Cross-cultural team building in emergency settings

Please note: This post has been written by an external author for the People In Aid website. As such, all views expressed are those of the author and not of People In Aid.

Em Lacroix
HR Services Manager, People In Aid

About our authors

On 19 February, I attended a webinar on this topic, hosted by John Fawcett, a leading expert in the field of personnel support and management. An ever-pertinent topic for our members and the sector as a whole, the insights, guidelines and stories John shared with us brought home some key principles when it comes to the influence of cultures in any mixed team and the importance of staff support processes for greater team effectiveness.

As we know, building and managing cross-cultural teams is always a challenge – all the more so when responding to an emergency.

The influence of culture

Whilst a single culture team (if there is still such a thing in our world...) is supposedly more effective, in reality a mixed team with intentional focus, relevant HR processes and adequate leadership will have a much greater impact.

When working with diverse cultures, it is important not to assume people share the same notions of things like culture, work, relationships, hierarchy and more. Different members of the team are likely to have different definitions for each of these.

Unsurprisingly, communication is crucial and some of the best practice shared by John clearly recommends acknowledging these differences as part of the team DNA from the onset of any relief operations.

The importance of staff support mechanisms

John’s advocacy for an holistic approach to staff support truly resonated with me as it so neatly aligns itself with People In Aid’s philosophy on staff care.

Only by designing and implementing a comprehensive framework will agencies truly meet their duty of care – and ensure a programme's effectiveness.

Staff support goes well beyond mental health – it is about investing in the quality of the employment relations throughout the whole employment cycle, ensuring that there is something for all and that the provisions put in place meet the real needs of all your staff, in any given context. Resources and protocols ought to be available consistently across the whole organisation.

John illustrated that building these resources and protocols into existing operational plans and programme designs (and into project proposals) will enable them to become part of the everyday life of the organisation pre, post and – crucially – during relief operations. Having them in place from the start will help curb the tendency to suspend policies and protocols when an emergency response kicks in – the very time when they are most needed by the staff involved in the response.

The recording of the webinar will soon be available on the Disaster Ready portal. My advice to you: register on the website and listen to it. It will take less than an hour of your time and will hopefully generate some useful thinking to take back to your agency. This is only one interesting resource amongst many more useful materials relevant to disaster preparedness and response on offer on the website.

Further reading:

Date published: Thursday 21 February 2013

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