Managing Multicultural Teams in a Company

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Bruna Vasconcelos
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Bruna Vasconcelos
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Head of People
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Managing employees in a team that come from different cultural backgrounds can be a struggle and can breed misunderstandings. but our H.R. expert has so tips on how to do it effectively.
Published on
March 17, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

If you've started your journey toward diversifying your team, it's worth noting that diverse management increases revenue by 19%. In fact, your business can benefit from a multicultural team in more ways than just the revenue — there's research to back that up.

However, diverse team leaders understand that managing a multicultural team is not the same as managing a culturally consistent one. While the results are profitable for the company, the leader must tick some boxes to be culturally sensitive to their team.

Here are some tips on how to manage multicultural teams efficiently and the benefits and challenges a diverse team can bring to your company.

Advantages of a Multicultural Team

Diversity can contribute serious advantages to your company. Here are some benefits of cultivating a multicultural company.

Increased Creativity

According to 2020 research, team diversity stimulates divergent thinking and fosters idea generation. In addition, multicultural companies allow different perspectives to collide, resulting in increased creativity and innovation.

Better Service

Gregory Harnell's " The Advantages of a Multicultural Labor Force" details a multicultural team's ability to improve customer relationships. In addition, employees in a multicultural workforce are generally more sensitive to other cultures.

In the case of customer support teams, the availability of bilingual customer representatives eases communication, breaking the barrier of expertise between the client and the service provider.

Improved Reputation

A multicultural team undoubtedly improves your company's reputation by showcasing an inclusive and respectful workplace to your customers and the talent pool. Companies that open their job ads to people with disabilities, working moms, or people from very different cultures have a better chance of finding talent that increases their revenue.

Learning New Languages

Working in a multicultural environment introduces each team member to a new language. In addition, employees can learn new words daily by conversing with their colleagues and better understanding their cultures.

Managing Multicultural Teams

Companies facing trouble filling specialist roles often open hiring worldwide and offer relocation packages. In addition, remote work continues to rise in prevalence, so teams can effectively disperse around the globe. As a result, many workspaces today have more diverse and multicultural teams than ever.

While multicultural teams have a long list of benefits over culturally homogeneous ones, they also have certain challenges. Leaders need to have the right skill set and knowledge to manage multicultural teams.

Leaders and executives must encourage cultural sensitivity in the beginning, cultivate safe spaces, and consider all communicative styles and cultural habits. These are simply the basics of managing and leading multicultural teams. Here are some other ways to improve the management of a multicultural team.

Cultural Barriers

The first step to managing a multicultural team is overcoming cultural barriers. A language barrier can be difficult to handle, so finding a common language can result in easier communication. Eliminate any remaining language barriers after picking the common language, which doesn't have to be English.

First, you can encourage your team to learn a few key phrases in every language in the workspace. It's also essential to normalize asking each other to repeat themselves, which can be necessary where there are team members with strong accents. You may also avoid using languages that most team members aren't fluent in.

Organizing informal gatherings for your team members may help overcome cultural barriers by helping everyone about each other's backgrounds. In addition, it's important to consider the cultural customs of your team members when delegating work assignments. For example, cultures influence the work schedule, vacation rules, and list of holidays for each person.

Multicultural Team Building Activities in the Workplace

Leaders can arrange exercises and team-building activities to promote diversity and inclusion in the workspace, reinvigorating creative minds and allowing them to thrive in the company. In addition, such activities provide a safe environment for conversations about race, religion, gender, orientation, or other identity-based concerns.

For example, multicultural team members can discuss their history to the extent that they are comfortable. Memories of key life events of your employees might also help stimulate interactions.

It's also important not to limit your office's festivity calendar to Thanksgiving and Christmas since celebrating multicultural festivals and holidays in the office is a great way to understand each other's cultures. Potluck luncheons may also inspire team members to bring contributions from their cultural context.

Finally, you can consider having a money jar that requires employees to cash in whenever they use gender-specific or culture-specific terms that exclude certain employees. This encourages employees to be more careful about their choice of words.

Communication Styles

Cultures don't just vary in languages; they also have different speaking patterns and nonverbal communication, including gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

For example, high-context cultures communicate indirectly and nonverbally, solving issues immediately and speaking one at a time. Countries with high-context cultures include Japan, Greece, and numerous Arab nations. Low-context cultures communicate directly, openly, and verbally. Countries with such cultures include the United States, Germany, and Scandinavian countries.

Finally, multiactive cultures fall somewhere in between, resolving conflicts on the spot or after the fact and communicating with a combination of nonverbal and verbal cues. Countries with multiactive cultures include Spain, Italy, and Latin America.

Multicultural teams can simplify communication by considering everyone's unique communication style. Remember to take a different approach when talking to your German employee as opposed to your Japanese employee.

Differing Time Zones

Planning projects around different time zones effectively increases a multicultural team's productivity, especially when managing a team virtually. Keep every team member's time zone in mind while delegating assignments and deadlines — it may be 9 a.m. for you but 5 p.m. for them!

Time management apps can help you keep track of all the different time zones and even examine productivity levels based on how well everyone is meeting their deadlines.

Prep Time

While all your employees may speak your chosen common language, they may not be able to do so eloquently. In this case, they may feel uneasy and unprepared in a meeting or social situation. So if all employees aren't completely familiar with the common language, give them ample prep time before meetings and presentations.

During the meeting or presentation, don't interrupt or talk over employees if they need a few moments to articulate their thoughts. It's essential that every employee feels safe to communicate effectively in your workspace. This improves communications and increases confidence in the office.

