Technology and globalization have made today’s workplace into a global village - literally.
If you walk into any company or business entity today, you are likely to meet a diverse group of workers. They may be diverse in terms of ethnicity, color, religious background, age, or nationality. This cultural diversity is not a trend; it is here to stay.
The question is no longer whether you will be working with a diverse group, but how to work productively and efficiently with them. Though we know that diversity is beneficial in the workplace, it can be a challenge to manage people from various cultural backgrounds.
What Managing a Cross-Cultural Teams is
Cross-cultural teams are defined as teams of employees from diverse backgrounds, including nationality, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, and religion (among others). Cultural diversity also comes from people having different life experiences and working in various time zones.
Successfully managing cultural teams requires recognition and acknowledgment of the differences and similarities within a multicultural team and finding suitable ways of leading them without conflicts. It also demands the capacity to influence and motivate the team to work together to meet the company’s shared goals.
Why Managing Culturally Diverse Teams is Important
With all these different cultures, working together productively can be difficult because of differences in thought patterns, communication styles, and time zones. To avoid conflict and foster mutual understanding and respect, leaders need to find ways to successfully lead diverse teams.
Any leader who manages teams across cultures must avoid friction and help build trust within the team. All these factors are integral in promoting productivity and growth in the workplace.
Benefits of Managing Cultural Teams
Diversity has significant benefits in the workplace, including:
With a cross-cultural team, different talents and skills are all brought together for a common goal. Learning from each other’s experiences and strengths can aid in productivity and bring new perspectives to projects.
Because of the different experiences of individuals, teams will be forced to think outside the box and come up with innovative ways of solving problems.
Skilled Human Resources
Diversity allows companies and businesses to hire the best talented and skilled people regardless of their location. This also helps improve the company’s image and reputation.
Stretching the Status Quo
Working with a multicultural team means that questions will be asked that will challenge the status quo. These questions can lead to innovation, improvement, and efficient workflow, driving success. Things that would otherwise have been ignored and missed without diversity are brought to light.
Challenges of Managing Culturally Diverse Teams
There are also some challenges that a leader will face when leading cross-cultural teams. They include:
Styles of Communication
Some cultures communicate more directly than others; some are aggressive, and others are passive in their mode of communication. This can create miscommunication and barriers in a team.
Attitudes towards Hierarchy and Authority
Some cultures place great importance on an individual's hierarchical position while others are less concerned, and those in positions of authority act more as teammates or peers than clear-cut bosses. This can lead to confusion and conflict in a multicultural team, as some team members may not be sure when or how it is appropriate to start a conversation with a leader, for example.
Different Decision-making Processes
Armed with the right information, some cultures tend to make decisions fast. Others need time to analyze, assess, and thoroughly investigate things before they make a decision. This can lead to frustrations in the team.
Tips for Leading Cross-Cultural Teams Successfully
As a leader of a culturally diverse team, you should be aware of your team's differences and be able to competently steer the team, utilizing each member’s strengths and motivating them to work together without conflict. You can explore your cultural views and perceptions by reading books, surrounding yourself with people from different cultures, and traveling. You’ll become more informed, sensitive, and aware of the differences in your team and better able to find effective ways to lead them.
Active listening is listening to understand and not just so you can respond. It also entails avoiding assumptions or bias in your decision-making. These biases and assumptions prevent collaboration and building trust. Make a habit of asking questions and listening to the responses. Questions will help you understand your team well at an individual level and help you in making the right decisions.
While some cultures practice direct and explicit communication, others prefer an indirect style and asking more questions rather than pointing out problems. To balance, practice open, transparent communication where the message is passed across and clearly understood across all cultures. Give room for your team members to air their views.
Cross-cultural Policies and Programs
Having clear policies that apply to everyone regardless of their cultural background is a good place to start. This ensures everybody is treated the same and reduces conflicts. Instead of imposing your own style as the leader, find out what will work for the benefit of the whole team and implement it.
Incorporating cultural programs will help your team embrace, appreciate, and learn from one another.
Build Personal Bonds
Ensure that your team members build personal bonds outside of work. This helps teammates to get to know each other better on an individual level, which supports good and trustworthy working relationships regardless of different cultural backgrounds.
As a leader, you can aid in building these personal connections through organizing social events or asking different combinations of employees to work together on projects.
Addressing Conflicts Quickly
In any team, conflicts are inevitable. With cross-cultural teams, the dynamics of conflict can be quite a challenge to resolve.
As a leader of a diverse team, understand that you are the bridge between the conflicting parties. When issues arise, don't sweep them under the carpet; address them as quickly as they arise. Aim for a solution that benefits both parties and the team as a whole.
Being a leader of a diverse team isn't always easy. Practicing active listening, resolving issues as soon as they arise, and having cultural intelligence will not only make your work easier but make your team productive too.