How to Work With People Who Are Different Than You

Rajesh Agarwal

Director of Engineering at Salesforce



No one is born perfect.

I was new in a team, so were others. The only difference was that I was from a diverse background. As the team was still being formed, I felt that there was a lack of candor. I struggled to participate because it can sometimes be a challenge to make oneself feel heard, being a diverse member. Sooner or later, I realized that I had to begin somewhere. While there are no standard rules for team success, I offered some avenues to start with.

Actions taken

Drawing from the book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni, I learned that building trust would do the trick. In order to build trust, I organized some activities for the team 一 a group of 10 people. We all had an uninterrupted time to share our stories. People would start by speaking about who they were, what motivated them to join the company and anything else that defined who they were and not their "professional" self. It was a heartfelt activity because different people had their own versions of their true selves, and some even had tears in their eyes, listening to others' stories.

In that regard, when I see it from my perspective, I can participate and engage myself in a better way than before. It was all about taking ownership when things were not in my favor. Besides, holding this activity via Zoom was not a piece of cake, and I have not met them all before.

After the activity, we had a follow-up, whereby we brought an external coach to facilitate some activities. We got to know about each other's personality types and how we could operate under different circumstances.

Besides that, I had 1:1s with most team members, by meetings, and via slack channels. People were very appreciative of that. Discussing and agreeing on some of the operating principles removed many daily, unnecessary conflict situations. Besides, communicating at regular intervals helped to create the right atmosphere.

Lessons learned

  • When things are not working in the right direction, taking ownership and being solution-minded are qualities that can come in handy.
  • Think through and recognize that you tried to make it work. Finding out where you might be making mistakes can be helpful.
  • Even if you are new to a team, or the company, make sure you are heard. Just because you are new, it does not mean that you would only remain quiet.

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Rajesh Agarwal

Director of Engineering at Salesforce

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthInclusion in TechDiversity and Inclusion InitiativesDiversity ImpactOvercoming BiasIndividual Contributor RolesTeam & Project Management

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