interpersonal connections and cultural understanding. When I first arrived, I did not push myself to make meaningful local connections, and it has taken me roughly three years to connect with the colleagues that I could have gotten to know better, sooner. It is common in Costa Rica to make small talk about families and health with co-workers, so that is now how I start every day. It is important to people here to have someone call back details of their personal lives, and they will reciprocate.

Building Your Team

So, remember that team member your manager was talking about? Look for the people who are different from you. When bringing a new person on, focus on the following:

  • Why am I picking this person?
  • What do they bring to the table that I do not?
  • How will we connect?
  • And, most importantly, how will we be able to support each other?

Diversity and creativity go hand-in-hand when people not only have a seat at the table, but when they have a voice at the table too.


Hillary Wein, Lingo Live Coach

Interested in reading more? Check out Diversity & Inclusion in Practice: A Conversation with Our CLO.



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