How Can HR Use Cultural Brokerage to Strengthen Diverse Teams?

How Can HR Use Cultural Brokerage to Strengthen Diverse Teams?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sujin Jang presented the concept of “cultural brokerage” as a way of facilitating interactions across employees from different cultural backgrounds to supporting team creativity. Her research shows that “cultural brokers” (team members with multicultural experience) can act as a link between team members whose experience is mainly limited to only one culture. This research has significant implications for an increasingly global workforce and for HR leaders working to support diversity and inclusion goals.

One key message for HR leaders is that while having diverse teams can foster innovative thinking, all of the members of those teams must also feel included in order to achieve maximum benefit to innovation and productivity. Our research at Gartner on D&I leadership also finds that an inclusive culture can have a major impact on team performance, particularly for diverse teams. (Gartner Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council clients can read our Creating Inclusive Leaders study here to learn more.)

But facilitating an inclusive environment where employees from different cultural backgrounds feel equally valued and included is not an easy task; even with cultural brokers on their team, leaders must be proactive about inclusion and should not depend on these brokers to foster constructive collaboration alone. We recommend four approaches to building inclusive team environments:

  • Ensure leader behaviors match inclusive values: Our research shows that interpersonal integrity and productive conflict management are two leadership behaviors that effectively drive inclusive environments for employees.

  • Integrate inclusion into day-to-day activities: Building psychological safety into the workplace makes employees feel safer to take interpersonal risks. Many organizations do this by proactively seeking different perspectives, encouraging participation in employee-led D&I initiatives, and facilitating team dialogue about inclusion.
  • Gain employee insight on inclusion: Many organizations track metrics related to diversity in terms of representation, but don’t collect the same kind of data on inclusivity. Tracking the right metrics to align with their D&I and organizational strategy can help HR leaders identify gaps in their inclusion processes.
  • Leverage organization-wide opportunities for inclusion: Many HR leaders want to make inclusion activities visible to the entire organization, so as to enable others across the business to take action on inclusion. Some ways organizations do this include recognizing employees for inclusive behaviors and building cross-functional learning platforms or forums for sharing best practices.

Cultural brokers can help facilitate these activities and enhance the value of D&I, but only if leaders leverage their experience correctly. That means not tokenizing their multicultural experience, creating a safe environment for both multicultural and monocultural team members, and effectively educating employees and managers about the role of cultural brokers.