Gone are the days when the bottom line was the measure of success for an architecture firm leader. Today’s best leaders are creating inspiring, visionary firm cultures to meet the needs and desires of a new generation of design professionals. AIA Minnesota’s National Intercultural Leadership Program (NILP) is helping leaders rise to the challenge of creating inclusive, values-driven firm culture in the architecture profession.

“Inclusive leadership is emerging as a unique and critical capability helping organizations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent,” state Juliet Bourke and Andrea Titus in a recent Harvard Business Review article. The authors’ research showed that in a typical organization, what leaders say, do, and model makes a 70% difference in whether an individual reports feeling included.

Specific to the architecture industry, respondents to AIA’s November 2021 ABI Survey listed “firm culture and workplace comfort” as the most important factor in staff satisfaction in the future, surpassing compensation for the first time. AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, notes that workers are now most concerned “not about how much one will get paid, necessarily, but one’s alignment with their firm on its values.” Creating or reshaping a values-aligned firm culture is difficult to accomplish but is an increasingly critical factor for companies seeking greater profitability and employee satisfaction.

To address these conditions, AIA Minnesota developed the National Intercultural Leadership Program (NILP), a cutting-edge skill-building program for leaders, changemakers, and professionals in the architecture industry who wish to practice inclusive leadership and create lasting culture change within their firms and organizations.

Over nine sessions – held virtually to connect practitioners across the country – the NILP helps individuals expand their abilities to lead inclusively and develop greater intercultural competence. Building capacity to engage more effectively across lines of difference enables architecture professionals to interact more successfully with clients, community members, colleagues, and project partners of diverse identities [AM1] such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, political affiliation, and more. The program also strengthens participants’ effectiveness in creating a culture of equity and belonging.

Program content addresses topics such as self-awareness, power, conflict, and culture change, and includes lecture, small and large group conversation, interactive exercises, and the introduction of strategies, tools, and other practical resources that individuals can take away and apply successfully within their own firms and organizations. Participants receive their personal Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) Assessment and a one-on-one IDI profile debrief, as well as their Intercultural Conflict Styles (ICS) diagnostic assessment. Participants are also invited to join the national Community of Practice for Culture Change to support the application of their learnings.

The NILP curriculum was carefully developed and implemented by AIA Minnesota over the past five years in partnership with Minneapolis-based DEI consulting firm Team Dynamics. It was beta tested in cooperation with the University of Minnesota and piloted in Minneapolis and Seattle. The first national cohort of participants was held in 2020 and included 40 professionals representing 11 U.S. states and territories.

Past NILP participant Carole Wedge, FAIA – partner and former CEO of Shepley Bulfinch, and winner of the 2020 AIA Kemper Award – described the value of the program this way:

“The National Intercultural Leadership Program has allowed me to learn, grow and think more holistically about the future and how we create an inclusive culture within the design professions.  Learning from colleagues about their experiences, firm strategies, and desire to create change has been deeply helpful and inspiring. AIA Minnesota has created an extremely valuable leadership program.  Well worth the time and effort to participate.”

Registration is now open for the 2022 cohort, with sessions beginning April 12. Learn more.

Chapter 1 of the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice: Intercultural Competence