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Community insights: How to manage culture and communication in a diverse organization

Quan’s Head of Community Katerina recently sat down with a number of people leaders from diverse and distributed organizations to share best practices around a key challenge: how to manage culture and communication in diverse organizations. The guests at this online roundtable — available to Quan Community members — spanned people leaders from organizations of a range of sizes and locations, and was oversubscribed 3x in terms of available seats. Given the huge amount of interest in the topic we will share key anonymized advice from the guests in this post. 

The Quan Community is a place for people leaders, founders, and team leads to connect and gain insights into improving team well-being and collaboration. Visit here to find out more or join. 

Culture can be maintained and refined with a bottom-up approach

As organizations scale, it is possible to lose a little of the tight, family-like approach of the early days, where everyone knows everyone and is closely connected with the mission. 

As one team scaled, they implemented a quarterly culture check-in with a small group of people to help ensure the culture of the early days would continue to flourish. The group consists of a range of people from newcomers to the original team, across different departments and disciplines, to be as broadly representative of the organization as possible. Often the conversation is kick-started with a few questions from management, but develops organically as people start to share their own observations on what is working and what could be improved, and feedback is then shared with management. 

For this particular organization, the quarterly culture check-in has led to a number of tangible actions, including implementing a buddy system for new joiners, and learning sessions where teams share what they are working on, enabling them to maintain that close, tight-knit culture of the smaller group. 

Action point: Create a culture group consisting of a range of people from newcomers to the original team.

Having a diverse team is not enough; understanding and acting on diversity is key

In today’s borderless world, tech scale-ups are often widely distributed across the globe, and even if people are located in the same market they may come from different backgrounds. However, having a diverse team is not the same as creating space for your diverse team to flourish. 

For example, one organization talked about how they wanted to create a culture of “openness” where speaking up to raise concerns was encouraged. While this worked well in certain markets, in other offices around the globe where the culture was more 1-1 based, it wasn’t embraced. So rather than try to enforce a global standard on speaking up in group meetings, the organization made space for more 1-1 conversations in the particular office where such an approach was more appreciated, enabling them to raise their concerns in a psychologically safe environment according to their cultural context.  

 Action point: Offer culture-appropriate feedback opportunities. 

Providing regular, defined space for conversations makes the organization more resilient

As one team grew, it created a series of regular spaces for discussions on different topics. This includes a team meditation on Monday morning, and a “wins of the week” discussion on Friday afternoon, plus regular conversations on a 1-1, team, and organizational level, monthly, quarterly and annually. 

These regular, purpose-driven conversations have helped create a culture of openness and build resilience within the organization in a number of ways:

  • The different sizes of groups in each conversation make people feel more at ease. So even if people are not always prepared to bring up all their concerns in every conversation, a culture of trust has developed which ensures that issues surface quickly. 
  • When challenges present themselves to the business, the open culture and high level of trust mean that people are more likely to pull together and change processes or find a solution, making the organization more resilient as a whole.
  • In their Friday wins conversation, even if someone has had a challenging week, there is always a positive note, even if that is “I managed to stay calm.”

The focus on regular conversations and ensuring that everyone is heard and seen have meant that the culture of this organization has become stronger even as the team has grown. 

 Action point: Provide regular, defined space for conversations in various forms: (cross-functional) groups, teams, one-on-ones, and all-hands.

Sometimes cold hard business metrics take precedence over feelings, but how you communicate this is key

The tech industry is experiencing a great deal of volatility in recent times, and renewed focus on financial targets — not to mention layoffs as well as growth — are common. This changing internal focus is not always welcome from teams used to doing things differently, and can cause some pushback or even resentment. 

The advice in these situations was that frequently organizations do have a value related to honesty and transparency, and communicating changes transparently and openly can help. Furthermore, it is important to over-communicate why you are doing something, rather than under-communicate, to be sure that people really understand the “why” behind management decisions. And finally, recognize that not everyone is going to be pleased all the time. 

 Action point: Over-communicate rather than under-communicate when it comes to important or difficult news. 

Creating a consistent culture while allowing for regional differences is a balancing act

A common theme across many of the roundtable guests was the challenge of what to keep consistent and where to empower local differences across a global culture. This is a balancing act that requires constant adjustment, but generally speaking, the company values and onboarding processes are considered an important part of being consistent across offices, and culture can be really helped by meeting face-to-face at regular intervals, such as an annual get together for a global team. 

 Action point: Strike a balance between consistency in employee experience, while allowing for some regional-specific nuance. 

Do you want a structured, objective way to have regular check-ins, build a bottom-up culture building, and understand diversity?

A number of common themes emerged through the conversation — regular space for conversations, structured ways to build culture, and making a serious effort to listen to your team about their diversity. 

With Quan, teams and organizations have a data-backed way to have these conversations, and measure, manage, and improve well-being. To learn how other people experts are managing well-being, you can join the Quan community here, or to find out more about using Quan, contact us

Rhys Wesley

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