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Unleashing the power of intercultural diverse teams

Unleashing the power of intercultural diverse teams

Reading time: 6 minutes

Rodolfo Alvarez-Fernandez, Innovation Project Manager at BSH, works in an intercultural diverse team on a daily basis and talked about the advantages and disadvantages at this year’s BSH Diversity Week. In an interview we asked Rodolfo to share his experiences with intercultural diverse environments.

Let’s start off with your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. What do these terms mean to you?

  • Diversity is a term that describes the degree of heterogeneity that a system (company, country, team, etc.) has. The heterogeneity can be measured in terms of age range, gender, race, sexual orientation, culture, etc.
  • Equity measures how equally the heterogeneous members of a system have access to the same resources or opportunities. The more equal the access is, the higher the equity will be
  • Inclusion measures how homogeneous the members of a system are integrated into the system itself, which means, whatever part of the system you take a look into, the diversity degree will be similar

Which role does intercultural diversity play in the overall concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

People living in high intercultural diverse environments are used to accept “heterogeneous” people. For them it is normal to work with people who are different, therefore it is easier to reach a high degree of inclusion and equity in those environments.

For example, if you ask me if BSH has diversity, my answer will be yes. If you ask me if the diverse members are treated equally and inclusive as defined above, my answer will be: we are on a good way, whereas some levels still need to increase their intercultural diversity.

The first question of the workshops was about the nationalities of the participants. However, you chose the focus of the workshop to be not “international” but “intercultural” diversity – what was the reasoning behind that? How is “international” different from “intercultural” – or is it not different at all to you?

Using the term “nationalities” in the workshop was just a way to simplify the discussion. It is clear that within a country you can find many different cultures. Nevertheless, people belonging to a same country behave similarly in many ways, regardless the culture they are coming from. Basically, they accept a common framework to ease the communication.

In the workshop you asked the participants to share their opinion, on what are the advantages and disadvantages of having high cultural diversity in a team. Did the answers surprise you? If yes, how were they different from the answers you expected, and what are your insights about the outcome?

Not really. We discussed internally advantages and disadvantages and came to a similar result. However, I have to say, even though I am a clear defender of intercultural diversity, there are still disadvantages like language or mind set barriers that will be always present. Nevertheless, the advantages that an intercultural diverse environment offers, clearly overcome the disadvantages.

You work as an Innovation Project Manager. In the workshop, some participants thought of the term “innovation” as an advantage of having high cultural diversity in a team. Tell us more about your insights on how intercultural diversity and innovation intersect? 

In my opinion “Innovation” is one of the biggest advantages an intercultural diverse environment has to offer. If you take a look on the most innovative companies in this world (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, SpaceX, BioNTech, etc) you realize that all of them have intercultural diversity at all levels, including the top management.

Innovation is not just connecting things to come up with something new. That is not enough. Innovation needs also an environment that supports it. It requires teams that feel comfortable in a changing and uncertain environment. People coming from different cultures went already through the process of going out of their comfort zone, which means, they are already used to changing and uncertain environments, that is why innovation tends to proliferate easier in an intercultural diverse system than in a mono-cultural system.

From your experience of working in Germany and Spain, what influenced your work the most from the different cultural backgrounds in the countries?

Clearly accepting “difference” as an advantage and not as a limitation. When you live in different countries, you learn that there is not just one single way to achieve the same objective but many different ones. In addition, all of them have their own advantages and disadvantages! The trick is to mix those paths, which offer advantages. Intercultural environment offers this possibility.

What was your experience with intercultural diverse teams at BSH?

The experience of working in an intercultural environment is not new to me. I always tend to work in intercultural environments, therefore it was not a surprise to see all the advantages but also disadvantages that an intercultural environment has to offer.

Can you give us a concrete example from your daily business of how intercultural diversity influenced the performance of a working team?

We work together with a company based in Taiwan. The cultural gap of Western and Asian cultures is big, but fortunately, we have a team member who comes originally from Hong-Kong and also lived in Canada, England, Sweden and now in Germany. This means, he understands very well Western and Asian cultures. By talking to him openly about those differences, we were able to understand how the members of an Asian company behave and therefore manage difficult situations better.

What are the challenges of establishing culturally diverse teams at work? Do you have any tips for fostering intercultural exchange?

The big challenge for cultural diversity is to reach the top management of a company. If lower levels see that there is a change at the very top of the company, they will act in a similar way at their own levels. From my point of view, it is much easier and faster to reach cultural diversity with a top-down approach than the other way around. This is not just a theory, we have seen this already at BSH with gender diversity: since 50% of the Board of Management are women, the gender balance on all levels has grown. The challenge is not to regard gender diversity as a “work complete” but as a necessary first step. 



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BSH Hausgeräte GmbH, with a total turnover of some EUR 15.6 billion and 62,000 employees in 2022, is a global leader in the home appliance industry. The company’s brand portfolio includes eleven well-known appliance brands like Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau and Neff as well as the ecosystem brand Home Connect and service brands like Kitchen Stories. BSH produces at 40 factories and is represented in some 50 countries. BSH is a Bosch Group company.