29 Jul Advantages and challenges of working in a multicultural team
In today’s global business environment, international teams have become an essential part of corporations and organizations.
A team of people from diverse cultural backgrounds can have tremendous benefits like knowledge of different markets and culturally sensitive customer service. Of course, that’s when things are running smoothly.
Unfortunately, cultural differences within teams can create obstacles to effective teamwork .
With benefits necessarily come cultural and language challenges. So how can a manager resolve multicultural team problems , or even prevent them?
Let’s analyze benefits and challenges of working in a multicultural team and see how to manage them for the results to be successful.
Advantages of international teams
Different cultural backgrounds and perspectives can inspire innovation and productivity.
Every individual of the team differs from experiences and mindsets, and this can enrich the variety of services and products that an organization can offer to the public. A company with an international team can be more sensitive to foreign audiences, taking into consideration their needs by producing, for instance,effective marketing strategies and specific materials.
Improve of Creativity
When an individual is strictly exposed to people from, let’s say, Asia, South America and, Europe, chances are the flow of ideas will be endless.
Not only will teammates pitch in with their personal experiences, but also they will teach others about what works well in their environment and vice-versa.
Improve of problem solving Skills
Workers of an international group bring their own life and experiences inside the team. For this reason, when a solution is needed, they can come up with ideas that would have never crossed the mind of a group with a single culture mind-set. Moreover, teammates are exposed to different points of view and they can easily know to think outside-the-box, increasing their soft skills.
Personal Growth and Flexibility
Being a part of an international team is like attending an exchange program every working day.
Indeed, while working in a multicultural team, members are exposed to new cultures and this can easily have an impact on their personalities and their mindset. Adapting to new situations and challenges requires putting apart expectations and prejudices. By doing so, a person can pull the trigger on a deep personal growth, developing a more open mind and make himself more flexible, tolerant and more committed to cooperation.
Knowing the rules is the perfect way to become more agile inside groups. Especially in multicultural teams, where, as sooner the members will start feeling comfortable, the better they’ll become more productive, spontaneous and quick thinkers.
Challenges of international teams
Lots of you will agree that communication can be the hardest wall to break down in a multicultural working environment. This is due for example, to some members’ lack of fluency in the team’s dominant language or the communication style of their own country.
- Trouble with fluency and accent:
when non-native speakers struggle to find the right words, the team might not take their point of view seriously, even when they probably should.
Members who aren’t fluent in the team’s dominant language may have difficulty communicating their knowledge. This can prevent the team from using their expertise and create frustration or perceptions of incompetence.
- Direct and indirect communication:
Western cultures tend to speak directly, while in many other cultures it is considered more polite to be indirect.
When members see such mismatch as violations of communication norms of their cultures, relationships among the teammates can suffer.
Different Work Cultures
Work culture differs across the globe and with it also the attitudes toward authority.
- Indeed some cultures are okay with flat organizational structures, while others are used to a formal hierarchy. Behavior that is perceived as respectful in one culture, may not be seen that way in the other.
For instance, team members from hierarchical cultures expect to be treated differently according to their status in the corporation. On the other hand workers from egalitarian cultures do not. Failure of some members to honor those expectations can cause humiliation or loss of stature and credibility.
- Another issue related to work culture is being less likely to speak up. This could be challenging for individuals from polite or deferential cultures, like for Asian people. They may just feel less comfortable to make their voice to be heard or to share ideas, especially if they are new in the team or have a junior role.
On the other hand, members from Western or Scandinavian countries who are used to flat organizational hierarchy may be more inclined to point out their opinions.
Working in a multicultural team means also facing differences in how decisions are made and in how much analysis is required by teammates beforehand.
Conflicts arise when some of them make decisions quickly versus slowly, or analytically versus instinctively.
Someone who prefers making decisions quickly may grow frustrated with those who need more time.
For instance, U.S. managers are known to like to make decisions very quickly and with relatively little analysis by comparison with managers from other countries. On the other hand, Asian managers dedicate more time to analysis.
Negative cultural stereotypes and prejudices
The interactions of people from different country unavoidably arise unconscious cultural biases and stereotypes.
Those can be quite difficult to overcome, particularly if they make part of the team less inclined to work together.
Negative culture stereotypes can be seriously disruptive to company morale and can also affect productivity. Emblematic, for example, can be the antipathy between Polish and Germans, British and French, or Chines and Japanese.
Increasing of stress and diverging of opinion
Diversity in the workplace can create too many opinions and with it, also arguments and more stress. Indeed complaint levels often rise while working in a multicultural team, with a result of lower social integration inside the team and the speed of a project can slow down.
How to manage disadvantages in multicultural team: the importance of Team Building and the manager’s role
Project manager can have an important role in solving international team conflicts and his/her decisions can be very determinants.
According to an Harvard’s research on managing multicultural teams, there are four main strategies for addressing the challenges just described.
- The most desirable is adaptation, which acknowledges cultural gaps and finds ways to work around them. This works well but requires creativity, self-awareness, and time.
- A second option is cultural intervention, where projects or tasks are reassigned to reduce friction or to compel team members to get to know each other better.
- Then there’s managerial intervention. Managers can set rules, and step in when there is a need for someone with authority.
- As a last resort that Harvard’s study suggests is the exit option: completely removing someone from the team.
This is costly and the most extreme way to salvage a situation.
Due to the cultural diversity of the teamwork, any decision made without paying the right attention to the team’s frictions may create more problems than they resolve by intervening. For this reason, combining any of the solutions just explained to an ad hoc team building’s activity can ensure them more success.
Indeed Team building gives the team the chance not to be alone in facing its natural difficulties and to manage cultural differences, by offering professional and appropriate support.
This happens through fun activities designed to increase motivation and cooperation.
Team building can enhance social relations and resolve conflicts, putting members of the team in the position of getting to know better their mates, seeing them more like humans than just colleagues.
Collaborative tasks in a different environment would be also a chance for teammates to see any problem from another point of view and creating new linking contacts with their colleagues.
Benefits and challenges of international groups: is it worth it?
Entering a group of people whose customs members are not very familiar with, is anything but comfortable. It is exciting, but it may be stressful.
It requires a lot of efforts and not everyone is ready to face the challenge due to lots of factors as culture, personality, and working environment.
The advantages and disadvantages of diversity in the workplace must be carefully managed for the results to be successful. If managed in the wrong way the team can get stuck damaging the organization.
To prevent it, it is important to intervene on time and giving the multicultural team the right empowerment that it needs choosing the right strategy.
Team building gives the team the chance not to be alone in facing its natural difficulties and to manage cultural differences, by offering external and objective support.
A very well done team-building project can make a group of people work together effectively as a team, forgetting about all the difficulties.
Would you like to build a better team in your organization? Are you facing problems in working in a multicultural team? Contact us and check out Teamworking’s team building activities to better know what it is about!