Challenges managing a multicultural team

Recognising the differences

Managing a team of individuals can be equally rewarding and challenging. Within multicultural teams, differences can result in misunderstandings and sometimes conflict.

Often there is an assumption that cultural differences may lead to alternative expectations and ways of working. But how many of these can be attributed to cultural diversity and how many are simply the personalities of the individual?

It could be your team is made up of individuals situated in one location or spread across the world with a variety of cultures, the fact remains we are all different.

We differ in many ways:

  • In the way we perceive
  • In the way we think
  • In the way we feel
  • In the way we behave

We need to understand:

  • What motivates us
  • Our learning styles
  • How we make decisions
  • How we deal with stress

Recognising differences can help us successfully connect and get the best from people regardless of culture.

Adapt your approach

Adapting our approach is not always easy. The first part of this process is to be aware of our own communication styles and the impact this has on those around us.

Self-awareness enables us to understand that how we see things is simply our own perception, our own reality and this is important if we are to begin to try to understand others points of view. Perception is often about how two people can see the same things, interpret it, disagree and yet both be right.

Be flexible and open to new ideas and ways of working. As a manager you have the task of helping to unlock each individual’s potential as well as getting the team to work collaboratively together, so being open and flexible will enable you to explore new ways.

Be supportive, involve individuals, ask their opinion and give them time to answer. Things take longer to reflect when people communicate in different languages and are required to translate.

Effective communication

Building rapport with each member of your team is essential in order to start to build a strong working relationship. Finding common ground and interests means you get to know each other on a personal level which helps to establish personal preferences.

One of the most effective skills when communicating is to ask questions.

Questions achieve several purposes:

  • It shows that you are interested
  • Builds rapport
  • Provides useful information to help you build an understanding of the individual

Take time to listen and focus on what they are saying and how they sound not what you are going to say next. Active listening means participating, so make sure you acknowledge what is being said. If this is face to face, use eye contact and facial expressions to help show you are engaged. On the telephone using verbal nods, such as ‘I see’, ‘yes’, ‘okay’ demonstrates that you are listening

Cultural awareness

Knowledge is key to ensuring you have the ability to adapt to managing and working with various cultures. Researching other cultures is much easier now; the internet is a powerful source of information. Be mindful that the information provided is often generalised and does not always apply to each individual.

Finding out how different cultures are educated can assist with establishing why and how people learn differently. For example in East Asia, Chinese social collaborative learning is the way children are taught to problem solve in schools, as opposed to our Western approach of individual learning.

Bridge the gap

Distance isn’t necessarily about miles it’s about relationships. With teams located globally, web or video conferencing can be as effective if face to face communication is not possible. Regular telephone communication as well as written communication will enable you to maintain contact from an on-going basis but ensure you make the effort to meet in person whenever possible.

From our experience

Improving communication skills, whether within single nationality teams or a diversity of cultures, appears in some form or another in virtually every solution we design for our clients.