Today’s insights are brought to you by my colleague and futurist, Buhle Dlamini.


In today’s global economy, global leaders, human resource professionals, managers, and employees work with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds daily. Diversity alone is no longer the predictor of success in the marketplace but a starting block, meaning that organisations that are still struggling with becoming more diverse are behind the curve. Since diversity is a given for global organisations, the real measure of success for innovation, productivity, adaptability, and agility is the organisation’s ability to leverage diversity through inclusion.

Inclusive organisations are ones that harness the power of the differences that individuals bring to an organisation and leverage them to outperform competitors in the marketplace. More executives and leaders understand and accept that inclusion leads to innovation and organisational success but some struggle to find a reliable, measurable, and consistent way of attaining an inclusive culture. That’s where Cultural Intelligence (CQ) comes in.

Success today requires individuals to have a unique set of skills known as cultural competence. Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. It is the extent to which you increase your self-awareness, your awareness of others, ability to interact mindfully and collaborate better with others. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a framework that moves us beyond cultural competence (umbrella term for cross-cultural acuity) by providing a way to assess, enhance and apply CQ capabilities for success.


Leveraging the opportunities of the 21st century world requires a strategy for assessing and developing cultural intelligence.

Whether it’s tapping the opportunities in emerging markets, avoiding a cultural faux pas that goes viral on Twitter, attracting and retaining the best talent, or increasing profitability and cost-savings, the ability to work and relate effectively across cultures addresses a burgeoning number of organizational concerns. Top executives agree:

Mikkel Ohlsson, CEO at IKEA, believes getting people to work effectively across cultures is both the right thing to do and makes business sense. He says, “My leadership on this is vision-driven from a business point of view and values-driven at the foundation.”

■ Jonathan Broomberg, chief executive of the South African insurer Discovery Health, is convinced that the nation’s mosaic of cultures is its most valuable source of creativity and innovation.


Source: Cultural Intelligence: The Essential Intelligence for 21st century


Most of us can fathom the concept of an individual possessing and developing a form of intelligence in this case, cultural intelligence. But can a whole organisation, team, and leadership become culturally intelligent? The answer is yes, it is possible to develop a culturally intelligent organisation.

CQ (Cultural Intelligence) is the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, generational, and organisational cultures. CQ focuses on assessing, enhancing, and applying four capabilities that improve understanding and collaboration between people from different backgrounds. Developing a culturally intelligent organisation is about creating an environment where individuals learn about CQ and grow their CQ Capabilities together.


Steps to Developing a Culturally Intelligent Organisation or Team:

As leaders, there are proven steps we can take to create inclusive teams that leverage the differences they bring to make our organisations more productive, innovative, and agile. Here are some you can start with:


  1. Mapping Cultural Value Differences Across the Organisation

Cultural intelligent innovation begins with reflecting on and mapping the value differences that exist across your team/s. Conflict, miscommunication, and misunderstanding are often the most visible results of low CQ in a diverse organisation. These often arise from a lack of understanding of how our cultural values shape the way we view the world, which can sometimes be at odds with how other people view the world. Our cultural value orientations result from how our national background, ethnic, generational, and even religious upbringing shape what we consider normal or abnormal. While we might be somewhat aware of how these cultural values affect how we see the world, we can be completely blind to how they affect our interactions with others who differ from us.

The CQ framework has an excellent way of mapping these cultural value differences through assessments that individuals can take online. When individuals go through a cultural values mapping assessment as part of their CQ journey it increases their understanding and awareness of themselves while helping them learn about others.

The Ten Cultural Values of the CQ framework provide individuals and teams a way of understanding how they are wired culturally, as well as seeing how they compare to their colleagues on a spectrum. For example, one of the 10 cultural values is Individualism vs Collectivism which looks at the extent to which your personal identity is defined in terms of individual or group characteristics. Someone from an individualism orientation emphasizes individual goals and individual rights while someone from a collectivism orientation emphasizes group goals and group rights. Rarely are we one or the other but are on a spectrum, where 1 is complete Individualism and 10 is complete Collectivism. You can be a 4 on this scale while your colleague is an 8 depending on their cultural background and this can have great implications on how you approach work and life together.

By mapping and understanding cultural value differences between your team/s and organisation you can create a better understanding and benefit greatly in leveraging your differences for success.


  1. Assess and Develop CQ Capabilities Across the Organisation

We’ve all heard the mantra “what gets measured, gets done”, the same applies to developing a culturally intelligent organisation. Unless you assess and measure where your people are and their capability to work well across culturally diverse environments, you cannot adequately equip them to be successful. Most organisations that run diversity and inclusion programs often struggle to measure their impact outside of the demographic metrics. CQ provides a way to assess everyone across the organisation and a way to help them individually and collectively improve their capabilities for success in diverse environments. When teams take the CQ assessment they get measured on the 4 CQ Capabilities that are proven to increase cultural competence.

The four capabilities are; CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action. Each of these capabilities has sub-dimensions that are also measured separately. When teams take the assessment and the training that goes with it, everyone gets their own report complete with a personal action plan based on their results. The organisation can also get a group report detailing areas of opportunity, risk, and growth. CQ removes the stigma that often comes with the attention that most diversity programs bring to monitored and marginalized groups by focusing on improving everyone’s capability to work with differences.


  1. Create a Conducive Environment for Inclusion

Lastly, developing a culturally intelligent organisation requires a conducive culture for inclusion to take place. The key characteristics of a culturally intelligent environment are Trust, Engagement, Authenticity, and Positive Intent.

  • Trust – Trust is easier to achieve when people have similar backgrounds and value orientations but harder when diversity is a factor. Therefore, leaders need to know how to build trust among people with different value orientations by promoting understanding of each other’s differences.
  • Engagement – Team members from culturally intelligent organizations are more fully engaged in their work. When you work at a place where your manager understands how to motivate you, gather your input, and support you to do your job, it drives you to be far more productively engaged. And when you interact with team members who value what your different perspective offers, it causes you to lean in and speak up more fully.
  • Authenticity – A culturally intelligent organisation is a place that encourages people to be comfortable in their own skin while learning which behaviors and procedures need to be adjusted when working in a diverse environment.
  • Positive Intent – Psychologists say we’re naturally inclined to view others suspiciously. When working in diverse teams, our differences can often lead to unconscious biases. Culturally intelligent organisations create a culture of positive intent by equipping managers and associates to be committed to assuming the best first. They’re places where people stop to consider whether an “inconsiderate behavior” might be a result of a cultural difference before assuming something else is going on.



Creating a cultural intelligent team or organisation is much more attainable today than ever before. By using a proven framework that has been used by countless organisations globally you can position yourself for success. In my work, I get to witness executives and team leaders working with dispersed teams across regions within a country or around the world get a handle on leveraging these differences with CQ. Recently, I conducted assessments and training for a major global gaming company with global executives from 8 countries on 5 continents. What this team appreciated most was how CQ helped them understand that they needed to adapt their leadership styles and approaches when collaborating and leading across different regions. They also valued the revelations that cultural value orientations and mapping brought to the understanding of their teams. It has never been more accessible to be a successful global and diverse organisation than today, because of the tools and frameworks available at our disposal. The key is how we apply and use what’s available to us. Why don’t you start now?


About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Buhle Dlamini

Buhle Dlamini is an expert in the Future of People, Inclusion, and Organisational Culture. As a member of Tomorrow Today he is one of the handful of CQ Master Facilitators globally and can help you and your organisation with assessments and training in Cultural Intelligence.

Chat to us about booking Buhle for your upcoming conference or event.


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