Culturally Diverse Design Team

The Horrors Vs. Delights Of Leading A Culturally Diverse Design Team

Featured Image Source: Qvasimodo

If you enter a room full of white skinned people, you think its “normal” right? And, when you see a room packed with a gradient of skin colors, your reaction is different. The same goes for a room filled with all-men versus one with all-women, or one with native speaking individuals versus a multi-lingual group. These reactions (a smile or an eyebrow raise) are by default embedded into us over centuries. With a culturally diverse design team, companies try to break barriers and diminish the pigeonhole dogma; but hey, it isn’t all that easy to evaluate whether or not diverse teams perform better.

Leading A Culturally Diverse Design Team

In the age of globalization and internet of things, managers are not restricted to one particular type of employees. Instead, they head culturally diverse teams (from all over the world) that cultivate opportunities in innovation and creativity, and alongside challenge one’s leadership capabilities. In his book, Driven by Difference, author David Livermore explains that diversity cannot be a part of an organization’s (in this case a team’s) success unless leaders and managers know how to leverage it. Let’s take a look at three most important aspects that affect a culturally diverse design team.

Handling Communication

One of the key elements to manage integration between a culturally diverse team is to handle communications between meetings and other wise. A reason why Nelson Mandela became a revolutionary political leader was because he had the skill to speak and connect.

  • Horror: Understanding and responding in various languages, accents and fluency is not a piece of cake. At times, it is very puzzling for (especially an “untrained”) manager, leader or entrepreneur to unravel the meaning behind native idioms; cultural gestures, attitudes, values, behaviors, styles and expressions especially in a virtual team. All these contrasts (if not managed properly) result in delayed decision-making and extends the time of achieving team targets.
  • Delight: A multi-cultural team blooms with a range of ethnic languages, and this is a helpful asset for companies. They can enter into global markets without hesitation about communicating with all the clients no matter. A diverse team helps promote the “culture of mutual recognition and collaboration” among the members. Many a times, diversity in design helps creative directors learn the necessary traits needed to be successful in disseminating solutions to an alien audience.
  • Solution: Either you learn the lingo (which takes time) or at least practice to comprehend a variety of inflections. You can also take cross-cultural communication classes to attain a minimum level of competency at grasping and conveying ideas. Also, enroll in courses to practice processing styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic – of other cultures.

Handling Communication

Understanding Needs And Wants

In school, we learned how theorists like Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg spent a life-time defining team leads how to address employees’ needs and wants, and how to motivate your designers. Soon we realized that these were text-bookish, and the task becomes even more strenuous when you’re heading a team of designers from various cultures like Arab, Tibetan, Sinosphere and Western for example.

  • Horror: In a culturally diverse team, there’s a clutter of necessities and desires that become more muddled when cultures are sub-divided into factors like gender, sexual orientation, religion and individual preferences. This varies from lunch choices like vegetarian and kosher food to prayer room and holidays for holy days. With a team like such, it gets challenging to accommodate everyone’s requirements.
  • Delight: On the other hand, addressing the needs and wants of a culturally diverse team prevents your design firm from the up rise of union leaders, and helps establish a good agency name among societies that work towards the rights of a culturally diverse workforce or minorities for that matter.
  • Solution: Highlight the most important needs and wants of your designers and ideate a strategy (aligning with company policies and resources) to accommodate the rightful ones, because some are even outrageous demands like “I want the latest gadget to design with” types.

Understanding Needs And Wants

Dealing With Stereotypes

Stereotype, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is a “widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” This is a rather optimistic definition, but according to sociological approach stereotyping relates with social groups, and views the term as “derogatory generalizations of group traits, reflective of the stereotyper’s underlying prejudices.” So how can team leads address this when working with a culturally diverse design team?

  • Horror: It is hard to erase a deep rooted perception about a group of people, which is formed over time via mass communication channels or communal reinforcement. Highlighted below are some stereotypes leaders either hold themselves or have to diminish from a team.

Taylor Cox Stereotypes
Image Source: Taylor H. Cox, JR (1994). Cultural Diversity in Organizations: Theory, Research and Practice. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Negative stereotypes are may not be openly expressed, but they can disadvantage members of under-represented groups on several levels of a design firm: recruitment, timing demands, allocation of resource, assessment, retention and promotion.

  • Delight: If we go with the broad definition, then stereotypes can be positive and considered as a form of compliment. For example “strong black women” or “tech-savvy Indians.” This isn’t labeling, but a form of target set by team leads and team members to maintain certain standards perhaps.
  • Solution:
    The first step towards expunging stereotypes from within teams is to raise awareness regarding the issue and prohibiting any member from passing remarks or making general accusations. It is equally important for leaders to stimulate the feeling of self-worth in individuals who get easily offended or feel demotivated.

Dealing With Stereotypes
To be brutally honest, we’ve not come far from the time of slavery and unequal rights: when black people were treated as low lives, women were ousted by patriarchal societies, and poor were called untouchables. To this day we’re pinpointing one another, in fact even more as I observe. Even in the midst of all this, there are many culturally diverse design teams working together on client projects. They’re a blend of different races, genders, ages and abilities. Sure there are problems, but that doesn’t mean we disregard “certain types of people”, does it?


  • 13 benefits and challenges of cultural diversity in the workplace in 2017, Hult Blogs, Hult International Business School
  • 4 Types of Communication Challenges in Multicultural Organizations (2015), WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, Training Industry Blog
  • Managing Cultural Diversity in Small and Medium Enterprises, [GESDIMEP PROJECT] Progress Initiative. DG Justice. European Commission, Published by Spanish Observatory on Racism and Xenophobia
  • Handling Diversity in the Workplace, based on the book Handling Diversity in the Workplace Communication is the Key by Kay duPont, CSP, Copyright 1999 American Media Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • Stereotypes (2015). Pedro Bordalo, Katherine Coffman, Nicola Gennaioli, Andrei Shleifer. Scholars at Harvard
  • Kumari Devarajan (2018). ‘Strong’ Black Woman? ‘Smart’ Asian Man? The Downside To Positive Stereotypes. Code Switch, NPR.
  • Benjamin Kessler and Zoe Kinias (2018). The Truth About Gender Stereotypes. Leadership & Organisations. INSEAD Knowledge.


A visual design blogger passionate about interactive, experiential and captivating techniques designers, marketers and brands use to accentuate messages, tell stories, and spread awareness. I’m a visual addict like Alice, who finds books (or anything) without pictures boring! My writings focus on graphic and web design, branding, and visual marketing. My hobbies are to write poems, draw zentangles, read mysteries, and watch YouTube videos.

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