Cross-Cultural Training

Organizing cross-cultural training can help improve workplace happiness and morale and overcome cultural challenges in the office. In addition, it allows team members to get to know and educate each other about their cultural differences.

In this training, leaders may choose to highlight how to avoid stereotypes and prejudices, minimize cultural barriers, and appreciate each other's cultural skills. Additionally, team members may discuss ways to improve their social skills, become better listeners, and focus on common principles rather than differences.

Stereotypes

When managing a multicultural team, your vocabulary must emphasize cultural differences without stereotyping your team members. Relying on stereotypes to make assumptions about your team members' behaviors isn't the same as being mindful of cultural differences.

Remember: Your employee's ethnicity or race doesn't dictate their every decision, which is why assuming so may offend them. Getting acquainted with every team member's individuality can help you avoid stereotypes.

Each team member works and communicates uniquely, with specific individual preferences that are not always dictated by cultural beliefs. This is an important principle to consider when assessing every employee.

Honest Feedback

Getting honest feedback is the only way a team can overcome weaknesses and improve its workflow. As a leader, it's your duty to ensure that your team members are aware of their work quality, whether negative or positive.

Providing honest feedback as a multicultural team leader can be tricky, as the lines between constructive and negative criticism are easily blurred. While you can't entirely predict someone's behavior based on their culture, Erin Meyer's The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business helps establish some guidelines:

  • American employees may prefer explicit positive feedback with words like "awesome" and "fabulous" and negative feedback in writing.
  • British employees may take a less direct approach, using "possibly" or "maybe" to soothe criticism.
  • German and French employees may eliminate positive feedback and deliver negative feedback directly.
  • Brazilian employees may use implicit language when delivering positive or negative feedback.
  • Argentinian and Nigerian employees may prioritize directness in all kinds of feedback.
  • Ghanian employees may avoid confrontation.
  • Chinese employees modify their feedback based on the receiver's position in the company.
  • Mexican employees may attempt to soothe criticism by incorporating positive feedback into their comments.
  • Japanese employees may skip negative feedback to avoid directness.
  • Australian employees may provide blunt feedback, both positive and negative.

Cultural Sensitivity

Finally, multicultural team managers must remember to encourage cultural sensitivity from the very first day, including the interview. Including cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural training in your onboarding process will instill the right values from the start, making it clear what's expected of new members.

This also helps them hone their skills in working in a multicultural environment. After the onboarding process, team leaders must reinforce these values regularly to create a workplace that respects diversity.

Challenges of Managing a Multicultural Workforce

When a team comprises members from different cultural backgrounds, it specializes in the team managers and leaders. This can be especially tricky when the team is looking to the boss for help with a conflict.

Here are some challenges a leader might face in a multicultural workspace and ways to resolve them.

Misinterpretation of Professional Communication

Multicultural teams can suffer from loss of communication while translating across channels. Language barriers, etiquette, cultures, and thinking patterns can result in challenging meetings or social situations. Picking up on different idioms and comprehending accents can be tricky.

Cultures also utilize different body language, personal space, eye contact, subtle gesturing, and nonspatial movements for communication. However, when used in a new environment, these nonverbal cues can come across as offensive.

Cross-Cultural Talent Attraction and Retention

The talent acquisition and onboarding processes change when it comes to multicultural teams, demanding new approaches to the workplace. With competition increasing rapidly, companies focus on finding expert hires contributing to the organization with reduced onboarding periods.

In addition, work is changing quickly, and some positions needed today might not exist in the near future. Companies are also expected to hire cross-cultural professionals and leaders more than ever. To overcome these challenges, leaders may:

  • Identify and include multicultural competencies in the hiring process.
  • Include retention interviews in the talent retention process.
  • Enhance strategic planning with environmental talent scanning.

Possessing cross-cultural competencies helps leaders identify and include multicultural competencies in the hiring process, addressing the cross-cultural leadership aspects at work. Cross-cultural competency expects leaders to:

  • Understand and engage in cross-cultural situations.
  • Capitalize on cross-cultural advantages to drive cross-cultural value.
  • Achieve mutually beneficial outcomes in cross-cultural situations.

The second step, retention interviews, can be achieved by learning from current employees about factors that motivated them to accept your job offer. Here are some questions a leader may ask in a retention interview:

  • Why did you decide to work for this company?
  • Are those reasons still valid in your current job?
  • What would you change about this workplace?

Finally, environmental talent scanning can help leaders identify the required talent's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Leaders can provide valuable feedback by enhancing strategic planning with environmental talent scanning.

Cultural Agility

Team leaders may struggle with cultural agility, which is vital in multicultural workplaces, as it's impossible to be experienced in every situation. Cultural differences can easily escalate into conflict and limit the team's effectiveness.

As a result, team leaders must understand their own culture, their organization's culture, and how it impacts the business. To be culturally agile, they should also recognize and appreciate cultural differences within the team while using their understanding to effectively conduct business within cross-cultural situations.

Hire Diverse Talent

In today's world, it's hard for companies to thrive without diversifying their workplace. A multicultural team has endless benefits, but it also comes with certain challenges. However, culturally agile leaders and team members can overcome these challenges and create safe office spaces.

If you're a hiring manager hoping for more diverse tech talent acquisition, consult Revelo. This talent marketplace will connect your tech company to remote tech developers, helping you build a more multicultural and diverse tech team in the long run. Schedule a meeting today with one of our representatives to answer any questions you might have about our vetting and hiring developers process, and how we make it easier for you to do so!

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