What You Need to Know to Work in Diverse Groups

by Bob Ditmer

Finding ways to lead diverse groups of people is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. And it isn’t easy.

Whether your audience comes from different parts of the world or were born in different decades, finding effective ways to work together and communicate is a challenge.

David Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, told GLS18 that a leader’s success in this area often comes down to his or her cultural intelligence (CQ).

He identified four characteristics that define a culturally intelligent person:

1) High CQ drive.

Also known as curiosity. Livermore said when confronted with something different, a person with a high CQ drive wonders why.

She will try to see the difference through someone else’s eyes and determine how to explain the situation from another point of view.

2) High CQ knowledge.

Livermore describes this as a “decent understanding of the leadership styles, communication and values of diverse groups.”

He referred to a study done by Mark Powell to understand how different cultures interpret Scripture.

Powell used the story of the prodigal son.

He asked pastors from different parts of the world “why did the prodigal son end up in a pig pen?”

A Russian said it was because of famine. A Tanzanian said it was because no one gave him anything to eat. A pastor from the United States said the prodigal son squandered the wealth he was given.

To get the true answer, Powell looked at what Jesus said about the story from Luke 15.

In verse 13 Jesus said the prodigal son squandered his wealth. In verse 14 Jesus blamed a famine in the land and in verse 16 Christ noted that no gave the prodigal son anything to eat.

All three views were correct, but all three were also incomplete.

“Having a diverse group of leaders,” Livermore told GLS18, “will give you a fuller understanding from different perspectives.”

David Livermore Tells GLS18 Where Leaders Most Often Fail

3) CQ strategy.

This is the ability to take what you understand about cultural differences and channeling that knowledge in a direction.

Livermore called this “the area where we most often fail.”

He warned that by focusing only on the differences between groups, you make the situation worse. “You put people in boxes.”

Livermore suggests sketching a brief plan when determining tasks with an unfamiliar culture or age group.

4) High CQ action.

The final characteristic of a culturally intelligent person is the action taken when working in diverse groups.

Livermore recommends three questions to keep from trying too hard to adapt.

  • Is it a tight or loose culture?
  • Will adapting compromise the organization or me?
  • Will retaining the difference make us stronger?

Fully adapting can be patronizing. Not adapting at all can be insulting. A leader with a high cultural intelligence knows how to navigate the middle ground.

Diversity is a reality in today’s business and ministry world. Many will claim that’s good because diversity leads to innovation.

“No it doesn’t,” Livermore surprisingly contends.

He said studies show that homogeneous teams were more innovative, with one exception, when diverse teams have high CQ values.

Otherwise, Livermore warned, your project is destined to be stalled in gridlock.

Livermore delivered this message at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit.

Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.