Affinity Teams Go Global

9/13/2016

Today’s globalized business world is highly diverse, with people from myriad different backgrounds, including ethnic, racial, linguistic, generational and gender-based. Companies are seeing more diverse employees, partners and leaders, not to mention more diverse clients and potential markets.

Considering how diverse so many companies are, many employees and organizational leaders still have a way to go before achieving true cultural understanding, appreciation and proper adaptations of cultural norms in the workplace.

This is where affinity teams can help. Affinity teams are formal or informal groups of colleagues who network or gather together within an organization based on their shared identity. Such groups not only confer benefits associated with allowing employees to assemble themselves based on common interests and demographic membership, but they can also be a great resource for marketing, sales and employee selection.

Affinity teams were initially created by organizations to attract, retain and develop members of a diverse group, as defined by the organization’s diversity plan. This concept was born in the US from organizations’ need to legally demonstrate that they were not discriminating against anyone based on demographic membership. Today, the concept of affinity teams has gone global, with countries such as the United Kingdom, India, Germany and others reporting success in creating them.

The Necessity of Affinity Teams

With globalization comes a geographically dispersed, virtual workplace from which employees can easily become disconnected. Affinity teams, which by design are focused on shared identity, can help build ties and inspire commitment among employees.

Not only are these groups are useful among employees to create a sense of belonging, but also to their overall companies to increase their access to different groups they could target as clients.

However, many companies in countries outside Western Europe and the US don't understand how they can leverage their employees’ diversity to connect with certain markets. For business leaders in many countries, inclusion is a difficult concept to understand, much less articulate.

While there are some global companies that are home to groups organized around racial, ethnic, religious and caste membership, this type of structure is rare. When affinity teams are present in such companies, they are typically very informal and not recognized by the organization.

Some international companies are starting with women. These companies understand that employing and leveraging women in their workforces helps them reach the female demographic in the marketplace. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community are also getting attention as a demographic that needs to be tapped for recruitment and talent management efforts in order to reach that market.

It is important to note that when companies do decide to launch, or simply encourage, affinity teams, senior leadership should be involved in creating and developing them. This legitimizes their presence in the organization and allows for leaders to learn from the groups and leverage them. 

Whether affinity teams make employees feel more valued because they are being heard, or because the presence of such groups improves the company's understanding of how to serve its target market, they are beneficial. When affinity teams go global, their benefits are spread across organizations, industries and the world.